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Business News 2005
Business News->Asian Business Networks - Are They Any Good?

(20 May 2005)

Attendees at an ABA Networking Event.'Young, unattached start-up seeks like-minded spirit for mutually profitable relationship'. Does this sound a like your business approach? If so, you'll undoubtedly have been networking. The mantra for the masses, networking has now seemingly replaced other methods as the principal source for new customers, business contacts and, for some at least, a new way to meet that some special to share their life with. Business networking is the new Asian Dating, but are Britain's Asian Business Networks any good?

On the Asian scene, one can hardly move for the number of networking groups. Established organisations like London's Asian Business Association have been quick to capitalise on the new vibrancy among the capital's ethnic community. Their events regularly draw large audiences. High profile speakers like film director Shekhar Kapur and the Leader of Conservative Party, Michael Howard may be an obvious reason, but an enthusiastic Chairman helps too. Tony Sarin, who took over from the former chairman Sir G K Noon as the Chairman of the ABA hopes that in a few years time "there will be no need for a specific Asian Business Association". Presumably the UK's ethnic business community will be fully integrated by then.

Tony SarinIronic that Mr Sarin's words come at a time when more Asian businesspeople want to work with others from their own community. This new cohesiveness cannot be understated. Traditionally Asian businessmen have relied on family contacts or friends from their own religious groupings, preferring to treat others in the same market sector with a healthy dose of cynicism preferably dished out at "arms length". The concept of actually meeting at events and working with suppliers, customers and competitors for mutual benefit is new.

The "dot com" euphoria of the late 1990's saw many new groups like TiE (The Indus Entrepreneurs) launch branches in the UK. Emulating the format of the eponymous 'First Tuesday' club, TiE-UK sought to match-make wannabe dot-commers with venture capitalists in search of the next big thing. The first few TiE-UK events drew hundreds and needed organisation on the scale of an Indian wedding!

The "dot com" crash saw a refinement of the TiE-UK mission and the group is now more focussed on mentoring and encouraging entrepreneurship, particularly among Asian women. But not even TiE's Julie Meyer (formerly of First Tuesday and later from Ariadne Capital) could win over the hearts of Asian Women, leaving a gap in the market for the formation of DAWN.

Co=Founders of DAWN: Vimim Singh, Parminder Vir & Manisha DahadAn acronym for the Dynamic Asian Women's Network, DAWN launched in 2003 and focuses on encouraging women entrepreneurs. However, its softly-softly life-balance, coaching style doesn't suit everyone and could prove to be its undoing. Women in the City have their own club. Women in Film & TV and many more, non-ethnic groups like High Tech Women and the Aurora Network have all helped fill the burgeoning women's networking gap.

But, where does that leave you - would-be networker and soul-mate seeker?

Inherent to all networks, groups and clubs is the weakness that they become the "tool" for the interests of an individual or small group of people, inevitably becoming a clique and alienating a vast majority of members. Empowerment and empathy may have been the founding principles, but disenfranchisement and apathy the result.

Meeting the business and personal needs of individuals is something that professional networks feel that they can do better. After all, meeting over cocktails and canapés is far easier than having to sit through presentations and Q&A before hurriedly catching the last train home. The Institute of Asian Professionals bridges the business and pleasure networking goals comfortably, in addition to hosting the well-known Asian Jewel Awards. The Society of Asian Lawyer's is another that fulfils the same role for the country's ethnic litigators.

The drawback of such groups is that the very same business-cum-pleasure advantages can so readily become weaknesses. What if you'd rather date someone than do business with them? What if you split up personally after having agreed a partnership agreement between your two firms?

The very BEST GROUPS are, of course, the smallest of personal cliques…..provided that one fits into the clique! Apart from Rotary Clubs, Lions Clubs and The Freemasons, Community Associations may have all the answers. Groups like the Lohana Community Association, The Patidar Samaj, the Oshwal Group are all valuable social groups, but perhaps lack the breadth of user base to function as business networks. Specialist groups like the Vanik Business Group - created primarily for the Vania Community - may also become victims of their own success. The principle benefit of networking within one's own community groups may eventually prove to be too limiting when members find that most of their clients are from outside this group, and indeed the dynamism of a multi-ethnic, vibrant group proves too much of a draw.

The perfect business networking group would be global-yet-local, multicultural, open to all but one that only attracts senior decision makers; is chock-a-block full of potential customers, but excludes all pesky salespeople, is representative of all ages but is full of bright, young things going places. Hardly surprising then that Alumni Associations are rapidly becoming popular. Not only do you get a chance to meet the student you always fancied, but also the possibility of catching a CEO of the company you're trying to land a job/contract/partnership agreement with. But before you venture into this nirvana of networking, be warned that these people might still be all those whom you wanted to avoid in the first place - a "friends un-reunited" so to speak.

Vijay Amin of ABi Associates.Some of the best-kept secrets are the "private networks" run by specialist companies like Ram Gidoomal and Deepak Mahtani's South Asian Development Partnership. Vijay Amin's Abi Group is flourishing in North London with a range of services for would-be entrepreneurs. Others, like Manoj Ladwa's SaffronChase group have such a large pool of contacts that they can even launch new services like the FTSE Executive Resource to share skills and personnel with the mainstream community. The knack to private networks is in building one-to-one relationships and still being able to capitalise on these contacts at the right time. A skill that "serial networkers" employ with flourish.

Serial networkers - you know, the ones you seem to innocently bump into at all sorts of events - can certainly teach us a thing or two. They seem to possess that enviable technique for making us feel included in their world, the focus of their attention, for a precious few moments before extracting a promise to meet for lunch/dinner/two weeks in Hawaii! If business networking is your goal, then brushing up on your dating skills might be just what is needed.


ABI Associates Ltd.
The Grange
Neasden Lane, London, NW10 1QB
Tel: 0208 438 4550
Fax: 0208 438 4551

Asian Business Association
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry
33 Queen Street, London EC4R 1AP
Tel: 020 7203 1870, Fax: 0207 7203 1893

Asian Business Federation (Blackburn)
ABF Ltd, Suite 4
Shadsworth Business Park
Lions Drive, Blackburn BB1 2QS
Tel: 0845 607 0786
Fax: 01254 694999

British Bangladeshi Professionals Association

74 Highgate Hill
London N19 5NQ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7272 4669

Institute of Asian Businesses
75 Harborne Road
B15 3DH

Institute of Asian Business Networks
C/o Dalmia Media
The Nova Building
Herschel Street, Slough SL1 1XS
Tel: 01753 701 110
Fax: 01753 890 988

Institute of Asian Professionals
Contact: Mr Khalid Darr or Tahira Shamim
Tel: 0161-236-4422

Leicestershire Asian Business Association Limited
207 Melton Road,
Belgrave, Leicester LE4 6QT
Tel: 0116 222 9600,
Fax: 0116 222 9601

Society of Asian Lawyers
c/o Mr Ali Zaidi
Edwin Coe
2 Stone Buildings, Lincolns Inn
London WC2A 3TH
Tel : 020 7691 4074
Fax : 020 7691 4050
E-mail :

South Asian Development Partnership
PO Box 43, Sutton, Surrey SM2 5WL
Tel: 020 8770 9717
Fax: 020 8770 9747

50 Albemarle Street,
London, W1S 4BD
Tel: 020 7297 4311
Fax 020 7504 8550

Vanik Business Group
1 Penfold Place
Tel / Fax: + 44 (0)20 7723 7260

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