BNI meet powers networking for entrepreneurs

The company's Dubai chapter has grown to over 800 members

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Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Sat 2 Jul 2022, 7:14 PM

Last updated: Sat 2 Jul 2022, 9:59 PM

Networking in a globally connected world to empower businesses across geographies. That was the mantra behind Business Network International (BNI) when it was founded by Ivan Misner in Los Angeles, USA, in 1985, amid concepts such as the Internet of Things (IoT) was a pipe dream.

Misner, who has evolved as the Chief Visionary Officer through the years, has seen the organisation grow beyond belief.

In the Middle East, his dreams have been realised by Bijay Rajanikantt Shah, National Director, BNI, the UAE, Qatar, Kenya and Uganda.

Shah, a British-Kenyan of Indian descent, had moved to the United Kingdom (UK) in 2001 as a financial planner and came to know about the BNI there for the first time.

However, he couldn’t get a foot in the BNI door in the UK because each chapter had a finance professional to which he belonged to — the largest and most successful business networking organisation with members and chapters in over 75 countries don’t allow two persons belonging to the same chapter from a similar professional background.

Shah, who moved to the UAE to join a boutique financial company in 2004 and was on the waiting list to join the organisation in the UK, took it upon himself to start a chapter of BNI in Dubai.

“My research and persistence paid off. On September 14, 2005, the BNI’s first chapter was formed at Club House behind the World Trade Centre. Initially, there were only 17 members, including largely Western expatriates and a few South Asian. Soon, we managed to create our own networking ecosystem, even though nine out of 10 people maintained that we’d be set for failure,” Shah said.

Contrary to popular perception, the BNI’s Dubai chapter, which has seen an exponential growth amid four recessions, has emerged stronger when chips were down.

“Typically, entrepreneurs would like to bond during challenges such as the Covid-19 pandemic, when we moved our networking activities online even before the lockdown restrictions were enforced in 2020,” Shah said.

Data shows that over the past 17 years, the BNI’s Dubai chapter has grown to over 800 members, which are spread across new Dubai (150), central Dubai (350), Deira (200), Al Nahada and Al Qusais (100), and the pandemic has accelerated the growth even further.

“We’ve added 300 members in the past three years. Plans are afoot to expand to the northern emirates and Abu Dhabi. The master franchises for the other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) nations such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Oman and Kuwait are up for grabs. The Qatar chapter is seven years’ old and has over 150 members. The Bahrain chapter will start soon,” said Shah, who became BNI lifer over a decade ago.

Dubai and networking may be synonymous, but Shah maintained that BNI, which is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, since 2015, has managed to keep competition at bay on the back of its twin offerings — “spending both time and money wisely”.

He cited the affordable price point to become a member as one of the many advantages of seamless networking that can help businesses to grow. “An entrepreneur can become a member by paying only Dh6,000 a year. We’ve grown organically because of accountability and a collective sales force. Around 20 per cent of our members are over seven and 12 years’ old respectively, and another 50 per cent are with us for more than three years. We’re striving to create business leaders by collaborating with each other,” he added.

On Saturday, the organisation held its first annual BNI Expo UAE and Members Day 2022 to celebrate the successes and achievements of growth in business and networking — a first-of-a-kind event since the pandemic and where over 500 members attended the meet.

Networking holds the key

Entrepreneurs from diverse businesses and demographies vouch for BNI

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“The organisation is a force multiplier for our family businesses and brands like Al Tannan, Jazeel and Arshia”

– Hassan Tamimi, MD, Al Tannan & Jazeel

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The Canadian national of Yemeni and Iranian descent followed in his brother’s footsteps to join the BNI seven months ago

“The organisation has helped me realise my cherished dream to empower women from all walks of life”

– Shabana Abdul Razzak, jeweller

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The third-generation Pakistani national is a scion of the ARY Group, which is named after her late father Abdul Razzak Yaqoob, and joined the BNI seven months ago

“Collaboration and coordination are the way forward in an interconnected world”

– Wendy Shaw, eBrainer, trainer and coach

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The British national, who has been living in Dubai since 2000, is a leading soft skills trainer in the UAE and joined the BNI is June 2010

“I’ve been fortunate that my business is growing by leaps and bounds since I joined the organisation”

– Mihir Sanganee, Design Director, Designsmith

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The third-generation Indian national was thrilled to take part in the BNI Dubai’s biggest jamboree and was the title sponsor for the BNI Expo UAE

“I’ve immensely benefitted since I joined the organisation and got many corrections that have furthered my business prospects ”

– Luz Maria Villagras, psychologist & life coach

The Peruvian national — the first from the South American country to set foot in the UAE in 1998 and worked for Emirates Airline for the next five years — has changed her profession to family therapy, rapid transformation therapy (RTT) hypnotherapy and conscious parenting and is riding high on the back of the BNI members’ support

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