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Tun Musa Hitam

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Building Bridges Through Business

Posted: 04/07/2013 10:08

This is a critical moment for the world. Powerful current of economics, finance, religion, population, science and culture threaten to pull us apart, but at the same time offer the opportunity to build the bridges that can forge bonds between nations.

The continuing aftermath of the credit crunch in much of the world, challenges of income inquality, and finite resources, make it ever more important to cooperate if the 21st Century is to be as transformative for the human race as the 20th was.

For nearly a decade, the World Islamic Economic Forum has been contributing to these debates, helping to build bridges between worlds. But although many Western business people and leaders have attended, we've always met in nations from the Islamic world.

This year, we decided that the time had come to meet in the West, to bring our message that there is more that unites the nations than divides them, to a non-Muslim country for the first time. We wanted to reach out in the most tangible sense to the West at this crucial time.

We chose London because it is a City that symbolises what the Forum is trying to achieve. You are a global melting pot, home to thousands of Muslims, recent host to an incredibly successful Olympic and Paralympic Games, a moment when the world literally came together, if only for a moment.

London is also a preeminent global financial centre, straddling the time zones between the US and Asia, and increasingly emerging as one of the leading international centres for Islamic finance.

So it is the perfect place for a conference dedicated to the proposition that business can provide a link between cultures.

I know that there is controversy in the West about Islam, much of it in my view based on partial or misleading information. All too often, I've met people who have formed an opinion about a religion that includes a quarter of the world's population based on the actions of a few extremists.

Business is a good starting point to start breaking down the barriers created by limited information, to demonstrate to the West not only how much we all have in common, but the huge economic and cultural benefits that will flow from our learning how to work together.

Here in London Malaysian companies are rebuilding your iconic Battersea Power Station. We believe that the Battersea project will create 15,000 jobs and 3,500 homes. The Malaysian investors will be contributing to the reconstruction of a part of your industrial heritage, and incidentally making a profit at the same time.

Just like those many British companies - including BP, Rolls Royce, GSK and Dyson - who have invested in Malaysia. We all benefit when we work together.

At the same time, London can lead the way in creating Islamic financial products, using the creative intelligence of the City of London to facilitate a prosperous future for all of us.
Already, you have the largest Islamic banking centre in the West, with 22 banks that comply with Shariah law or have 'Islamic windows', and who have between them raised £22billion in finance to date. That's a good start, but with the sector forecast to grow from £1.2trillion today to £1.6trillion in two years time, there is great potential for future growth.

It's this combination of ambitions which explains not only why we are bringing the Forum to London, but also why so many prominent figures from both worlds are supporting our initiative in coming here.

The Prime Minister of Malaysia, the Honourable Dato' Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak who has joined us in London this week, will be speaking at the Conference, as will Prime Minster David Cameron and the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. They will be joined by a host of other leaders from the worlds of politics, business, culture and the media, hailing from 100 countries around the world. They will be lending us their voices because they understand the significance of our decision to come to London this year.

There will be, I'm sure, practical outcomes. At last year's WIEF, held in Malaysia, deals worth £5.8billion were struck, and I'd be disappointed if we didn't do better in London.

But perhaps even more importantly it's a chance for businessmen and women from different countries and cultures to get together, and discuss important and controversial issues, like the ways in which women can help drive economic growth, how education and healthcare have become global commodities, and how we can all make our cities smarter and better places to live and work.

I am personally committed to this project because, with a background both in politics - I was Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia - but also in commerce, I've learnt that its often easier for business people than for politicians, constrained by their officials and the demands of political life, to bridge these divides.

I really hope that as many Western businessmen and women as possible come along to the Forum in October. We have much to learn from each other, not least the knowledge that together, as nations, companies and individuals, we are more than the sum of our parts.

To register for the ninth WIEF in London, go to 9thwief.org

 

Follow Tun Musa Hitam on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@WIEF_Foundatio

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