Entrepreneurship Development is the key to economic upliftment

This picture which I took in Pune on my way to the airport after teaching a leadership course at SKF, is my all-time favorite. It is a picture of a man who decided to take his future into his own hands and become an entrepreneur. He gives the lie to all those who complain about lack of resources, education, government support, fate or whatever. He has less resources, education, government support than anyone who will read this post. Yet he is better than almost every one of us because he decided to do something instead of complaining. This is a picture of courage, enterprise, creativity and confidence. It is an inspiration for me and for anyone who is seriously interested in development. And a kick in the pants for all those who make excuses.

One thing that the Sachar Committee Report showed clearly to anyone who has eyes is that discrimination is a part of life for the Muslim in India. While we keep fighting for reservations and whatnot, I am one who believes that if one wants to succeed in life, he can’t rely on the mercy of others. One has to rely on oneself and one’s own effort for the simple reason that it is the only thing which is in our direct control. With that in mind I am writing what I have advocated all over the world. I have tried to devise a strategy that is self-sustaining and requires very little start-up funding. This strategy is not for Muslims alone. It is for anyone who wants to do something about poverty and economic deprivation. Discrimination is not a Muslim copyright. It is what every poor person faces. For poverty is the religion of the poor. And that is the conversion we need to make – from job seeker to job provider.
Action Plan
  1. Vocational training
  2. Entrepreneurial development
  3. Venture Capital Fund
Vocational Training
  1. Start a Vocational Training Centre in every school. This must be done in every Government and private school and Madrassa. Every child must learn a skill. Products can be sold and the income can be used for the Center. This will also provide employment opportunity for artisans/professionals who are presently unemployed. Parents and community members can be encouraged to participate in this venture by lending their time and skills.
  2. Funding can come from CSR of companies who will be happy to fund such ventures.
  3. The building infrastructure already exists. If the timetable is an issue (usually there is enough time in the normal day itself) then the Vocational Training can be done after school.
Entrepreneurial Development
Simultaneously an Entrepreneurial Development Training plan must be established teaching students of the Center how to turn the skill into a business. This will ensure interest in the Vocational Training Course itself as people will be interested if they see how they can make this into a viable business and career option.
I suggest opening both the Vocational Training and Entrepreneurial Development Training to local communities also to help everyone and gain popular support. The Entrepreneurial Development Training course must consist of the following skills to be taught in a completely practical mode. NO LECTURES except as initial explanations. All teaching by practitioners (preferably voluntary) and all practical only.
  1. Writing a Business Plan to pitch for investment
  2. Budgeting and P & L Accounting
  3. Hiring and Team building
  4. Selling and Service Orientation
Venture Capital Fund
Final strategy in this is to start a Venture Capital Fund in each District/city managed by an independent Board of Directors of five members who are all reputed and highly trust worthy business people (include at least two women) with active businesses. CEOs may also be taken on the board but NO RETIRED OFFICIALS. One very important consideration which must be written in, is that Board Members MUST attend all meetings and inability to do so for two meetings will eject them from the Board.  This is critical.
This VC Fund will give interest free loans based on Business Plan with easy installment payment options to graduates of the different Vocational Skills Training Centers in the District/city. The funding to set up the VC Fund can come from MNC/Public/Private firms CSR or philanthropists. Later it can be increased when beneficiaries donate to the fund which helped them to set up. A cap can be set on the amount of each loan so that the Fund is not over extended in any one loan. I recommend Rs. 2 laks as a cap. But the Board can decide.
I believe that this plan to create entrepreneurship will free us from our malaise of looking to government to solve our problems and the problem of discrimination which our children face when they try to apply for jobs. Help them to stand on their own feet and instead of asking for jobs, they will provide jobs to others. Economic development is at the root of self-respect. It is the biggest need today for the poor in every country. It is the most powerful bulwark against extremism. People who have something to lose, don’t become extremists. So give them something to lose.

Where do you stand?

A friend sent me the article above underlining perhaps one of the most pernicious diseases of the Muslim world – a lack of concern for knowledge. Reading it I thought I would share some reflections. In my world of leadership training and development, in the institutions where I studied and teach, we have some criteria to evaluate teachers and Board members. These are common to all global leadership training institutions. They also design their salary and compensation structures and their recruitment and career policy based on this. What that means in plain English is that if you don’t measure up on these parameters, you will be out of a job.

I am listing them below with a suggestion that those who run, fund or support Islamic or Muslim institutions, consider measuring themselves and their teachers, trustees or administrators on this standard and see if you can still retain your job.

It is not for nothing that the West has had the leadership of the world for the past at least three hundred years. It happens because of a ruthless focus on quality without any exceptions. The Golden Rule is that if you want it, you have to pay for it. 

So here goes:
1.     How many books did you read in the last three months? Twelve months?
2.     How many scholarly articles/papers did you write in the past twelve months?
3.     How many books did you write in your career? In the past three years?
4.     How many international conferences were you invited to speak at in the last twelve months?
5.     What consulting assignments did you accept in the past twelve months relating to your field of specialization? (At all the institutions I teach, 20% of the compensation is expected to come from independent consulting assignments for which time is provided by the institute. The professor is expected to give up to 15% of his earnings to the institute as royalty. The logic is that if people are willing to pay him for his knowledge then the institute is assured that his knowledge is current and valuable. If there are no consulting assignments in two consecutive years, then his employment comes up for review with a view to parting company. Logic: If nobody wants you, why should we?)
6.     Trustees/Board Members:  What do you know about the curriculum and teaching methodology of the institution that you are on the Board of or support in any way? (If you are not an expert in this, how do you think you can possibly add value to it, monitor its quality or ensure that it is being run satisfactorily? If you doubt me, ask how many of those who fund Madaaris know anything more about Saheeh Bukhari other than that it is a book of Hadith. Ask how many have been to a Madrassa themselves and how many are doing it out of a combination of a sense of guilt at their own distance from Islam and a desire to gain some Hasanaath?)
7.     If you didn’t answer any of the questions above satisfactorily, what moral justification do you have to remain on the board of that institution?

I do believe that it is high time Muslim organizations took stock of themselves and asked themselves some hard soul searching questions and stopped fooling themselves that they are anything but severely mediocre. Mediocrity gets only one kind of result. It is called failure.

Our current state globally for the past 200 years is living evidence that we are severely mediocre. We have reached the bottom of the pit and are digging. We seem to believe that building concrete structures amounts to quality of education. We see investments in infrastructure – that too not in any organized way but in buildings – and almost nothing in teacher quality. Teachers are paid a pittance and treated worse than servants. From this we expect to create global leaders and believe that if we use the terms, magically results will appear. I am amused time and again to see some lines from my various presentations stolen and painted on the walls of this or that trashy Muslim institution as if they were a magic spell to ward off the evil effects of poor quality which they know they have. Always gives me a good laugh.

The biggest proof of this is that in institution after institution owned and run by Muslims, it is common to see that not a single one of the trustees send their children to their own institution. I guess they know the true quality of their own institutions best. Who am I to argue?

My question however remains: What moral right then do they have to promote that institution or ask people to fund it?

Apart from everything else, we need to remember that one day we will be called to account before AllahY