2 April 2007, by Ben Zwinkels. It was a great opportunity to be invited as a guest speaker at the Intra Business Network (IBN) conference, which was held in Dubai from March 29th till April 1st, 2007. The IBN network originates from business links within the Ismailia Business Community in Africa. As its vision the IBN has facilitating and creating competitive business alliances and partnerships for its members and successfully meeting the emerging regional and international challenges and opportunities in Africa and beyond. Coming together with 120 members, particularly from Africa, of IBN in Dubai did put some questions. Why has IBN chosen to organize the conference for high profile business men, entrepreneurs, company owners all over Africa in Dubai? What are the particular strong links between the members?
In order to get the right answers, it should be understood what is behind the Ismailia Business Community. Ismailis are belonging to a special very liberal sect within the international Muslim Community originated from Pakistan with deep conscience for social development and for the problems for the future of the world and its entire population. The Ismailis have as religious leader the Aga Khan, which is a title of honor and respect. This title has been given for the first time in 1818 by the Persian shah Fath Ali to Hasan Ali Sjah (1800-1881). Thanks his past and through his special dynamics and culture, the Aga Khan realized fantastic social and business development and also cultural initiatives all over the world. For example The Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) is a group of private development agencies working to empower communities and individuals, often in disadvantaged circumstances, to improve living conditions and opportunities, especially in Central and South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. The Network’s agencies work for the common good of all citizens, regardless of their gender, origin or religion. Its underlying impulse is the ethic of compassion for the vulnerable in society. Its annual budget for philanthropic activity is US$300 million. The Aga Khan Universities and Microbank institutions have been a result of a strong vision of how the world should be prepared for the next generation.
The link of the IBN network with Dubai could be found in the strong conviction that development has to be created by human beings themselves and not to be brought from other planets. The “craziness” of Dubai comes from a pure vision of self reliance and investing in the future with the revenues from oil, which once will become scarce. Dubai is now growing into a gigantic desert city on the Persian Gulf with extravagant trading and rapidly becoming a business hub in the Middle East. This liberal emirate has become a dream tourist destination and an investors destination, where the sky is the limit! Trading, finance, industry are becoming important sectors in order to be less dependant from oil revenues in the future. Doubting the sustainability, enormous construction projects are on the way to realization or still on the working table of the architect. But it is sure there will be no immediate end to it.
Coming with 120 dynamic entrepreneurs and business developers from Africa to Dubai for such a conference, should really give a trill towards the African continent and that mankind must take his own decision towards development. Africa, with its enormous quantities of oil, raw material, cultures and population should ask itself why Dubai, located on a piece of dry sand only, can succeed and Africa cannot? Take for example the present water supply by four existing desalination water projects with a daily capacity of 400 million gallons of drinking water subtracted from sea water. In many parts of Africa water nature, water and resources are unlimited. Dubai is very clever to levy very little tax on profits and income, with more than 200 nationalities working with easy entry permits, high focus on creating top professionals and a strong believe that once the world will have no borders anymore.
Dubai is growing and could be an example for Africa in solving their own economical growth and development. The Ismailia business community will have new initiatives in developing new sectors in Africa with the expectation that Africa will follow the world economical integration and self reliance awareness.
One thing remaining unsatisfactory about Dubai, is the general attitude of the Dubai population. They should be aware that creating such a luxurious environment for a small number of people in the world, will also lead to misconceptions, frustrations and jealousy. Social Responsible Entrepreneurship should be once put on their agenda. This may hopefully once help Africa to really gain from what is happening now in Dubai.
Ben Zwinkels is a Senior Investment Officer of the Equity Department at the Netherlands Development Finance Company