DUBAI - One business or individual will become $100,000 richer on November 15 as the fifth edition of the annual Ethical Finance Innovation Challenge and Awards (EFICA) takes place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
The challenge and award – jointly organised by Thomson Reuters and Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank – recognises innovation that promotes ethics in global financial services.
“This year, without breaking any confidences, it has been so extraordinarily diverse. We are getting to the stage where we’re not really evaluating and thinking, ‘Well, is there a special impact?’ There just is,” said EFICA advisory board member Stella Cox. Cox is managing director of DDGI Limited, a subsidiary owned by the UK-based DDCAP that works in the wholesale Islamic capital markets.
“For the advisory board, there is definitely a lot of time and commitment given to just distinguishing between these very, very different propositions and trying to make sure that we find a level playing field from which we evaluate them.”
According to the co-organisers EFICA applicants may be institutions, firms, research centres, Shariah scholars, or an individual or group of individuals.
“I think what has interested me particularly is the geographical diversity of submissions, as well as the increasing applications from financial technology,” said Cox. “And also to see the decks of the social impact initiatives that are spanning across all sorts of different business enterprises with all sorts of different objectives as well.”
The deadline for submissions for EFICA 2017 was July, after which they were reviewed by EFICA’s advisory board. The shortlisted, decided in August, were then asked to present their initiative or solution to the advisory board in a workshop that took place at the end of September in Dubai.
Finalists – who are each assigned a mentor from the advisory board – will now have to present again in front of an audience of peers and interested public on the evening of November 15, with the winners determined by the audience’s vote.
“Despite EFICA’s name, I think there were people who probably thought that it was just a forum for those who’ve had Shariah-compliant propositions and business initiatives,” Cox said. “But I think it has become very much broader in its application. [Many] have realised that the level of social impact sort of spans beyond that.”
Last year’s winner was the Detroit, USA-based crowdfunder LaunchGood. The platform, launched in 2013, went from initially raising $10,000 a month to $1.2 million by the end of 2014.
So how does EFICA help these entrants?
For a venture like LaunchGood, Cox said, “[It’s] through the process of both working with the sponsors of EFICA as well as the various stakeholders involved [that] there is value added … because there is an unusual level of connection – and it’s an ongoing connection, an ongoing interest.”
For smaller finalists, “It’s potentially life- and business-changing. It’s a significant award for anybody to win because quite a lot of these businesses are at an early stage and if you’re looking at, as an SME, at the wider prospects for expanding your business or even for looking for the sort of capital injection that will get it into operational state, this is very difficult,” she explained. “It’s pretty tough even for new businesses to go out and attract interest from venture capitalists.”
AFRICA IS THE FUTURE
Cox believes the future of ethical finance and innovation in finance lies with the African continent.
“What a huge opportunity. The African market is terribly exciting. We’ve seen new sovereign Islamic bond types issued into the market. We’ve seen opportunity to take financial technology from the Shariah-compliant space into Africa, and I think that is going to be a very exciting proposition going forward,” she said.
“There has been really interesting initiatives that we’ve seen from Sudan, Somalia, and Nigeria as well. [And] South Africa as well, so, it’s you know, it’s quite diverse.”