The year 2019 has been one of milestones, awards and global recognition for Bahrain, marking the latest and most definitive chapter yet in the Kingdom’s journey to becoming a full-fledged digital economy. Driven by continued investment in its world-class ICT infrastructure and its ability to boldly regulate where other countries cannot, Bahrain topped a number of global performance indicators this year, as well as introducing several cutting-edge policy initiatives. Crucial to driving these successes is Team Bahrain – all of the Kingdom’s people who together support our national progress. Thanks to them, we have created a flexible and cooperative business environment that is generating more opportunities, more innovation, and more jobs. As we ring in 2020 and turn our attention to all the new challenges and opportunities the new year – indeed, new decade – will bring, we look back at the top 10 accomplishments.
- Bahrain named 4th most improved economy in the world
Bahrain has been named the fourth most-improved economy globally in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report, thanks to its comprehensive reform programme that saw a global record of nine business reforms in the past year. The report also saw the Kingdom jump 19 places in its overall ranking. Highlights of the ambitious reform agenda included significant improvements in the area of enforcing contracts, as well as the launch of a new online platform, Benayat, which further streamlined the construction permitting process.
- Most efficient in MENA for resolving insolvency
Perhaps the most prominent of Bahrain’s pragmatic, business-friendly policies that contributed to its meteoric rise in ‘Doing Business 2020’ was the introduction of its 2018 bankruptcy law. The Law modernised Bahrain’s insolvency framework, rendering Bahrain the first economy in the GCC to embed international insolvency provisions in its bankruptcy law, based on the UNCITRAL model law on Cross-Border Insolvency. According to the world bank report, Bahrain has the highest recovery rate in the GCC.
- Top improver in global connectivity
The World Economic Forum ranked Bahrain first in the region in terms of ground and port infrastructure as part of its World Travel and Tourism Competitive Index 2019. The world bank made special mention of the high-tech scanners deployed on the King Fahd Causeway that links the Kingdom with Saudi Arabia, the region’s largest market. Plans are also underway for a second causeway between the two kingdoms that will also have rail capacity. Bahrain’s superb connectivity was also highlighted by international shipping giant DHL, which has based its regional headquarters in Bahrain, as one of the most connected countries in the world. This is about more than just international trade; it is about communication and migration, as well as flows of information and people, in which the country ranked first in the region.
- A regional leader in Islamic Finance
Bahrain led the MENA region in Islamic Finance development for the seventh consecutive year, according to the latest annual Islamic Finance Development Indicator (IFDI). The Kingdom also ranked in second place globally this year. The report singled out the Kingdom for its innovative regulation of FinTech – a key driver and shaper of the Islamic finance industry – especially regarding crypto assets. For example, Rain – the region’s first sharia-compliant cryptocurrency platform – was the first graduate from the Central Bank of Bahrain’s FinTech Regulatory Sandbox this year; it has recently obtained a full operational license.
- The best place to work
Bahrain has long stood out in the region for its exceptional lifestyle for expatriates. It is a small wonder that the 2019 report for Expat Explorer Survey from HSBC ranked the Kingdom first globally, for work-life balance and reaching potential, while it claimed the top spot in the MENA region in terms of investment freedom (Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom 2019), digital life (InterNations), labour market flexibility (WEF). Bahrain is in a state of continuous improvement in terms of being a top spot for people to work. This is evident in the fact that the country has surpassed its previous ranking in the 2018 HSBC Expat Explorer Survey as the top destination in the Middle East for individuals to enjoy an exceptional quality of life.
- The best place to live
Hot on the heels of the HSBC Survey was the InterNations Expat Insider Survey – the leading network and guide for expatriates in 64 destinations worldwide. InterNations ranked Bahrain 7th globally and first in MENA as a destination for expatriates, and second globally in terms of ease of settling in. These rankings were based on Bahrain’s top ratings on various parameters such as friendliness, ease of making friends, feeling at home, personal happiness, and availability of childcare and education. The survey also singled out the Kingdom as one of the easiest countries to live without knowledge of the local Arabic language, with nearly two out of three expatriates, or 64% of respondents, agreeing that they can get on fine without speaking Arabic, compared to 17% globally. Furthermore, Bahrain was singled out as the country with the highest percentage globally of parents who are very pleased with the local people’s attitude towards families with children (67%).
- …and the best place to visit
2019 saw Bahrain’s capital Manama named the “Capital of Arab Tourism for 2020” by the Arab Ministerial Council’s meeting in Saudi Arabia. The honour highlights the country’s growing popularity as the top regional tourist destination. This year saw Bahrain’s Dilmun Burial Grounds named as the Kingdom’s third UNESCO World Heritage Site and also the launch of the world’s largest underwater theme park – Dive Bahrain, which spans a 100,000sqm area – complete with a sunken Boeing 747. With many other megaprojects underway, the tourism sector is all set to become a key driver of the country’s future economic growth.
- World-class startup ecosystem built on diversity
The MENA region is a surprising world-leader in startup diversity, and nowhere more so than Bahrain. With 18% of it startups founded by women, the Kingdom tops even internationally recognised hubs such as Silicon Valley (16%) and London (15%), according to the 2019 Global Startup Ecosystem Report (GSER). The report, produced by StartUp Genome in partnership with the Global Entrepreneurship Congress, is the world’s most comprehensive and widely read research on entrepreneurship. GSER named the Kingdom one of the world’s top 10 startup environments.
- Top IPA
Much of the Kingdom’s success is due to its world-leading investment promotion agency (IPA) – The Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB). 2019 saw the Bahrain EDB receive the recognition it deserved, being named as one of the world’s top IPAs by Site Selection Magazine, in its annual “Best to Invest Top IPA Awards”. Site Selection lauded “Bahrain’s forward thinking and agile business environment”, for attracting multinationals including Amazon Web Services, which this year launched its first Middle East ‘Region’ in Bahrain.
- #1 FDI destination by jobs created
And all these sterling efforts are paying off. The latest World Investment Report (WIR 2019) from the UN Conference on Trade and Development found that Bahrain had seen a staggering six percent rise in inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI) the previous year – despite global FDI flows having sunk to their lowest level since the global financial crisis. These milestones are just a few of the highlights making 2019 one of Bahrain’s most successful years yet. They also come as an assurance that Kingdom is ready to take a quantum leap as it rings in the new year.