World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF): Building Bridges through Business

“The 21st Century will be driven by openness, technology, connectivity, dialogue, and integration. It will be the age of possibility and opportunity. That is why the WIEF is relevant because it helps the Ummah adapt to that wondrous world. The Ummah can shape and have full ownership of the 21st Century”
– HE Dr. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia, Honourary Member,  WIEF Foundation

The inaugural World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) was held in Kuala Lumpur from 1st – 3rd October 2005 with the theme ‘Forging New Alliances for Development and Progress’.  An important early decision by WIEF was that the Annual Forum would include not only Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) member countries and Muslim communities outside of OIC but also non-Muslim business communities across the globe.

From its inception the aim of WIEF, often now referred to as the ‘Davos of the Islamic World’, has been to build bridges between businesses – and between business and government – both within the Ummah and, increasingly, with non Muslims. WIEF believes that these ‘bridges’ will encourage investment and skills transfer which will in turn increase economic opportunities and reduce income disparities among the World’s ~1.8Bn Muslims – who collectively earn 80% less than world average income.

Overview of the Forum

As WIEF Chairman, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Tun Musa Hitam puts it:

‘The objective of the WIEF is to facilitate business amongst the Muslim World, promoting and encouraging profits that would eventually flow down to the much neglected peoples.’

Since WIEF’s first ‘flagship’ Forum in 2005, six annual Forums have been hosted by the Governments of OIC Nations in SE Asia, South Asia, Middle East and Central Asia. The eighth will take place in December 2012 in Johor Bahru, Malaysia – and the ninth is already being planned for October 2013 in London, England – the first Annual Forum to be held in a non OIC country.

The annual Forum is typically hosted by a Head of State or Government and attracts not just top business executives but also the most senior national leaders from around the OIC, including at last count 16 Presidents and former Presidents, 14 Prime Ministers and former Prime Ministers, 6 Kings, Sultans, Emirs, Princes and Crown Princes – plus important OIC dignitaries such as the OIC Secretary General and the President of the Islamic Development Bank, who is an Honorary Member of the WIEF Foundation.

The Focus

However, despite the presence of senior political leaders at the annual Forums, WIEF has two firm principles:

  • the Forum is about business and economics – not politics or religion;
  • the Forum is not just about VIP’s, be they from business or politics, but is inclusive, emphasising participation by SME’s, young and female entrepreneurs – and creative artists.

The focus on business and economics, and the diversity of participation, contributes to an exciting  level of informal engagement, knowledge sharing and identification of new business opportunities amongst participants who might not otherwise have the opportunity to meet.

Associated Programs

While the annual Forum remains the flagship of WIEF it is augmented by four complementary programs designed to maintain community engagement between forums, to contribute to ‘capacity building’ – especially amongst women and young entrepreneurs – and to promote dialogue and widen awareness of WIEF across not just the OIC member nations but also with Muslim communities in non OIC nations.

The WIEF Businesswomen Network (WBN) recognises the importance of women’s contributions to the economic and social development of the Ummah and organises both an Annual Forum held in conjunction with WIEF as well as Women Entrepreneurs Workshops which have already attracted women entrepreneurs from 19 countries.

The WIEF Young Leaders Network(WYN) was created at the 2nd WIEF in Islamabad in 2006. In addition to the annual forum WYN also runs active networking and capacity building programs for Muslim youth including a Global Internship Programme (GIP), a Scholarship Programme, a Young Fellows Programme and The Marketplace of Creative Arts (MCA)  which just held its 4th program on 14 & 15th  April 2012 in Bandung[1] and an ongoing mentoring program.

The WIEF Education Trust (WET) was also launched in 2006 on the premise that education is the most important pillar in every society and that the fate and future of a community lies in the quality and availability of education for all its people. WET also now runs a complementary ‘Global Discourse’ Series which hosts prominent speakers on a wide range of topics.

The WIEF Roundtable Series was launched in Bahrain in February 2011 to complement the annual WIEF Forum by convening smaller regional programs where local business and government leaders can address practical challenges facing the Muslim community within a country or region. Since the Bahrein launch successful Roundtables have been held in Turkey, Russia, South Africa, Bangladesh and London.

The WIEF Forum was institutionalised in 2006 with the creation of the WIEF Foundation which is responsible for the financing, and the smooth running, of the initiatives and programmes under the WIEF. The Foundation has a Board of Trustees[2], an internationally respected group of Patrons[3], a Permanent Secretariat based in Kuala Lumpur and a respected International Advisory Panel (IAP) which provides strategic input and intellectual content for the annual global and regional WIEF as well as its related initiatives.

Although WIEF is still a young organisation it is committed to matching deeds to words. The annual Forum has stimulated enhanced trade and investment and provides a showcase for increasingly confident OIC Countries to extend their bridges to the world. The Youth and Women’s programs provide capacity – and network – building programs. WET stimulates intellectual, innovation and entrepreneurship programs, And the Roundtables provide initial exposure to international leaders for emerging economies as well as Muslim communities in Non Muslim nations.

*This article was prepared by Ian Buchanan, Senior Executive Adviser at Booz & Company (Aust) Pty Ltd.


[2] Tun Musa Hitam, Chairman; Trustees – Tan Sri Dr Wan Mohd Zahid Mohd Noordin,  Dato’ Dr Norraesah Mohamad

[3] Patron Dato Sri Mohd Najib Tun Abdul Razak; Founder Patron Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi; Honorary Members Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono,  Dr Ahmed Mohamed Ali


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Filed under Conference, Culture, Education, Income inequality, Investment, Islam, Poverty, WEF

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