Shias hope own industry chamber will open doors to business

Imamia Chamber of Commerce and Industry aims to foster the spirit of enterprise in the Shia community.

New Delhi | Published: April 1, 2014 1:46:53 am

All the talk of inclusive growth notwithstanding, a section of the country’s biggest minority group that still exists on the fringes of corporate India is looking up to a new industry chamber to rekindle its nascent entrepreneurial spirit.

The new platform — Imamia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (ICCI) — aims to foster the spirit of enterprise in the 30 million-strong Shia community, more than 65 per cent of who are estimated to be under 30 years old. The body, which earlier this month got through with registration formalities, is being spearheaded by 20-odd people from within the community who have managed to climb the corporate ladder.

The focus, as Syed Safawi, a Delhi-based telecom industry leader who now doubles up as ICCI’s founding president, said, is to handhold small and medium enterprises and work towards the economic mainstreaming of the community’s businesses. He hopes to eventually broad-base the initiative into a larger Muslim voice on India’s industrial landscape.

To establish the community connect, the chamber has roped in actor Javed Jaffrey as the brand ambassador. Plans are also afoot to try and get Wipro chairman Azim Premji on board. According to Safawi, who like most others on the ICCI executive board volunteers after work and mostly over the weekends, the main trigger for setting up the chamber was to bring into the mainstream those who simply feel they are not in the league to make it to the mainstream chambers of commerce such as CII and Ficci, or even some regional chambers.

The ICCI has been registered as a ‘not-for-profit’ venture and the attempt is to make it self-sustaining though a membership fee of Rs 1,000 charged from those wanting to take up an associate membership.

To make an impact, the chamber has floated five working committees that include an angel funding committee, a legal and regulatory panel and a skill development cell. Safawi said while the initial focus, as captured in the name of the chamber, is on entrepreneurs from the Shia community, the idea is to have it as a broad-based platform for Muslims across-the-board. “The memberships are open to all,” Safawi said.

In fact, the first business proposal — floated by a young graduate in old Lucknow who wants to start a printing press — is being evaluated by the chamber’s angel funding arm for the venture’s financing requirement, entailing about Rs 10-12 lakh. Aniq Hussain, president-business development at BRG Group and the former managing director at Gallium Industries Ltd, has been put in charge of the angel funding arm

For a community where 60 per cent of the working population is self-employed, access to loans and markets continues to be a key hindrance, something ICCI hopes to bridge in due course. Safawi said setting up of enterprises by ‘chikan’ and ‘zardosi’ artisans in the Lucknow belt is one of the first focus areas for the chamber and that it has commissioned research on zardosi sector workers, both with respective to the qualitative and quantitative aspects, through two external agencies.

Most small businesses, he said, grapple with the nuances of the legal and regulatory norms, something that acts as a hindrance for those wanting to start or expand existing businesses. “A case in point is the new companies act. Most small and mid-level ventures simply do not understand the changes that have been proposed in the new law and hence are in danger of falling back on new compliance requirements for small businesses. ICCI hopes to make a difference there,” Safawi said. “We would want community youth to become employers themselves through enterprise rather than only look for employment,” he added. For this, ICCI hopes to work towards building awareness, both internally and also within the government and other institutions, on issues that impede business and enterprise growth in the community.

To provide regional focus, five chapters of ICCI have been approved and Najmul Hasan Rizvi, a banker, will be chapter chairman for UP; Qamar Abaas, MD of Noida-based True Count Systems, has been named the Delhi-NCR in-charge, while Mohsin Ali Vakil, CMD of Vakil Housing, has been appointed Karnataka chapter chairman.

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