Palestinian entrepreneurs are excited about the prospect of using Abraaj Capital's recently launched Riyada investment platform for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Seeded with US$50 million (Dh183.6m) of Abraaj's own capital, as it builds its SME platform across the MENA region, the size of the fund is expected to rise to about $700m through the company's regional and international partners.
Abraaj, which will manage the fund, said it would make between 20 and 25 investments in the next four years. "Through this fund we are directly addressing the needs of Palestinian entrepreneurs who, as in other parts of the world, have the capacity to transform the lives of those around them by creating sustainable job growth and raising living standards," said Arif Naqvi, the founder and chief executive of Abraaj.
"Through it we also aim to provide top-tier returns to our investors." Abraaj says it will also provide regional SMEs with much-needed institutional support, including back office, improved governance and access to top-tier human talent and mature business networks. For Palestinian SMEs that are focused on information and communication technologies and are already fixed on servicing regional markets beyond the West Bank and Gaza, this could prove a major draw.
"It will build linkages with companies across the region and this is where we can find a lot of hope," says Dr Mohammed Mustafa, the chairman and chief executive of the Palestine Investment Fund. "There's a lot of entrepreneurial spirit in Palestine and an educated young labour force. The opportunity to tap into a regional network is what we are so excited about." Mohammed Betawi, who hopes to be the first to apply to the fund for his company Al Andalus Software Development, sees it is a significant step forward for the Palestinian economy. "We need to invest in order to internationalise these products and enter new markets like Europe or Africa," Mr Betawi says.