UAE based business development company Potential has launched a small and medium enterprise (SME) Evolution Programme as part of a $5bn investment plan to support local enterprises. As part of the programme, it will provide free web-training sessions to enhance the competitiveness of SMEs in the region.

“SMEs make up 80 per cent of the economy, but they are not playing as a big role as they should be in the region. This is a unique and innovative programme and an ambitious project that aims to support entrepreneurs to develop,” says Shadi Banna, managing partner of Potential.

The programme aims to reach 5,000 SMEs across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) within the first year. It will help them tackle business needs including sales and marketing, operations, development and human resources, as well as create a community among them to enable the flow of information.

Potential is working alongside five key partners including Aramex and Zawya, both from Dubai, and Google, Intel, and Allworld Network from the US.

“A lot of young companies fail when they start, but failure in this part of the world is a taboo, you can end up in jail. There are a lot of challenges to address and it requires communications between the private and public sectors and better ways to lobby between them,” says Hussein Hachem, chief executive officer for the Middle East and Africa, Aramex.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of SMEs. There is a huge pressure on regional governments to create opportunities for its young populations and SMEs can play a role in this,” says Nassir Nauthoa, general manager for the GCC, Intel.

The programme will be launched in Qatar and Lebanon initially with online training sessions, also known as webinars, taking place in English. The following sessions will target more countries and will be available in Arabic and later in French.

The Middle East has a population of 450 million people, of which 45 per cent are under the age of 21. It has one of the highest rates of unemployment in the world and is in need of 100 million jobs by 2020.