God helps those who help themselves: Aun Safawi

Mr.Syed Aun Safawi

Mr.Syed Aun Safawi (President and National Executive/Charter Member, ICCI), with over 25 years of rich experience in FMCG and Telecom, is slated amongst the top professionals instrumental in bringing about transformational and paradigm shift in the businesses both in the Indian as well as international markets. With his rich and varied experience, leadership style and innovative bent of mind, Syed is currently leading (CEO) Viom in transforming itself into a global player. Prior to Viom, Syed was working with Reliance Communication Ltd. as the President and CEO of the Wireless Business and Chairman of the Reliance Management Board.

In little over two years, he was instrumental in taking the company to a customer base of over 150 mn, revenue of $4.0bn and Ebidta to $1bn. Prior to this, he was with Bharti Airtel Ltd. as Executive Director responsible for East as well as West India operations along with International Wireless operations of Bharti Airtel Ltd. He was also responsible for the Global Calling Cards business of Airtel as well as the B2B business of Mobile services. His longest association has been with Coca-Cola, for over 11 years, where he was last based at Vietnam as Country Manager and CEO managing business for Indochina and oversight over Malaysia.

He has also served on the boards of several companies in India and globally in Coca-Cola, Bharti Group and Reliance Group and continues to serve on boards/advisory boards across industries.

He is an MBA from India and alumnus of The Wharton School, USA. His key strengths lie in architecting and driving transformation strategies, facilitating operational excellence, organization development and building a sustainably profitable business.

On the personal side, Syed is actively involved in philanthropic pursuits and has started a philanthropic foundation along with common minded friends. The E&H Foundation, as it is known, will focus in the areas of Education and Health.

Affan Ahmad Kamil interviewed the man behind ICCI

Q. My first question is how do you serve and manage time for ICCI since you are working as CEO of Viom Networks? At both places huge responsibility and accountability as well.

‎We all have the same time available per day. It is how one prioritizes, delegates and optimizes the time that is the key. My day job is obviously running the company, while all my personal time goes in helping with ICCI, running our not for profit foundation called E&H Foundation and other such engagements. We all have to find time to be able to give back to society.

Q.  What is the purpose and motive behind the establishment of Imamia Chamber of Commerce and Industry?

According to Justice Sachhar committee report, minorities have a long way to go to benefit from India’s growth story. Barely 3% of minorities are graduates or technically qualified while their work participation rate is below 4%. Very few manage to start micro-enterprises due to lack of institutional support. The situation for the Imamia community is even worse.  This is the reason for the birth of ICCI.

ICCI’s key task is to enable Education (including skill development and technical skills) with focus on digital along with encouraging Entrenuership as a way‎ of life amongst the Imamia community. This is critical for the socio-economic mainstreaming of the community.

Q.   How it will support community as well as Nation?

The 30 million strong Imamia community has to flourish commercially and become competitive globally. This will not only help them but also realize India’s dream of again becoming an economic super power by 2030. The demographic dividend cannot be allowed to be frittered away. Within the 30 million, almost 20 million are below 30 years of age and need to be actively ‎educated and be involved in commerce. The time is now.

Q.   Can you brief the main focus areas of ICCI?

First is education, including skill development, technical skills and complete digital immersion.The other is entrepreneurship, including micro-enterprise, with a focus on women and youth. ICCI has to be the enabler, the facilitator and voice of the Imamia community to help focus on these two areas.

Q.  What are the programmes or projects ICCI has started and also planning to start?

Training on starting a business which has benefited hundreds of members is the first program that is building up fast. Targeted skill development has started and needs to be scaled up further. Partnerships to improve digital literacy.

Q.  Why it is only for Shia people; can’t we open it for all?

It is open to all. However, the Imamia community needs a platform where they are comfortable voicing their concerns and exploring opportunities. Hence, ICCI would play this key role of providing the network.

Q.   How many chapters have been started and what the target been set (future plan) by the ICCI?

Eight regional chapters are planned, while five are already operative, namely NCR, Maharashtra, UP, Karnataka and Andhra /Telangana. Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Gujarat would follow. Nationally the Executive Committee manages the ICCI agenda and governance. Committees focused on Skill Development and Employability, Loan Enablement etc help drive the execution with the chapters. Community leaders from across the country give their time to build ICCI. In one year, ICCI targets 25,000 members and one million ‎in three years.

Q.   As you are having more than 25 years of rich experience in different industries; what do you feel about the Indian political or democratic environment for other minority communities? Do you have any bad experience or did you suffer ever only because you are a Muslim? Also can share good experiences.

India is a vibrant, multi cultural, multi ethnic democracy. There are nearly 200 million Indians from the minority of course communities, making them as populous as the fifth-sixth largest country in the world. Thousands of outstanding achievers have emerged from these communities.  We are a meritocracy and all those who excel, irrespective of caste, creed, ethnicity will flourish in India and outside.

I for one, have never felt discriminated against in India or globally. I have had the good fortune of working for great organizations, both global and Indian and always been recognised and rewarded for good work.

In fact, I just returned from the World Economic Forum at Davos, where 2500 of the world’s top leaders and thinkers get together once a year to discuss global concerns and way forward. All these leaders have only one agenda, ‘ how to make the world a better place’. Religious background is not relevant. What is important is as to what you can contribute to this world.

Q.  What are your messages to the Indian Minorities (Specially Muslims)?

Stay focused on education and skill building and start quality, scaled up enterprises which are globally competitive. Religion is personal. Do not let it come in the way of progress.  India is on the verge of breaking out as a economic super power. We have to be a central part of this story and not stay on the economic fringe, as we have, since ‎Independence.

Q.   What are your valuable suggestions to the youngsters of the Muslim community? I can say in another words give them some key points for success.

A. It is a huge world of opportunities and possibilities and there is no time to waste. Quickly acquire the ‎right skills and digital awareness to be able to join the workforce of a growing , connected India.

In parallel, those with an entrepreneurial bent of mind, get a start up going. Institutional support is available. One just has to find it. Be the best in whatever you chose to do.Remember, God helps those who help themselves.


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