Open, a global organisation that offers mentoring and support to business leaders and entrepreneurs, has now opened a chapter in London for the British Pakistani community — ‘a bit late’ in Shaukat Aziz’s words. He was one of the speakers at the organisation’s launch event held in London at Imperial College on Sunday.
Aziz, who has been involved with the organisation’s American chapter, was probably alluding to the fact that the British Pakistani diaspora in the UK is huge, over one million people. As Hollywood actor of Pakistani origin Faran Tahir described it, has “deeper tentacles, longer roots and a richer history” than its American counterpart.
The theme of the event was ‘Inspiring Journeys’, with the aim of getting successful Pakistanis from around the world to encourage others to follow their dreams. The talks given by Aziz and Tahir were undoubtedly the highlights of the event, eliciting the most interaction from the audience.
Aziz, former prime minister and finance minister of Pakistan, said that the Pakistani diaspora abroad is a real source of strength to the nation and described Open “as an organisation that unleashes the forces of creativity of entrepreneurs.”
He described his time as foreign minister (“without having ever been to GHQ or knowing any serving military generals”) as a “shattering experience” when Pakistan was buried in debt. He spoke candidly about the time he was attacked by Al Qaeda — “a lot of people around me died but God wanted me to serve my country” — admitting that it was tempting to return to his apartment in New York, trading in his 30-car motorcade for yellow cabs. His advice to attendees: “There is no substitute to hard work and humility and integrity are essential ingredients to success.”
Humility was a running theme, touched upon by many speakers, including Shahrukh Khan, CEO of Oracle Coalfields, who wants to set up a major coalmine in Pakistan which he believes will be a game changer in the country. Having no mining experience, he described himself as enterprising. He has managed to get money from investors who have never before had Pakistan on their portfolio and the key, he said, was transparency.
Faran Tahir, known for his roles in Star Trek and Iron Man, said that while he is happy to help budding Pakistani actors, the real support must come from the family who normally, with good intentions, would prefer to see their children in fields with financial security. However, the day he received his parent’s blessings was the day he knew nothing could stop him.
His advice: “Do not focus on being a star but an actor, which means you are forever a student. Never a master of the craft; understand the human mind and soul and be able to embody roles but know that you can be rejected simply because you don’t look the part; find a balance between doing roles that pay well and those that are artistically appealing.”
He said that Pakistanis need to portray all the positives about the country in the media the way India does. “We can either accept the images created for us by others or actively shape them. People will stereotype not because others have nefarious intents but because no one else can tell our stories like we can, so the onus lies with us.” He described the change of tide in Pakistani cinema as a “very, very, very welcoming change.”
The line-up of speakers also included Dr Jawad of Saving Face fame and Bareeze’s Seema Aziz, who spoke via a Skype call from Lahore. Having been successful as both an entrepreneur and as a social worker with CARE Foundation, she said when she started both initiatives she had to deal with people who thought she was crazy. “The important thing is to be committed to your belief and to be able to transmit this to the people who work for you,” she advised.
Other impressive stories included that of Noor Lalani, a young executive director at JP Morgan Chase, and Sana Habib, VP at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, who struggled to achieve work life balance as a mother of two sons and came to the conclusion that while women can have it all, it cannot be at the same time.
Open London meets on the second Thursday of each month.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 23rd, 2013.
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