Islamic Finance

SDG 17, SDG 5: Islamic economy needs to play as a team, listen to women - Daud Vicary

Ranking of countries in the Islamic economy is useful for comparison purposes but "we have actually got to play as a team", says Daud Vicary Abdullah, former President of INCEIF, the International Centre for Education in Islamic Finance. Vocal also of SDG 5: Gender Equality, Daud says: "It's not just about women having a voice. It is actually women being listened to."

Listen to our interview with Daud, or if you can't access audio the full transcript is provided below.

Emmy Abdul Alim (EAA): Thank you for listening to Salaam Gateway. You’re listening to our interviews with Islamic economy people from the Global Islamic Economy Summit that was on October 30 and 31 in Dubai.

Hello, Daud Vicary.

Daud Vicary (DV): Hi Emmy, good to be here.

EAA: It’s really good to have you. We see a lot of you on social media platforms, especially on Twitter.

DV: Okay.

EAA: So it’s really good, once a year, at least, we get to see you in person. Welcome to the Global Islamic Economy Summit.

DV: It’s a pleasure to be here. Hopefully, it’s a more often than once a year…

EAA: I certainly hope so…

DV: ...but once a year is good enough.

EAA: Insha’ Allah. We know you previously as President of INCEIF, the global university for Islamic finance based in Kuala Lumpur. You have since retired. What have you been up to?

DV: Okay. I have to do it fairly briefly. Retirement is an operative word. I do get a pension from various sources, but I am probably busier now than when I was in fulltime employment.

So what have I been busy on?

I work with a number of organisations in advisory capacity or in a proactive capacity and I don’t want to provide a long list, but most of the work I am doing is very focused on Islamic social finance.

So, the work I do in an advisory fashion for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent is both strategic and operational in terms of mobilising Islamic social finance like zakat for poverty alleviation, drought relief, famine relief, and so on.

The work I do with the RFI Foundation, which I am a very proud trustee of, is in similar vein. This is an organisation five years old now, which has just got huge traction, huge traction in terms of visibility, but also in terms of action it’s taking at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires. And I am sure you are talking to other people who were there. I wasn’t, unfortunately. But the messages we are getting across around the importance of shared values and projects revolving around everything from not just talking about it, but using fintech, using blockchain, etc., etc., to alleviate some of the challenges that we have in the world is extremely important.

In addition to that, I am able to spend more time with my family, which is, although they’re all pretty much grown up now – the last one is about to graduate – so that’s a great pleasure.

And I do a lot of public speaking, motivational speaking or just sharing experiences and I am delighted to be here at the GIES because I had an opportunity to moderate a session on young people who are being impactful in the community and they were sharing their ideas and views on how things make a difference.

So the dots are all joined up as far as I am concerned. I am very focused on the social finance side and I am enjoying it. And the activity on social media is… I am not sure I am a natural with it –

EAA: You could have fooled us!

DV: But I have kind of got quite familiar with it. I enjoy it because I somehow, I am always succinct, so, when it used to be 150 characters, I managed; now they doubled it, I am probably still as useful on it.

But it is commenting on the issues and giving some sense of direction and perspective, but most importantly, helping to join up the dots on the shared values and encouraging people to just get out there and do it.

EAA: That’s really interesting and I am sure you are aware of the State of the Global Islamic Economy report that was just released earlier this week. I think for the first time since we started doing the report, this year, we are actually focusing on being an inclusive and ethical economy. And the report authors have mapped each Islamic economy sector to what they believe to be their relevant SDGs out of the 17 SDGs.

DV: Yeah.

EAA: You have a very keen interest, of course, in the SDGs and aligning Islamic finance and our practices with the SDGs. What are your thoughts about the whole sector becoming more aware of the need to implement steps and practices to align Islamic finance with the SDGs?

DV: That’s a big question, but I’ve got some comments on it.

I really think that at the macro level, and having been a representative now of the Islamic finance for closer to 30 years than 20, I really think it is an industry, and this is the Islamic finance industry, missed a trick in the early days in not aligning the objectives of the maqasid al-Shariah with what was going on in the world.

And so now, fortunately, we have the SDGs and we have the ability to actually say we’ve got some common, shared values, which is great stuff.

But I rather think that we missed a trick a couple of decades ago in actually promoting that and describing it. So, in a way, we are playing a little bit of catch-up.

But never mind, it is what it is, and at least we have got this opportunity.

But I do think, with the SDGs, that a lot of thought went into them, but we have now really got to think about how we actually measure them and how we actually look at, are we creating an impact here?

So, the starting point, and I noticed in the report, it says ‘This area is linked to SDG 7 or 9 or 15 or whatever’, very helpful, and it gives people an idea of where the linkages are. But we need to do, I think, two things, fundamentally.

One is go on to the next step, which is actually coming up with an agreed set of common metrics, so people would say, ‘Okay, what is it we do? What is it that we are actually measuring? And can we take a look next year to see what further impact we have created?’

You know, I am a great believer in ‘You cannot manage what you cannot measure’. So I think we need to go to that next level and get some common ground or metrics and universal values, shared values on those metrics, so we can actually measure the impact of what is going on.

The second thing, which I think is, not causing me sleepless nights, but it does get me to think about this, is that when you are using these kind of metrics, you actually need to promote much more collaboration.

Somebody asked me the other day what I thought was the most important SDG and I answered the question by cheating slightly and saying ‘Well, I actually think there are two.’ The first one is SDG 17, which is about partnership and collaboration. I think we are not going to get anywhere unless we collaborate, and I will come back to that.

And the other one I think is SDG 5, which is gender balance, which I am very strong on. You know, it is not just about women having a voice. It is actually women being listened to and we don’t do enough in that area.

But coming back to the collaboration, and this is the context of my argument is that, with the report, which is a great piece of work, and it has been going… it stood the test of time and it is useful and people look forward to it and it has evolved, but I think we need to have an evolution where we are not looking at league tables and who is number one and Malaysia’s number one and all that. That’s useful for comparative purposes, but we need to think about how we are using this data to promote SDGs 17 – the collaboration.

We are all in this together and if you look at the climate change numbers, if you look at nutritional values from the major staple crops – I was looking at a report which came from the Crops for the Future Research Centre in Malaysia, what they’re saying is that children born in Malaysia today will not get the same nutritional value as their parents and will not live as long. Why? Because of genetic modification of crops and the four staple crops which give 60% of the world’s nutrition, that’s corn, maize – sorry, corn, wheat, soya and rice. They have all been genetically modified and nutritional values have probably tailed off in some countries as much as 50%.

So we have got to look at crop alternatives, we have got to look at crops which will survive in radical climate change which is going on, and we need to be all pulling together on the same page here.

So, if I come back to my Islamic social finance, you know, I can’t do the whole thing and nor am I claiming that I should or could. But what I would like to be able to do is to communicate clearly that we have got to do this as a team and the collaboration aspect is extremely important. And we shouldn’t be looking at, you know, Dubai is ahead of Malaysia and Saudi is ahead of Indonesia or whatever else.

We have actually got to play as a team on this.

EAA: That’s coming back to your first point then, on an agreed set of common metrics. The UN already has a form of measurement to measure countries’ progress in the various SDGs. Would we be looking towards that or are you proposing that the Islamic economy come up with its own?

DV: I am okay with the format, you know. I am not going to sit down and say, ‘Here are the metrics we should be using.’ I think we have actually got to communicate it.

So I think any set of metrics which have some level of common agreement is better than having none.

If the Islamic economy can actually come up with something better, then so be it, you know. I think we have got... it is an on-going, iterative process. You actually look at sophistication and I can cite examples I am familiar with. I am sure you’re familiar with the work that Omar Selim and his team do at Arabesque, where they’ve got rocket scientists who come up with all these algorithms and artificial intelligence, but effectively what they’re looking at is the sustainability index.

The point I am making here is that that evolves and that develops. Every year or every week, you know, they are adding and enhancing to it. So I think it’s an evolving process. But what we need to make sure is that we have got some form of governance over that which actually says that this is acceptable and this is what we are really looking at.

You know, it was interesting in the discussion we had yesterday and I led one of the breakout groups in the parallel sessions with some young – I’ll call them entrepreneurs, but young Muslim thinkers, who have achieved absolutely wonderful things. But there were two common factors that all of them had.

One was a shared set of values and the second thing was that they wanted to do something about that – they wanted to create an impact. And if we can actually start coming up with the metrics that will help others to say ‘I can see what I have done…’

EAA: As a trustee of the RFI Foundation, do you think that the RFI is fit to come up with a set of metrics?

DV: We talked it about it and I think we got… you know, we got some of the things set… I think that it doesn’t matter from what origin it comes.

So I think the RFI is probably well positioned. In five years, it’s got traction, it’s got global credibility. We probably far outperformed our initial expectations. I remember Dr Zeti and (Prof) Rifaat (Ahmed Abdel Karim) having a conversation with me and saying, ‘Would you like to join in on this? We are about to start,’ and I looked at who else was coming on board, and it was like a bunch of enlightened friends getting together in their room over a coffee to make a difference.

And we have made a difference and people are listening to us and inviting us do it and in terms of all the pro bono things I do right now, what brings me possibly the greatest joy is the RFI type stuff that I do.

So, there is no reason why they shouldn’t do that. If we can at RFI sort of create an atmosphere where people, where we can act as a catalyst for the change and to get the things moving, then I think we could do that. As a global standard-setting body on this, probably not.

EAA: Speaking of local, global standard-setting body and then you mentioned Dr Zeti, the former Governor of the Central Bank of Malaysia, and prior to that you mentioned SDG 5, which is gender equality.

DV: Right.

EAA: And the fact that you want people to not just…. there to be balance but that women to be listened to?

DV: Yes.

EAA: AAOIFI, the Accounting and Auditing Organisation of Islamic Financial Institutions, recently had their big conference in Bahrain, and I saw from your Twitter feed as well, that you commented that every single person who was a speaker at that conference was a man.

DV: Yes.

EAA: Considering your experience and your observations as a last discussion on this podcast, what would you say to wrap up your views on SDG 5 in Islamic finance?

DV: Well I think what we saw in Bahrain is completely unacceptable. Completely unacceptable.

I have signed a pledge where I won’t sit on a panel unless there is gender balance or at least one woman.

I think within Islam and Islamic finance there is a great deal that needs to be done around the perception of SDG 5. There are a lot of people talking about it, there are fewer people actually taking it into action.

And if you look at it from my perspective, I have been extremely fortunate. You know, Dr Zeti has been my boss for a number of years. She is a great mentor and she is probably the best professional role model I have ever worked for, without question, and she is back in play now, big time. And –

EAA: With a role in the Malaysian government?

DV: With a role in the Malaysian government and as Chairman on PNB – Permodalan Nasional.

I think what we have got to do in Islamic finance is really sort of break through that myth and the more we can do to engage, we are going to get women to come on board, to contribute their ideas and create…

Everybody’s got a voice, every woman has her voice and they should be. It’s not just about having equal numbers on there, it’s actually listening to what they’ve got to say, the experiences they’ve been through, what Zeti has done, what Jemilah Mahmood has done at the International Red Cross, what Zarinah Anwar did at the Securities Commission.

They’ve got stories, they’ve got anecdotes, they’ve got experience and they can share and it should be listened to because they are contributing to the change we need in the world.

EAA: Thank you for saying that, Daud.

DV: You’re most welcome.

EAA: And as a woman in the Islamic finance industry myself, I will say thank you all for listening in to both me and Daud.

DV: It’s my duty of care.

EAA: Thank you.

DV: My pleasure.

EAA: Brilliant.

DV: Thanks so much, Emmy.

(Interview by Emmy Abdul Alim

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