x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

£100m fund unveiled for Islamic technology entrepreneurs in Britain

The London mayor Boris Johnson announced its creation at the World Islamic Economic Forum.

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, hopes to make London a major centre for Islamic finance outside the traditional Muslim world. Facundo Arrizabalaga / AFP
Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, hopes to make London a major centre for Islamic finance outside the traditional Muslim world. Facundo Arrizabalaga / AFP

Boris Johnson, the mayor of London, yesterday announced the creation of a £100 million fund to attract Islamic technology entrepreneurs to set up in Britain.

Mr Johnson, regarded as a possible future prime minister, unveiled the plan at the World Islamic Economic Forum in London.

“Britain is a global hub for the tech industry, while the Islamic world has young entrepreneurs with ambitious ideas,” he said.

The funding will be provided partly by the British government, and also by other Islamic countries present at the London forum.

Jeremy Green, a partner in the Quantum Capital financial firm involved in setting up the fund, said it would aim to link the UK with Islamic countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, that have set up technology centres.

“But we also believe there is potential for countries like Egypt and Jordan, which have been affected by the Arab Spring,” he said. “There are entrepreneurs there who are trying to build businesses. Let them come to London, hire people here and to learn the skills, which they can then apply in their own countries.”

Funding would be available for start-ups, and cost-efficient legal advice provided. Assistance with visa and residence applications in the UK would also be offered.

The scheme would use the global entrepreneurial network promoted by the international accounting firm Ernst & Young, Mr Green said.

The fund’s administrators have already been in contact with the Emirates Foundation for Youth Development, the UAE organisation that helps young Emirati entrepreneurs set up their own businesses, rather than seek employment in the public sector.

The fund’s initial budget will be £100m (Dh590m). “We don’t need any more at the moment. If and when we need more cash, I’m sure it will be available,” Mr Green said.

Mr Johnson told the forum that he was proud to be the first London mayor who had a Muslim heritage. “My great-great grandfather was an honest man from Anatolia in Turkey, who set up a business trading in beeswax. That was an important industry back then, because all the candles of the mosques were made from wax. He became one of the most successful businessmen in Istanbul.”

Mr Johnson said that he wanted London to build partnerships with the Muslim world. “I hope London will become the greatest centre of Islamic finance outside the traditional Muslim world,” he said.

At a separate session of the forum, Sultan Al Suwaidi, the UAE Central Bank Governor, highlighted the UAE’s achievements in launching Dubai Islamic Bank, the world’s first Islamic bank, in 1975, but also spoke of the challenges the UAE faced in the further development of Sharia-compliant finance.

“I met with some scholars last week and there are some gaps in communication between the Islamic committees of banks and implementation of policies,” he said.

“Transparency is very important, and some Islamic banks lack it. Fatwas [Islamic rulings] are not harmonised. And there needs to be greater liquidity for Islamic instruments. We also have to address the issue of the distribution of profit between shareholders and depositors,” he added.

“There is the issue of credibility. Islamic banks need to support economic development and job creation by providing efficient financing,” Mr Al Suwaidi said.

fkane@thenational.ae