Plexal’s worked with UK innovators to support Oman with pandemic-related challenges.
COVID-19 has placed pressure on economies, healthcare systems and communities across the world. It’s also accelerated the pace of digital transformation, spurred on startup innovation and encouraged deeper collaboration between sectors and across borders.
And that collaborative spirit has seen Plexal being appointed by the UK Oman Digital Hub and the British Embassy in Oman to collaborate with AL JABR, an innovation development company, and support Oman’s startup ecosystem. Together, we’re supported startups with solutions to local challenges created by the pandemic.
Our innovation team analysed the response to the pandemic from UK startups, as well as the impact of COVID-19 on Omani society and businesses. We then designed a virtual programme that saw UK startups, corporate innovation specialists, academics and business leaders share what they’ve learned with counterparts in Oman through mentoring and workshops.
The Centre for Financial Technology at Imperial College London, RIYADA (an SME development authority in Oman) and Oman’s Ministry of Transport, Communications & Information Technology were strategic programme partners that helped Plexal and AL JABR deliver the course content.
As our director of innovation programmes, Russell leads our work with our Rapid Innovation Accelerator, designed and delivered our OpenDoor accelerator and collaborates with partners to deliver ELIEZ: the East London Inclusive Innovation Zone. With over 10 years’ consultancy experience, he’s an advocate for inclusive innovation and action-oriented, user-centric solutions that involve systems thinking. If you’ve got an innovation challenge to bring to us or a question about a programme, get in touch with Russell.
OMAN: As shopping has moved online, traditional offline shops in Oman faced an immediate challenge and are still fighting for survival.
Innovation in this space is already under way to enable traditional businesses to move online. For example, fishing is the largest sector in Oman and in April 2020 an online fish auction platform called Behar was launched with support from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, as well as logistics company Asyad and the Oman Technology Fund.
UK: Retailers in the UK have rapidly adapted their business models, finding new routes to new customer bases. For example, Elchies Estates used to sell its produce at the Speyside Producers Market but when all markets were temporality closed it won over £30,000 from the government’s Fast Start Competition to install open-all-hours vending machines stocked with fresh and frozen farm produce.
How can technology enable more businesses to transition and thrive online?
OMAN: The pandemic has demonstrated the importance of making sure learning isn’t disrupted by a crisis. And in Oman, technology has enabled students to continue their education remotely.
The Ministry of Education has supported online learning through its digital learning platform, partnering with Ooredoo Oman (a telecoms company owned by Ooredoo) to deliver virtual classes. Meanwhile, the E-Wathiq edtech platform delivers audio and visual content for grade 11 and 12 students in Oman through paid memberships.
But there are challenges to edtech being adopted throughout the country: the population is spread across a vast distance and not everyone is able to access reliable broadband.
UK: The UK’s edtech sector continues to grow, and during the pandemic both schools and museums have delivered content virtually using innovative and immersive technology. For example, the Musemio app features interactive cultural content inspired by museums and cultural institutions while OBRIZUM received £1m from Innovate UK to redefine the future of digital learning for organisations using AI.
How can technology enable all students in Oman to learn online?
OMAN: Virtual communities like the Muscat Hub (a network developed and led by young people) are already coming together, while during the pandemic artisan traders who typically appeared at the Souq Es Sabt market turned to Instagram to connect with customers.
UK: Startups in the UK are tackling the isolation and loneliness brought on by the pandemic, while people have shown a desire to connect with each other and support neighbours, local businesses and the vulnerable.
For example, the NextDoor app was already being used before the pandemic to unite communities, and the app creators added new features to enable users to find or offer help as well as support local businesses.
How can technology support virtual communities that would typically gather offline?