Can you see the elephant in the room?

Visual Courtesy:
Visual Courtesy:

My earlier post– Does Islamic finance have an economic and societal valuebrought about a query on how we can create change, within current organizations in the Islamic finance sector, in undertaking business activities where societal benefits are the primary focus.

The starting point for this is to acknowledge the need for change.

Given the rapid changes that have resulted from financial, economic and natural crises coupled with technology adoption and usage the environment within which a business operates has undergone significant changes. Using business tools that worked in the past will not give better or same results.  The regular world of business as one had known is no longer in play.

Visual Courtesy: A presentation by Carlos Marchi—VP Sales & Marketing at LinkActiv
Visual Courtesy: A presentation by Carlos Marchi—VP Sales & Marketing at LinkActiv

We have to realise and accept that the Islamic finance sector, like other industries, is being disrupted and without accepting the need to change, it would be next to impossible for businesses to be sustainable. Add to this the necessity of having a very strong understanding of the market or a business’s target group needs, with regards for the community to grow economically, and you have a scenario where approaching profitability through just the lens of increasing short-term dollar value will simply not cut it any more.

This brings us back to the query that came in—How can we create the change to review existing business practices and models in order to put profitability from societal benefits as the purpose of a business.

Here’s my 5-Steps-To-Sustainability Cycle:

5_Steps-To Sustainability Cycle
5_Steps-To Sustainability Cycle

What this model does is to help in showing the stakeholders two key views:

  1. The increase in profitability and sustainability of the business over a longer period of time vis-à-vis higher short-term gains.
  2. The impact, in terms of economic growth of connected businesses of its partners and vendors along with development t of users who make up the community in which the business operates.

These two views, when projected through the lens of the dollar-value, enable a strong business case to be discussed at the board level. From here it’s the level of strategic understanding and willingness to change, at the leadership level, that impact on the final decision.

Will we see the elephant in the room and address it?


Does Islamic finance have an economic and societal value?

Visual Courtesy:
Visual Courtesy:

As the world reels from a continuous series of financial, economic, humanitarian and natural crisis’s, the world of Islamic finance is growing. In the past decade the various projected global industry growth figures show this industry sector to be going up, up and away. Yet if one were to co-relate this growth with social development a direct correlation is, as yet, hard to find.

Is there an anomaly?

Within the global Islamic finance industry the strain of growth is starting to tell on the business models in use as issues of talent, technology and socially responsible investments are now the topics of discussion in industry conferences. Couple this with the developments occurring in the mainstream finance industry where areas like social responsible investment, alternative currency  and crowdfunding are drawing the organizations to view the disruptions taking place and review their business strategies and models.

On ground, technology has empowered people to be able to seek intellectual, financial and managerial collaborations, generating entrepreneurship and a mushrooming of small businesses. The financial industry, as a whole, is looking at the way investment is changing and the way finance is being run.

Against such a backdrop Islamic finance is beginning to look isolated and bereft of a clearly defined economic and societal value.

Decades ago as Islamic finance came in, as an alternative financial system, organizations took the system for use within the regulatory environment that existed. Regulations changed over time to accommodate market sentiments and with those changes organizations seemed to focus on compliance and not on the purpose of their business.

Therein is the anomaly!

The global industry undertook Islamic finance activities based on their then business models and processes. Models that focused on shareholder return of dollar value as primary objective not social or community development and, thus, it was business-as-usual.

Is there light at the end of the tunnel?

The many financial, environmental, economic and sociopolitical crises, coupled with the advancement and adoption of technology, over the past 20 odd years has brought about seismic shifts in the common man’s buying behaviour. Trust in organizations has eroded given the many scandals. A clearly recorded increase on the dependency of word-of-mouth reference, with regards to engaging with organizations, has come about. Resulting in organizations needing to have specific competencies that simply weren’t in existence 20 years ago. Social media usage has resulted in organizations having to depict simply and authentically their business purpose.

Institutional business has come to the realization that it’s people who make the deals. People who want to work with credible, honest and trustworthy counterparts. Trust has come a full circle and is now at a premium. At the same time, Boards are driving organizations to be more socially responsible and to ensure that the eco-system where a concerned business operates benefits from the services of the organization.

This provides an ideal setting for Islamic finance which, inherently, has economic and societal benefit in-built in its ethical use. Let me clarify through an example—a conventional bank would evaluate various parameters when opening a new branch, in a remote area, including cost-recovery and present a cost-benefit analysis to its board when recommending opening a new branch. The decision would be based on the return its investment would earn and the period in which it would occur. Currently an Islamic bank or financial institution would be doing the same.

But therein is the opportunity!

For an Islamic financial institution the purpose of business is not profit but providing, ethical, financial service to the community. Profit is a secondary objective coming after the benefit to the community has been established. Thus an Islamic finance institution opening a new branch in a remote area should be driven by the societal responsibility of providing services in an area where no such service is available. This involves disrupting the current business models and thinking fresh on the purpose of an Islamic financial institutions business and developing strategy from it to generate required financial gains.

Such gains will encompass developing the eco-system in which the business operates bringing about economic and societal benefit that would not only benefit Muslims but the society at large and enable Islamic finance to show a tangible and distinctive value-benefit.


I’d be delighted to learn of your views on the opportunity that the global Islamic finance industry has and how organizations could capitalize on the same. Please feel free to share your observations.



Does the Islamic finance industry value its People?

Islamic finance is on the cusp of a golden opportunity to influence and implement its efficacy globally. Yet this opportunity can only be capitalized on if the industry is willing to embrace innovative ideas and take cognizance of the socio-economic changes that have come about in the past decade.

My article on this published in the IFN Education Jan 2016 issue.

Should business strategy of organizations in the Islamic finance industry have a clearly understood social & community benefit?

Is talent development important in the Islamic finance industry?

5 Key Trends for the Twin Worlds of Islamic Finance Education and Industry in 2016

2015 has been a phenomenal year from the perspective of seeing specific trends emerging in the higher education and Islamic finance services sectors.

Here the top five that I’ve been able to identify:

Crystall Ball


#1 Leadership

Topping at number 1 comes in leadership.

Lesson #1 is the buzz around leadership. In the environment of higher education and professional development of talent for the Islamic finance services sector the clamor for having talent with strong leadership skills is increasing.

Whilst the issue needs to be addressed urgently there needs to be focus in developing the leadership skill required by the industry sector. In order to do that it’s necessary for the academic and industry worlds to do what each does best—identify the key leadership skills required which the industry captains can show and get the same developed into teaching curriculum in a manner whereby the leaders develop leaders.

Two key areas to look at would be emotional intelligence— in order to read the organizational climate and culture and individual vulnerability—in order to earn respect from the team and have the guidance valued, appreciated and recognized.
As a leader why is it so important to recognize and accept emotions? It’s because as humans we are emotional beings and our emotions impact on our behaviour which in turn affects our business actions.

Lesson #2 is the value of authenticity.

When a leader is there in person, with the team on-ground, and participating in activities that are the teams’ KPIs the leader shows respect, value and need for the team. This is leadership authenticity as it says—without the team the leader can’t achieve. It creates camaraderie and team-bonding resulting in higher engagement.

In the Islamic finance sector worlds of academia and industry current leaders, from both worlds, need to set an example of leadership authenticity by being hands-on with their teams to create examples and foster behaviour that would create the next generation of leaders.

#2 Culture

“Company cultures are like country cultures. Never try to change one. Try, instead, to work with what you’ve got.” Peter Drucker.

For an organization culture is created through the behaviour of its leaders. Remember the phrase—monkey see monkey do?—People, of an organization, manifest exactly what they see their leaders do.

Where the worlds of Islamic finance higher education and industry are at today
there is a massive need of understanding the cultural perspectives of people, organizations and global financial centers, within which they exists. Whilst technical competency can get one ahead it’s the culture understanding that would aid in having the ability to manage upwards and downwards.

As with the #1 trend, leaders from the Islamic finance worlds of academia and industry need to sit down and get this into the requirements of talent development.

#3 Employee Advocacy of the Brand

Employee advocacy is, perhaps, the least visited area among Asian organisations. One wonders why when business is by the people for the people. People are the only asset that organisations today, can use to create competitive advantage for themselves.  Providing peer and social recognition, of an employee, leads to a massive increase in commitment from that employee leading to advocacy that impact positively on the bottom-line. Yet the lack of specific employee engagement strategies in the twin worlds of Islamic finance academia and industry leaves one wondering about the value an organisation gives to its employees.

Is that why we see entrepreneurism in this sector on the rise?

Today with Millennials coming into both the education and industry sectors’ organizations has to have the ability to manage workforce’s comprising of Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennials. This ability specifically needs to focus on knowledge and experience transfer in order to develop necessary talent pools of next generation leaders to ensure growth and continuity. Advocacy of the employee and of the brand by the employee goes a long way in obtaining commitment, loyalty and creates motivation towards achievement of goals.

#4 Growth

All reported data show significant growth of the Islamic finance services sector. A correlated result is the mushrooming of corresponding educational and professional development programmes. Yet data on talent requirement by functions and industry segments seems to be lacking.

Having being involved in business strategy in the corporate world for over two decades a key learning I have is that of their being a direct correlation between business growth and employee career growth. Alignment and line-of-sight between an individual’s goals, functional role and the business goal of the organisation is critical in obtaining employee commitment with accountability.

The quicker the worlds of Islamic finance academia and industry recognize this the better it would be for both the educational institutions and the industry organizations.

#5 Profit or Social Responsibilities

For as long as we can remember the basic purpose of business has been to make profit. There is a major amount of literature on this topic on the public domain. Given the changing consumer behaviour, as a result of the financial crises and increase in technology usage, businesses have had to re-look at the profit-maximization model that had been in use. Trust, word-of-mouth referral and most importantly brand experience  that delivers a tangibly perceived value has become the order of the day.

The Islamic finance industry has woken up to the chatter on responsible financing and social impact investing. Whilst it grapples with the similarities conceptually, for now, a focus needs to come into developing organizational business plans and profitability that are based on social responsibilities. This is akin to having a paradigm shift.

Profit today cannot, any longer, come at the expense of the social community within which any organization, be it a NPO or a commercial profit oriented one, operates. Without an identified, simple and clear social benefit clearly articulated the sustainability of that entity will be in question. By having key social responsibilities as the primary objective and articulating clear actions to achieve the same organizations will be able to achieve their profit targets.


The above 5 trends are my individual observations based on published news and data on the Islamic finance education and industry over 2015. Trends wise there are still a few more that are emerging and I’d be delighted to learn of them from you. Please feel free to share your observations.

Wishing a very Happy, Collaborative and Progressive 2016.


Is your business getting TLC?

visual courtesy:
visual courtesy:

A year ago I had attended a talk by Prof Dave Ulrich, who is the Rensis Likert Professor at the Ross School of Business University of Michigan, which was hosted by AIF. The topic is close to my heart—how businesses can create their competitive advantage, in today’s environment, through talent. In his talk, Prof Ulrich highlighted the importance and changing function of human resource within an organisation.

Being involved in developing  a ‘cultural awakening’ project in my day-job it was fascinating to learn  about these three essential elements that organisations often overlook.

  1. Talent
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture

People are at the core of anything and everything organisations do in pursuit of their business. Yet we often overlook ‘talent’ coming from a product-centric point of view where business management is concerned. But it’s the process of identifying key talent and having their development at the forefront that enables an organisation to build a competitive edge.

The process of developing talent, within an organisation, impacts upon the leadership’ and the ‘culture’ of an organisation.

Leaders of organisations, if they are truly interested in the long-haul, have to selflessly put the development of their people first and foremost.  

Leaders create leaders not followers.

Employees followed by the external stakeholders or,  people who make up the environment in which the business functions’, have to be the priority in terms of strategic decisions the business makes.
There are two critical steps for this:

  1. Leaders in the organisation (not just the CEO) have to have clarity in the
    purpose of the business. They should be able to join-the-dots strategically and provide strong direction to their teams.
  2. Leaders need to have empathy and be able to display that empathy.

In essence what these two critical steps do is to evaluate the leaders themselves first as leaders need to have high emotional intelligence and strong communication skills to engage with all ranks of employees.

The displayed leadership styles lead to a, often non-articulated, creation of the organisational culture.

As humans we are wired for social acceptance and decades of environmental practice in the ‘command & control’ style of management has left us with the behaviour of adopting what we see our leaders do. But there is light at the end of the tunnel as more and more organisations, globally, are waking up to a new reality—people are asking for empowerment & recognition.

Where organisational culture is concerned there is a lot going on with regards to employee engagement. In a nut-shell employees, or the people who are the face of the organisation, are asking to be heard, to feel their suggestions are valuable to the organisation so that they feel they are of value.

If we now put TLC together it’s easy to see how powerful a strategic advantage for organisations it is.

Focusing on talent development leads to ensuring having the right competencies & commitment in place to generate healthy performance for the organisation.
In order to get to this stage good, authentic leadership is absolutely critical.
The leadership coupled with the right people in the right roles contributing positively creates a culture of empowerment, accountability and most importantly innovation, where employees feel they can contribute new ideas and not be afraid of failure.

Did you like this post? Do share your thoughts and comments.