The Diamond Jubilee Alliance Conference (DJAC) was held in Dallas from September 28 to 30, 2018. It was perhaps the largest conference organized for the US Jamat, with the objective of encouraging knowledge-sharing among Ismaili professionals and entrepreneurs.
Zubair Talib, the Chairperson of the Ismaili Professional Network (IPN) and member for the Economic Planning Board for the USA, opened the weekend by highlighting the main objectives of DJAC, which include creating awareness, connectivity and knowledge exchange amongst high caliber industry leaders, and working together to catapult our community forward by strengthening the capacity of our professional and business alliances. He said, “We are fortunate to be able to have this as part of the Diamond Jubilee, to provide a rich setting for accomplished and diverse individuals to get together, to provide interesting topics for discussion and innovation, a forum to engage on our careers specifically, and for a community platform to help catalyze these alliances.”
Zubair emphasized the importance of networking, in particular reaching out to others to seek assistance, how it can help foster personal and professional growth. He also shared stories of Jamati members who were able to exchange learnings and help one another find employment.
Faheem Noor Ali, Alliances Lead for IPN, said that what sets this conference apart “is that it is bringing together a cross-function of professionals from across different industries, and even entrepreneurs, and seeing where there are areas of collaboration...and how these efforts give fruition to something new.”
Asiff Hirji, President and Chief Operating Officer at Coinbase, kicked off the conference with a compelling keynote address that discussed the impact of technology and the ways in which it can create disruption in different industries. He told the 650 plus attendees about the need to acknowledge changes in the economic environment, and how they could impact the Jamat.
Asiff remarked that survivors of previous waves of economic change had one thing in common - the ability to leverage upcoming trends and learning how to adapt to ongoing changes. He conveyed how the next era of Internet 3.0 will create the decentralization of computing, and affect virtually every industry, from transportation as a service, to auto manufacturing, academia, real-estate, and gas stations to asset-light lifestyles. Asiff concluded by saying that “Taking our Jamat to the next level requires us to help the rest of the Jamat understand the changes that are coming, and to build our networks with fellow Ismailis.”
Zahir Ladhani, Vice President of the Council for the USA, highlighted the need for the Jamat to be at the forefront of embracing change. As customer needs evolve at a rapidly expanding rate and globalization becomes more prominent, there are ongoing trends in financial markets such as digital currencies, social media, and machine learning, that will continue to have a deep impact on market presence and market demand. Ismaili professionals should all be equipped to be at the helm of leading change, rather than being disrupted, he remarked, adding, "Are we going to be on the sidelines and be spectators or participate in this great journey?”
Over the two-day period, attendees were joined by seasoned experts who shared their business acumen to generate a real-world action-based learning experience, delivered in four tracks: Entrepreneurship, Collaboration and Service, Emerging Trends, and Professional Development.
The Collaboration and Service tracks included a discussion of the work of the Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN), with Shamsh Kassim-Lakha, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Central Asia, and Aleem Walji, CEO of the Aga Khan Foundation USA, as speakers. Both sessions focused on how institutional bodies could help increase voluntary service in AKDN institutions, especially through the Time and Knowledge Nazrana initiative.
Echoing the theme of service, Sania Hadimohd, Project Manager for DJAC remarked, “Service is an ingrained pillar within our core values as a community. We are in uniform at the age of eight in Jamatkhana, and although the "uniforms" change over the years, service becomes an indispensable way of life.” More than 175 volunteers worked for months to organize the event and use the conference as an opportunity to launch or grow the various alliances.
Summarizing his experience at DJAC, President Shamsh Kassim-Lakha said: “I am amazed at the conveying power of the Ismaili Professionals Network. I have seen people here at the highest end of their industry or their professions, and those who are just entering, and it’s nice to see that there was mentorship...and a role model effect that was very powerful.”
In the Professional Development track in Finance, Senior Vice President at UBS, Forrest Fielder, moderated a session on wealth management. Panel members Nabyl Charania and Shanif Dhanani encouraged attendees to consider the importance of understanding wealth management and how to plan to create liquidity, longevity, and legacy. Attendees were motivated to create a legacy strategy which will ensure generational wealth. Additionally, Asif Ramji, Chief Product Officer at Worldpay Inc, a leading global payment merchant, offered valuable insight to the attendees on how financial companies monetize their platforms. He explained how they use Artificial Intelligence (AI) software to reveal patterns and offer the type of personalized guidance that used to come from human financial advisors.
Arsalan Aslam, IPN Program Officer, remarked after the discussion: “The two biggest takeaways for me were: first, you need to take control—you’re not going to build your wealth overnight, someone is not going to do it for you, you need to take control of your situation, and the second is to assess your appetite for risk.”
The Ismaili Health Professional Association focused on healthcare systems and the impact of shifting trends stemming from an analog to a digital platform. Speakers addressed how traditional medicine is undergoing a focal shift from treating conditions after they arise, to preventing people from being sick prior to their onset of symptoms. In the upcoming years, with the help of AI and Data Science, healthcare organizations will increasingly specialize in providing a more personalized healthcare service. Expert field specialists Dr. Ameya Kulkarni, Assistant Chief of Cardiology for the Kaiser Mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group in Northern Virginia; Zohray Moolani Talib, Associate Dean for Global Health and Community Engagement at the California University of Science and Medicine, and Saleem Sayani, currently serving as the Director at the Aga Khan Development Network Digital Health Resource Centre, shared their vision on how to incorporate innovative technology solutions to drive change and sustain business success in a global environment.
The conference brought together attendees from a wide range of sectors, all falling into one of eleven professional alliances including technology, finance, public service, education, health, etc. Attendees at the recently launched, Ismaili Media Communications Alliance (IMCA), were provided a vision of how this association aims to create a support system to encourage and sustain participation in all forms of communication media and use IMCA’s collective knowledge base to benefit the Jamat in knowledge creation and distribution.
Featured speakers in the IMCA track were Nomaan Merchant, a reporter for the Associated Press, Nadya Shakoor, a designer at the Houston Chronicle, and Shelina Kassam Ph.D., Lecturer at the University of Toronto.
On Saturday evening, keynote speaker David Lee, Vice President of Innovation and the Strategic Enterprise Fund for UPS, shared similar themes from his previous TED talk on the effects of machine learning and automation in the workplace. David’s TED Talk was one of the highest rated of 2017 and discusses how humans have survived the shifts in the workplace from manufacturing to the office, and how we can survive this next great shift when machines begin taking over, and what work may look like in the future.
Mr. Lee added: “What’s interesting about conferences like this is that with people with different backgrounds, different industries, different geographic locations, the chance to share their knowledge and connect to each other, so that if you have a question about logistics, or a question about technology, or a question about healthcare, you know you can come back to the Ismaili community and find an expert in that space, and that’s going to make all of your decision-making as a professional much stronger.”
The last day of the conference began with women leaders sharing their personal stories. Farzana Nayani, a diversity and inclusion specialist, remarked that many people have supported her in her career path and that “having these perspectives and experiences have really allowed me to innovate, and think about what I can contribute to society and come out with my way forward.” Her advice to young women is to “really understand that there are no limits— realize that there are infinite possibilities out there for career, for business, even for your own personal future.”
More advice was offered by Illy Jaffer, who said, “What I have learned most during my journey has been that failure is a part of success and that my goal can be attained even if I fail along the way.”
Mehreen Kassam, Program Manager for Diamond Jubilee Alliance Conference described her experience as an “absolute pleasure.” She highlighted the main objective of DJAC as an event which was designed to provide an experience that will jump-start a call to action. She added, “For the professional and entrepreneurs sitting in the room here today, we want you to focus on collaborating on best practices, connecting as a community…catalyze the projects that can take our community forward. Of interest also is the fact that 100% of the Alliances have female leaders.”
“The idea of the conference is a culmination of different thoughts and inspirations, primarily that of Hazar Imam talking about best practices and collaboration,” remarked Faheem. “Going forward, what we’d really like to see out of the conference is people inspired. There is a lot of great talent within our Jamat, from CEO’s of high profile companies to reporters for CNN, to public servants. There is just so much we can learn from one another.”
Judging by the participant responses and enthusiasm, the conference was a success, providing much encouragement as well as new connections to assist them in their career paths.