Developing a Sustainable Economy

by BTM

Sun, 12 May 2024

His Excellency Iain Lindsay, Developing a Sustainable Economy

After calling time on a distinguished diplomatic career spanning more than four decades, His Excellency Iain Lindsay’s journey has been characterised by a steadfast commitment to fostering international relations and driving positive change. After serving in various capacities across the globe, he has found himself drawn back to Bahrain as an advisor to the Chairman of the Economic Development Board (EDB). 

In this exclusive interview with Bahrain This Month, Mr. Lindsay provides fresh insights into his career and his motivations for returning to Bahrain, delves into the Kingdom’s key economic development initiatives and offers valuable perspectives on the opportunities and challenges shaping our island’s future. 

Can you give us a brief overview of your career and how you ended up back in Bahrain?
I began my diplomatic career in 1980, serving in different capacities in embassies around the world. Notably, I held the position of Deputy Consul-General in Hong Kong before being appointed as the British Ambassador to Bahrain in 2011. My tenure in Bahrain, lasting until 2015, was a period of significant diplomatic engagement, focusing on strengthening the longstanding ties between the UK and Bahrain. Post my time in Bahrain, I served as the British Ambassador to Hungary for four and a half years, departing in 2020. 

Following a brief period in the UK, I returned to Bahrain in 2021 to take up my current role as an advisor to the Chairman of the Bahrain Economic Development Board (EDB). The opportunity to contribute to Bahrain’s economic growth and development was a compelling reason for my return, given my deep-rooted fondness for the country and its people.

What motivated you to transition from a highly successful diplomatic career towards your current advisory role in Bahrain?
After more than 40 years, I felt a sense of fulfilment in my diplomatic career but also a desire to explore new avenues where I could continue to make a meaningful impact. The prospect of leveraging my experience and expertise to facilitate investment and economic development in Bahrain was immensely appealing to me. 

Having previously served in Bahrain and witnessing its resilience and potential, I was drawn to the opportunity to contribute to its continued growth story. Moreover, the chance to work closely with the leadership of Bahrain presented an exciting challenge that I was eager to undertake. Thus, when the opportunity arose to join the Bahrain Economic Development Board as an advisor, I embraced it wholeheartedly, recognising it as a platform to drive positive change and progress in the country’s economic landscape.

What key economic development initiatives have you been involved in since joining the EDB?
My role has been multifaceted, involving various initiatives aimed at attracting investment and fostering economic growth. One of the notable endeavours has been leading missions to key markets such as Japan and Germany to promote Bahrain as an investment destination. These missions involved engaging with potential investors, government officials and business leaders to showcase the opportunities and advantages of investing in Bahrain. 

Additionally, I have been involved in facilitating strategic partnerships and collaborations with international companies, particularly in sectors like technology and finance. One significant success was the establishment of a tech hub by Citibank in Bahrain, a testament to the country’s growing prominence as a regional hub for innovation and technology. Furthermore, I have been actively involved in promoting Bahrain’s priority sectors, including financial services, manufacturing, logistics, ICT and tourism. These initiatives align closely with Bahrain’s economic diversification strategy and aim to attract investment across a range of sectors to drive sustainable growth and development.

How does Bahrain differentiate itself from other GCC states as a business destination?
Bahrain possesses several unique attributes that set it apart as a favourable business destination within the GCC. Firstly, Bahrain boasts a highly skilled and diverse workforce, comprising both local talent and expatriates, which is a critical factor for businesses seeking to establish a presence in the region. The country’s strong emphasis on education and training programmes ensures a continuous supply of skilled professionals across various industries, making Bahrain an attractive destination for companies looking to recruit top talent. Additionally, Bahrain offers a conducive business environment characterised by its open economy, liberal regulatory framework and ease of doing business. 

Bahrain has led the way in the region in economic diversification and has made significant strides in sectors such as financial services, manufacturing and technology. Furthermore, Bahrain’s strategic location at the heart of the Gulf region, coupled with its well-developed infrastructure and connectivity, makes it an ideal gateway for companies looking to access markets across the Middle East and beyond. Lastly, Bahrain prides itself on its strong culture of partnership and collaboration, both within the business community and between the public and private sectors. This collaborative approach fosters innovation, entrepreneurship and mutual prosperity, making Bahrain a preferred destination for investors seeking long-term growth opportunities in the region.

Which sectors of Bahrain’s economy hold the most potential for growth and investment, and why?
Bahrain’s economy is driven by various factors such as market demand, technological advancements and government priorities. One sector with immense growth potential is technology, including ICT and FinTech. Bahrain has been actively promoting itself as a regional hub for technology and innovation, leveraging its skilled workforce, supportive regulatory environment and strategic location to attract tech companies and startups. The emergence of initiatives like the Amazon Web Services (AWS) hyper data centre and the establishment of tech hubs by multinational corporations like Citibank underscore Bahrain’s growing prominence in the tech sector. 

Another sector poised for growth is financial services, given Bahrain’s longstanding reputation as a leading financial centre in the region. The country’s well-established regulatory framework, competitive business environment and robust infrastructure make it an attractive destination for financial institutions, asset managers, and FinTech companies seeking to tap into the burgeoning Gulf market. 

Additionally, sectors such as manufacturing, logistics, healthcare and tourism offer significant opportunities for investment and expansion, supported by Bahrain’s strategic focus on economic diversification and sustainable development. 

How do you envision Bahrain’s economic landscape evolving over the next decade, and what are the key strategies in place to achieve this vision?
Looking ahead, Bahrain’s economic landscape is poised for continued growth and transformation, driven by strategic initiatives aimed at fostering innovation, diversification and sustainable development. Over the next decade, Bahrain aims to further strengthen its position as a regional hub for business, finance and technology while promoting inclusive growth and prosperity for its citizens. Key strategies to achieve this vision include: 

Economic Diversification: Diversifying the economy away from traditional sectors like oil and gas towards knowledge-based industries such as technology, finance, healthcare and renewable energy, ultimately reducing reliance on hydrocarbon revenues. 

Innovation and Entrepreneurship: Fostering a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship by investing in education, research and technology infrastructure. 

Infrastructure Development: This will enhance connectivity, facilitate trade and investment, and improve the quality of life for its residents. Projects such as the Bahrain International Airport expansion, the Bahrain Logistics Zone and the Bahrain Metro Rail project aim to enhance Bahrain’s competitiveness as a regional business hub. 

Human Capital Development: Investing in human capital to drive economic growth and development by upskilling and reskilling the workforce while enhancing the employability of Bahraini nationals. Tamkeen, with whom the EDB has a very close relationship, does a great job in supporting the development of Bahrain’s human capital.

Sustainable Development: Pursuing sustainable development practices to mitigate environmental risks, conserve natural resources and promote social equity. 

Outside of work, how do you relax and spend your time?
I love spending time with our Hungarian dog Juno, leisurely family walks (when the weather is cooler), reading and practising my Hungarian as I love languages and linguistics. Eating out and watching thrillers are also up there. I’m a keen but not very good golfer, so I enjoy a monthly Scotland vs. England Calcutta Cup match! Unsurprisingly, as former diplomats, my wife and I love travelling. We’re looking forward to returning to Italy and Hungary this summer.