THRESHOLD India 2009 – Promoting Entrepreneurship Amongst Muslim Youth

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[Pictures: (1.) Masood Alam Siddiqui (Group Leader - Unique Group of Maharashtra college) making a pitch to the judges (sitting L to R are Shahid Sayed, Prof M.Z. Shahid, Pia-Mollback-Verbic, Piyul Mukherjee and Rashmi Bansal); (2.) Nazreen Shaikh (Group Leader - Maharshtra College) with her team members; (3.) Shahid Sayed addressing the students on 7th January 2009; (4.) Rumana Kazi (Group Leader - Royal Challengers of MaharashtraCollege) with her team members; (5.) Rukhsar Khan (Group Leader, Challengers of SNDT), Sameen Mushtaq and Jyoti applied Mehndi to foreigners at Gateway, for Rs. 50 a hand]

Islam has permitted, and in fact encouraged business. The Holy Qur’an states: "Allah has made business lawful for you" (2 : 275). The early Muslims, who engaged in trade and traveled to distant lands in connection with business, were responsible for the spread of Islam in East and West Africa, and East Asia. However, in the present times business has taken a backseat in the scheme of things of Muslims, particularly in India. Today, a sense of despondency is writ large on the faces of Muslim youth. Majority of them believe that Muslims are still considered the fringe elements of society. Before them are myriad challenges and the issues concerning them most includes discrimination; lack of opportunities; communalism; poverty; pollution; population; corruption; lack of civic sense; reservation; violence; second class citizen status; terrorism; lack of infrastructure; unemployment; illiteracy; inequality between men and women; and caste barriers. Truly, for the past two decades these issues have also not changed. Their fears are therefore real, and not unfounded. But all is not lost yet. There is still a glimmer of hope amid this despondency. This hope emerges from the resilient nature of the Indian body polity. The people of this plural, multi-faith Indian nation have together battled and defeated communal and anarchist forces on umpteen occasions. Muslim youth need to shirk their fear of alienation and strengthen resolve to emerge stronger in the face of adversity with renewed vigour. The need of the hour is to gain quality education, particularly in the field of technology, and take up entrepreneurship with gusto. This would not only enrich them and their family, but also benefit the Indian nation as such. The new world order is taking shape at a furious pace, and Muslim youth should not lag behind in lapping up manifold opportunities coming their way. Also, the Indian nation should not shirk its responsibilities and turn a blind eye towards this significant minority, or else how can our great nation even dream of emerging a superpower if Muslims – 15% of its population – are left behind in contributing their bit for the nation’s development.

Shahid Sayed, a Civil Engineer with an MSCE from USA, has undertaken the onerous task of promoting entrepreneurship amongst the Muslim youth through his enterprising programme ‘Threshold India 2009’. Mr. Sayed is currently working as a Civil Engineer and completing his MBA in USA. He is planning to return to India in 6 months to take up his passion ‘Threshold India’ movement full time. ‘Threshold India’ movement envisages offering training and resources to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, in coming up with ideas or products, potentially leading up to their own businesses. More importantly, in fostering a belief in themselves and a ‘can do’ attitude. The idea behind 'Threshold India 2009' is to promote entrepreneurship amongst the Muslim youth, to bring them closer to the mainstream and make them committed global citizens that value life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as a goal worth achieving by their own efforts.

In his write-up, Mr. Sayed shares his experience about his interaction with Maharashtra College students during his session on promoting entrepreneurship amongst Muslim youth. Mr. Sayed’s experience here was really exhilarating, an eye-opener, and precursor of things waiting to unfold in future. Readers are welcome to give their comments, and share their vision if any.
Danish Ahmad Khan

Promoting entrepreneurship amongst Muslim youth

By Shahid Sayed
I am a product of the "Chor Bazaar Municipal Urdu School". Due to circumstances that are not at all uncommon, I had a childhood and youth wherein every step of my education was both a struggle and then a marvel to have achieved. When I see around me, in the current younger generation, despair, helplessness and frustration at being left behind, I am bothered. More so because deep in my heart I do believe that today's youth is far more resourceful and enterprising than my generation ever could be. All through my MBA in the US last year, I have been mulling over this: how can we bridge this gap.

On 5th January 2009, I walked into the Maharashtra College, seeking some of the student leaders of the college. As it turned out, there were no student leaders around and I was directed to the Vice Principal's office. Vice Principal Mr. Waheed, the Principal Dr Shakeel and Professor M.Z. Shahid were most encouraging and within minutes, a meeting of students of Maharashtra College was arranged for 7th January.

Before I began my session with students I asked them about the challenges they are facing today. The girls were very forthcoming with information and listed these issues: discrimination; lack of opportunities; communalism; poverty; pollution; population; corruption; lack of civic sense; reservation; violence; second class citizen status; terrorism; lack of infrastructure; unemployment; illiteracy; inequality between men and women; and caste barriers.

If someone had asked us this question during my college days I am pretty sure we would have spelt out the same issues. In other words, two decades have passed but the issues have not changed.

This pretty much summarizes how the Muslim youth believes it has benefited from the economic liberalization policies that have been promoted by various governments in the last decade. And we see that Muslims believe that Muslims are still considered the fringe elements of society. How can India be a successful nation if 15% of its population fails to participate in the monumental opportunities offered by the new world order?

And thus was initiated the dialogue on entrepreneurship at the Maharashtra College. A sweet young relative from SNDT brought her entire class to the forum and it became an SNDT v/s Maharashtra College competition. I would have been happy with a group of 30/40 students as audience. Instead, we ended up with twice that size of enthusiastic participants.

My young guests were in for a surprise when they were divided into 8 groups and offered Rs. 1,000 each. With the help of a few tips and insights, they had the freedom to do whatever they chose to do with the money. All I wanted in return was for them to engage in some creative brainstorming to generate ideas, utilize their talents in making the money grow. It was impressed on them that it was not important if they made 50 paisa or 200 rupees, or even if they lost their allotted amount, as long as they made a sincere and honest effort in going through the process.

After the initial blank stares and plenty of giggles from behind the hijaab, expressing absolute surprise, their enthusiasm and energy took over the classroom and spread like magic. Some of them had doubts - could this offer be real, others accepted it immediately as a challenge, eager to prove themselves. It was a great sight to see a gamut of emotions run through the faces. They hesitantly and then more confidently expressed their dreams and aspirations, their fears and apprehensions. The raw plans, their own fearless predictions of all that they could do, to me, was a sign that these were indeed the stars of the future of our nation, as we move ahead in life with 8% GDP growth all around us.

A week later, all eight groups showed up with the stories of their struggles and activities undertaken to 'earn and grow' the money. Attentively listening this time around were three entrepreneurs of repute – Piyul Mukherjee, Pia Molback-Verbic and Rashmi Bansal, who later guided the youngsters with various tips and insights… the importance of studying the end customer and her needs; the value of value added services as versus a mere 'trading'; of ethics and of a social conscience.

The stars of this new venture were indeed the students. Their recounting of their efforts and their stories of sailing in uncharted waters, their successes and a few failures held the audience spellbound.

As expected the students had felt overwhelmed initially by the task of using Rs. 1,000 to make maximum money in just one week. However, each group mentioned how their initial fears were tackled, as the creative ideas started flowing. From selling handbags, earrings, attar, holding food festivals, making PAN cards for a lower fee to applying mehndi to foreign visitors at the Gateway of India.

Although two winning teams were chosen, the theme of the day was truly that everyone was a winner. Not a single team had come back with a loss. Even those initiatives that had failed to beget any profit had been quickly replaced by other activities that brought in some extra money. More importantly, they all succeeded – not just in making money – but in learning about themselves, about teamwork, their sense of self-worth, their so far uncapitalized talents, and about turning unrealized needs into awesome business opportunities.

The enthusiasm can be seen in the comments received from the students later: -

"We never believed we could do something like this. Thanks a lot for the opportunity."Ansari Nazreen, Maharshtra College

"We are feeling more confident than ever in our life. We believe we can start any business, even with Rs. 500. That smell and taste of profit, which is earned with our own effort, is mindboggling and addictive. We will continue to do better. "Rukhsar Khan, SNDT

"This has taught us diplomacy and forced us to prioritize our efforts. We even spoke with people we have been avoiding so far. We left no stone unturned to reach our goal."Sameen Mushtaq, SNDT

"Our group became a better team. We are more in union than before and enjoying our new bonding. We can take any new challenge."Monica Sharma, SNDT

“Thanks for the great effort. We need more people like you in our community.”Alam Siddqui, Maharashtra College

Thank you sir for this opportunity. My mom is so proud of me and everyone in the family is supporting our efforts. Its been a great experience."Farhat Ansari, Maharastra College

As youngsters in colleges break the "psychological boundaries" that comes with living in a particular neighborhood or belonging to a certain strata of the society, we believe this young generation of India will break free from the past. There is just no other option available. Not anymore!

Studies have proved that there is a direct link between poverty, education and social ills in any society. In case of our Muslim community, violence and terrorism is another dimension that is now added in the long list of woes faced already. Often caught in a vicious cycle, the lack of proper education, and subsequently lack of opportunities deprives Muslim youth of many jobs they could have capitalized upon. Instead, despair and distrust becomes part of daily life.
For a religion wherein the first convert was a businesswoman and the third caliph was the wealthiest man in Arabia, the followers of Islam in the recent past have been turning away from financial pursuits and prosperity choosing instead a life of "self imposed poverty" and a sense of false contentment.

This continued disillusionment with anything financial has brought in followers that desire everything but a life of luxury and comfort. Granted that money cannot buy everything, its presence does offer a sense of security among humans and acts as a safeguard against losing rationality.

I believe if we want to make this world a safer, equitable and prosperous place, we must allow and promote each individual of the world irrespective of the religion and faith believed in, to have an equal stake in the growth and prosperity that has been going around for a few hundred years. Yet, to all purposes, it appears to have bypassed Muslims, 24% population of the world.

P.S.: If you are like me, and believe that every step counts in this journey, do join me in this experiment - with awesome results already coming in - at Orkut (Threshold India 2009).
Reach me on my email: shahidsayed@gmail.com

Posted by Danish Khan on 2/01/2009 10:47:00 PM. Filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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