SOHAR Port and Freezone formed deep and enduring bonds with the local community from its very inception and continues to promote projects and initiatives that bring about positive social and economic change. Excerpts from an interview with Jamal Aziz, CEO SOHAR Freezoe & Deputy CEO SOHAR Port
What are the focus areas and objectives of CSR initiatives at SOHAR Port and Freezone? And how impactful have been they in contributing to Oman’s socio-economic development?
Joining hands with our community to create positive social and economic outcomes is a key factor for sustainable success and an essential duty for SOHAR Port and Freezone. Our efforts are built around the three pillars of sustainability, commitment, and transparency.
The key focus areas are:
Education: SOHAR supports Education and vocational training through scholarships, student development programmes, and health and sports programmes for schools.
Entrepreneurship: A key benefit of industrial growth is the generation of new and sustainable job opportunities. SOHAR promotes and supports job creation, youth training schemes, and general training to increase every individual’s employment potential.
Health, safety, security, and snvironment: Working in partnership with our tenant industries together with communities and organisations in the region, we are constantly working to promote and elevate HSSE outcomes. SOHAR Port and Freezone has rapidly emerged as a world class port and integrated industrial area of choice, so we need to manage our growth in a sustainable manner with an approach that is balanced and provides long term benefit to the local community our environment, while contributing to the continued economic growth of our nation.
Stakeholder engagement: Throughout all levels of our organisation there is one theme which unifies our approach to effectively engaging with all our stakeholders, namely close and regular communication with the public and private sector and our local community.
This means developing mutual understanding of respective interests and benefits of our business and industry, while appreciating the changes that growth and development will bring to our community and Oman as a whole. This is achieved in many ways with business events and community programmes, news media, school visits, open days together with sports and social activities.
From a sustainability perspective, our approach to new developments within SOHAR is conducted in a measured way, meaning we carefully evaluate new growth opportunities to ensure adherence to international quality standards, while delivering real and tangible benefits to our local community in regards to job creation and knowledge transfer, and of course making positive economic contributions to our national economy over the long term. Within this evaluation, we also are mindful to include important community factors such as health, civic values and environmental preservation.
At SOHAR Port and Freezone, we strive to achieve these objectives in a socially responsible manner which will benefit each and every individual in the community.
How is SOHAR Port and Freezone, as a company, contributing to the social and economic development of Oman and Omani people?
Since 2003, SOHAR has certainly helped to transform the port city. As business and industry have joined the port and free zone, sustainable employment for members of our local community has risen drastically. I believe the port and free zone has played a major role in that rapid growth, either by direct or indirect employment, coupled with downstream businesses which are playing a key role in the emergence of SOHAR on the regional and international stage.
From a social perspective, we formed deep and enduring bonds with the local community from our very inception and we continue to promote projects and initiatives that bring about positive social and economic change.
Skills development, cultural activities, sports and health, and environmental preservation are a huge priority on our agenda. We work closely with local schools, Government agencies, and businesses to contribute to sustainable growth, and promote an inclusive and thriving community.
For example, our new SOHAR Works training for employment programme works in collaboration with local business and industry, providing a skills and knowledge based professional development platform to place citizens on the fast-track for sustainable new careers in Sohar. The programme creates new opportunities for cooperation and innovation, while furthering our contribution to the development march of Oman.
Another campaign, SOHAR’s Safer Driving Week combined defensive driving courses and crash simulators with activities that targeted port and free zone road users. This three-day educational programme highlighted the need for a more personal focus on local road safety and taught drivers about day-to-day risks and our long-term aim to save lives across the Sultanate.
As always in SOHAR, safety and environmental protection are paramount to any marine side operations. As a 50:50 partnership with Port of Rotterdam, we pride ourselves on maintaining some of the strictest and best policed environmental policies in the region, both above and below the water. SOHAR has also invested in an artificial reef project to help protect and grow fish stocks in the area around the Port and to help support local fishermen.
Additionally, we had organised a two-day beach and mangrove clean-up at Harmoul Beach in Liwa last year, alongside a large number of school and college students, officials, and staff from SOHAR. This was a reflection of the strong commitment to the environment in the city. Environmental sustainability is rooted in Oman’s culture, and is a key part of the vision of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos when he institutionalised both the ‘Vision 2020’ development strategy and UNESCO Sultan Qaboos Prize for Environmental Preservation.
What are the innovations you are bringing to the relevant sectors such as logistics, shipping, and manufacturing industry?
As one of the main driving forces behind growth in Oman’s logistics strategy, SOHAR Port and Freezone has become a focal point for transhipment between the East and West, as well as an important gateway to over 3.5 billion consumers. It has matured into a crucial contributor to a trade surplus of $2bn in Oman. To cater for increasing demand, SOHAR has set aside more than 200,000 sqm for the future development of general warehousing, cold storage and light industrial units.
With the logistics sector in Oman growing beyond the $12bn mark in 2017, SOHAR is quickly advancing its plans to diversify the economy beyond its traditional petrochemical base, and to transform itself into a major industrial and logistics centre, regionally and globally.
The Sultanate is witnessing an unprecedented surge in logistics and transport activities with the recent implementation of major projects, especially the Al Batinah Expressway which increases connectivity within Oman. As such, SOHAR is playing a leading role in the rise of the logistics sector as a vital economic contributor. Oman’s ideal geographical location and its stable political climate, combined with excellent infrastructure are key elements that contribute to the continued growth of the logistics industry as a whole.
One of our strategic goals is to capture a larger portion of the food cargo trade in the region, and the new state-of-the-art Food Cluster with a dedicated port agri-terminal is a vital component of the Omani government’s long-term food security strategy. The new agri-terminal features remote-controlled quay cranes, 450 reefer plugs and is equipped for an initial throughput of 1.6 million tonnes/year.
Another significant new project was the signing with India’s Pittie Group, one of the biggest cotton yarn manufacturers in the world, for a $300mn cotton yarn project. The project, when completed, will produce 100,000 tonnes of cotton yarn per year and generate over 1,500 sustainable jobs in the Freezone. Another major project was for the production of antimony, a mineral which is primarily used as a fire-retardant.
Meanwhile, with the establishment of Oman’s first bitumen refinery at SOHAR, there will be significant reduction on the reliance on imports of bitumen and asphalt for road paving and industrial applications. This project will also create new business opportunities and employment in the Sultanate, with sustainable jobs generated for citizens in the first phase of operations.
Can you elaborate on how SOHAR Port and Freezone contributes to SMEs and in-country value and helps build a sustainable Omani Industrial base?
SOHAR is committed to its mandate as an SME business promoter and we work closely with individuals and small business operators to make sure they can play a role in the huge number of commercial opportunities on offer within the port and free zone.
Most of the biggest and sustainable economies in the world have been formed from the successes of SMEs. They continue to be one of the biggest drivers of economic growth and form the backbone of modern and diversified supply chains.
We have developed a sizeable manufacturing base and expect investment opportunities to grow rapidly in the coming years, so there are huge opportunities for SME’s in Oman, especially in the services sector, to participate and grow. When we consider the continued growth in our industrial base, the opening of Sohar Airport, the completion of the Al Batinah expressway, and planned rail freight services, the future looks bright for SME’s looking to set up shop in here in SOHAR.
For example, our HIMMATAK initiative aims to stimulate the entrepreneurial mindset amongst Omani youth by giving them an opportunity to test new ideas, learn about starting and running a business, and to provide them with the right resources to attract initial start-up investment. The programme not only stimulates the creation of business ideas, but also serves as a spring-board to actually establishing a sustainable business. HIMMATAK was developed to enable students to transform solid ideas into commercially viable startups.
Our aim is centred on building relationships with large and small companies, and providing them with the requisite tools they need to succeed. New businesses in SOHAR are guided through the ‘one-stop-shop’ that assists them in securing the necessary permissions to begin operations, since it has been designed to simplify clearance processes for permits.
Additional benefits include free trade agreements with the United States and Singapore, together with the low levels of basic capital required, the latter which is an important consideration for any start-up or SME.