Opinion: TED Talks OIC

Khaleej Times

RUSHDIRushdi Siddiqui (Participation Finance/BANKING) / 25 August 2013

‘A mind once stretched by a new idea never regains its original dimensions.’ — Oliver Wendell HolmesA close friend suggested that I present on TED Talks on my core background of Islamic finance and Halal, and my immediate reaction was, ‘huh, whats the story?’

Islamic finance may be about ethics, financial inclusion, equitable treatment, etc, but it has not resulted in a compelling human interest story yet. It has not changed disasters into happy or humane endings. It has not delinked from being ‘curious or Press release news’ to being part of business section in newspapers.

Today, people ask, which Muslim country has eradicated poverty?  Has it financed healthcare to reduce deaths of infants, increasing mortality rates and saving mothers in labour, say in African/Asian countries? Has it help finance a knowledge based economy (via venture capital)? Has it rescued conventionally indebted people from foreclosure, fines, or debtor’s incarceration?

The answers to these questions is an article for another day.

There is a potentially more interesting angle and story for the TED Talks platform.


The TED website states: “TED is a nonprofit organisation devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference, bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design.’

It goes on to say: “We believe passionately in the power of ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world…. building a clearinghouse that offers free knowledge and inspiration from the world’s most inspired thinkers, and also a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.”

There are number of TEDs:

• TEDActive for community building.

• TEDIndia was about hosting events in countries that could lead regions.

• TEDWomen asking question on how girls and women reshaping the future.

What about TEDOiC

OIC stands for Organisation of Islamic Countries, 57 in all and with a total population of 1.8 billion plus and combined GDP (at purchasing power parity; PPP) of $7.74 trillion.

So why isn’t there a TEDOiC for the ‘man on the street’ as an alternative to the glitz and glamour of the Swiss-based World Economic Forum (WEF) often held in places like Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt and Petra, Jordan. The OIC, as a whole,  has yet to unleash its true potential as a ‘regional’ bloc of countries or have a far reaching impact globally.

[A sub-clustering may be a better start: Saudi Arabia, Ankara (Turkey), Malaysia and Indonesia (Call it SAMI) plus Pakistan, Egypt and Nigeria (plus three or SAMI+3)].

Today, many of the Muslim countries are often the source of today’s many challenges.

This said, these challenges are really disguised opportunities, and when you bring the ‘world’s most inspired thinkers’ onto one platform and give them 18 minutes to present not many audience members will leave early.

Imagine the world’s leading and respected thinkers congregating and doing mini-presentations on not the problems in the OIC, but possible ways forward? What a world of solutions we could congregate! If nothing else, it’s an approach that has yet to be tried, so we only have  everything to gain and the status quo to lose.

Ideas as Change Agent

TED is owned by Sapling Foundation, a non-profit entity. The goal of the foundation is “…  a belief that there is no greater force for changing the world than a powerful idea.” It goes on to say, “… An idea can be created out of nothing except an inspired imagination… weighs nothing… transferred across world at speed of light at virtually zero cost… when received by prepared mind, can have extraordinary impact… of the world… alter behaviour… and cause the mind to pass other ideas…”

The Muslim world is not in need of ideas, as there are many brilliant Muslims, young, old, men and women all included. What is needed is a neutral platform that sparks ideas into viable plans that get funded and eventually executed without pilferages.

Amongst the 57 Muslim countries, having visited about 25 of them, the time is right for TEDOiC Talks in the UAE.

What a great opportunity to have global thinkers including those from the UAE come to Dubai and present blue-print ideas that builds the OIC.

May be the Global Islamic Economic Summit (GEIS), under patronage of His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, in November can be a spark.


Finally, in the words of William James: A new idea is first condemned as ridiculous and then dismissed as trivial, until finally, it becomes what everybody knows.

The writer is co-founder and MD of Azka Capital, private equity advisory firm focused on halal industry initiatives, and he is an advisor to Thomson Reuters on Islamic finance and halal industry. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy