The Counsel

International - Entrepreneurship

President Obama’s Entrepreneurship Summit - My Experiences

by Junaid Iqbal

Chief Executive Officer, BMA Financial

In his "A New Beginning" speech in Cairo, President Obama announced that the he will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship to identify how the we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations, and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim-majority countries (MMC), including their minority populations, and Muslim communities around the world.

President Obama, US delegates and businessmen regarding the role of entrepreneurship in today’s day and age. The discussion revolved around the challenges faced by the Islamic world and the possible entrepreneurial solutions to these problems.

Some of the top speakers included Jerry Yang, CEO of Yahoo, Professor Younus, Nobel Laureate and Founder and MD of Grameen Bank, Arif Naqvi, CEO of Abraaj Capital (Middle East’s Largest Private Equity Group), the legendary Economist Larry Summers and of course, Secretary Hillary Clinton and President Barrack Obama

During the course of the submit various technologist and business leaders such as Jerry Yang and Professor Younus discussed the role of innovation and applied science in The summit was successfully held in the last week of April. It might sound like it was an all-purpose event geared to boost American business ideas, but it had a far more specific intent: to offer guidance and inspiration to Muslim entrepreneurs from other nations. It was meant to bridge business ties between the Muslim world and the U.S. with a clear over arching message: the future of Muslim countries lies in the hands of its entrepreneurs where they must build systems and environments to encourage youth entrepreneurship and innovation and that the U.S. would provide all its support for such initiatives.

What actually happened:
Muslims from 50 countries participated in discussions with breeding the entrepreneurs of today. Arif Naqvi spoke about the avenues of obtaining capital and the essential requisites financiers look for in businesses. While the conference bought leaders together to discuss ideas, it also was meant to promote the cultivation of entrepreneurs within the Muslim societies. The importance of cultivating the spirit of entrepreneurship programs in schools and colleges was emphasised.

An important point raised by Fadi Ghandoor, CEO of Aramex was that the Islamic world had a very strange attitude towards failure. “No one actually celebrates failure”, he said. It’s the people who try hard and fail a few times who end up creating the “next big idea”, and it is they that must be cherished. One key message resonated across all discussions. While governments remain the single largest sources of employment in majority of countries, it is new enterprises which have added most new jobs and hence it was absolutely essential to develop entrepreneurial eco systems which will give confidence to young people to start on their own and innovate rather than replicate.

Various individuals at the Presidential Summit have inspired me and commanded my respect. One such entrepreneur is Fadi Ghandour, CEO of Aramex, the largest logistics company in Middle East. Fadi has a unique philosophy. His company only gives money to charities which allow his teams to actively volunteer and be a part of the delivery system of the cause. His company is also incubating about 100 companies started by young entrepreneurs. What impressed me most was how his views on charitable contributions went a step ahead. Aramex does not just contribute to charities through generous monetary donations but also through active volunteering by its employees. I feel it would pay to implement such strategies in Pakistan. Fadi’s focus on attracting and cultivating human capital and encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship amongst his employees was also inspiring.

Similarily, Tri Mumpuni from Indonesia is an inspiring entrepreneur. Mumpuni helped rural communities in Indonesia through a non-profit organization that led community-supported projects for building and installing hydro-electric power plants. Abdulrahman Tarabzouni is another such individual. At the age of twenty-five, he was Country Manager for Google in Emerging Middle East.

This summit also made me aware of various entrepreneurship initiatives in the Middle East. One such initiative is the INJAZ al Arab programs. INJAZ al Arab program is an initiative in over 12 countries across the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), to help inspire a culture of entrepreneurialism and business innovation among Arab youth. It is the only organization in the MENA region that aims to equip students with practical business-related skills as part of the regular educational curriculum, INJAZ al-Arab programs offer students an unbroken chain of educational opportunities that will strengthen their innovation, deepen their understanding of the business world, and give them professional qualifications to enable their success in the global economy. Wa’d Taweel, a 20-year-old Palestinian student, INJAZ graduate and winner of the 2007 INJAZ Al-Arab Annual Regional Competition CEO of the Year Award, also spoke to the Summit leaders about her experience with INJAZ Al-Arab and how she will use the skills acquired to start up her own business in the West Bank. At the Summit, she was awarded a full graduate scholarship to Babson College.

My Experience and Take Homes:
While the summit itself lasted only a few days, the impact on delegates is likely to be more sustainable. Meeting successful, innovative and creative entrepreneurs from Muslim countries around the globe is not only enlightening, but inspiring to me. Having returned to Pakistan, I find myself following the example of the successful entrepreneurs I met there. Fadi Ghandour’s management style made me reflect back on my own management technique. His philosophy made me ponder on how I too can make certain changes amongst my employees.

The INJAZ al Arab program in the Middle East made me reflect on how our country lacks such initiatives for young people. In response to this, the six attendees and I have taken the initiative of starting an Entrepreneurship Development Fund. This will work to encouraging new entrepreneurs with joint funding public and private sector Pakistani sources as well as US funding.

Perhaps the biggest take home was a need to put Pakistan on the map as a country of entrepreneurs. The summit was a humbling experience that made me acutely aware that Pakistan is far behind other Muslim nations in terms of innovation and entrepreneurship. Being chosen as one of the Pakistani delegates I feel it is my responsibility to bring back what I learnt at the Summit and work towards cultivating a culture where new innovations and businesses thrive.

The seven Pakistan delegates, which included Ms. Roshaneh Zafar (MD, Foundation), Mian M. Mansha (Chairman, Nishat Group), Saleem Ghori (CEO, Netsol Technologies), Ibrahim Qureshi (Director, Raffles Systems), Shaban Khalid (Director, Ittehad Steels) and Jawad Aslam (CEO, Ansaar Management Company) are finalizing a structure for the Entrepreneurship Development Foundation, an organization which will work towards the development of an entrepreneurial eco-system.

Fadi Ghandour and Arif Naqvi also organized a mega event called ‘Celebration of Entrepreneurship’ in Dubai in November as a follow up to the Summit.

The author is the Chief Executive Officer of BMA Financial Services and holds the possition of Chair, MIT Enterprise Forum of Pakistan. Comments may be directed at