The Islamic Finance Review (ISFIRE) has introduced a number of leaders in Islamic banking and finance (IBF) through its Personality Interviews that are a kind of 60-second rapid fire question-answers. This issue’s Personality Interview introduces someone who is not from the IBF fraternity but his work has immense relevance to the development of Islamic business, including IBF.
The Islamic Reporting Initiative (IRI), founded by Daan Elffers, is leading the creation of the world’s first reporting standard for corporate sustainability & social responsibility (CSR) based on Islamic values. Its mission is to enable organisations throughout the world to examine the values that guide their activities and express with clarity and simplicity their contribution to sustainability in society and the environment. The IRI is endorsed by the UN Global Compact Foundation, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), and members in more than 50 countries.
Daan lives with his family in Cambridge, England.
With his inclusion in the ISFIRE Personalities Club, he joins a distinguished faculty of Islamic bankers and finance experts, including but not limited to Hasan Bilgrami (CEO of Bank Islami Pakistan), Raja Teh Maimunah (CEO of Hong Leong Islamic Bank), Kashif Naeem (EVP, Bank of Khartoum), and others.
What was your earliest ambition?
I always wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and cared a lot for environmental issues. Over the years that ambition has become a lot more focused, but I’d say the general direction has remained very much the same.
What kind of education did you have when you were growing up?
I had a normal Dutch childhood – going to school, playing the violin, and socialising with friends. The Netherlands as a country is small – and largely below sea level! – very focused on efficiency and water management and even children are aware of that. Furthermore the Dutch are known for managing resources well. There’s no doubt that an early exposure to environmental issues did leave a lasting impact.
Who was your mentor?
I think one of of the people who greatly inspired me in my early adulthood was Professor Dr Michael Braungart, well-known for his circular economy model Cradle to Cradle. Nowadays most people understand the philosophy of the circular and green economy, but back in 2008 this was such a game changer; it really was the initiator of a totally new way of thinking about creating a positive footprint, and doing well by doing good.
How physically fit are you?
Not as fit as I’d like to be! I do enjoy running, and my most productive days are definitely those when I go for a run in the early morning. I completed a half-marathon in just under 2 hours twice, and I’ve learnt some martial arts.
Ambition or talent: which matters more for success?
Both are of course vitally important to success, but if pressed to choose one, I’d probably put ambition first. The beauty of ambition is that it can be shared, and when it is, the talent required to realise that ambition can be sourced from a whole pool of people. For that reason I’m a massive believer in teamwork, and the power of goals which serve the greater good. I’d really say the secret lies in channeling ambition – by setting clear goals – and meaningfully engaging with others.
What is the future of Islamic banking and finance in Europe in general and in the UK in particular?
I believe that Islamic banking and finance has an opportunity to expand way beyond its current domain and client base. While Islamic banking and finance has traditionally focused predominantly on its Muslim constituents, many of the values which underpin its activities are of course in perfect harmony with universal values – delivering fully on the notion of ethical and responsible business. In recent years, Europe and the UK have been strong leaders in this field, and my view is that also their focus on sustainability will only intensify in the future. While staying true to its own unique identity, I believe that Islamic banking and finance – if it chooses to do so – can really take the lead in a much-needed global transition towards business which is values-based.
Your most desired possession?
Trick question! It’s not exactly a possession, but it’s definitely the good health, happiness and company of my family and friends.
What are your personal views on Islamic banking and finance?
I strongly believe that Islamic banking and finance can create a real legacy for itself by taking a stronger lead in the global movement towards values-based business – across all sectors, worldwide. Islamic banking and finance is inherently all about serving and preserving the best interests of the community, and is therefore a perfect role model for the millions of companies out there today aiming to deliver on sustainability. Everyone understands that when values such as peace, compassion, tolerance, righteousness, human dignity, and environmental stewardship are effectively integrated into the DNA of an organisation, so is sustainability!
In what place are you the happiest?
Probably in a quiet place, surrounded by nature – but always when in the company of my family and friends. Home is a great place to start.
What ambitions do you still have?
I’d love to see the IRI reach its full potential, because I know how much good it could bring to the world. The UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the OIC’s 2025 Plan of Action provide excellent targets for a safer, cleaner, and fairer world – and the IRI can provide the perfect means for implementation. Considering the fact that Islamic values are already integrated across a full quarter of the world’s countries, the IRI really has the potential to make a fantastic, systemic contribution toward the achievement of these goals. I aspire to do everything I can to support the organisation in achieving this.
What drives you?
I have been astounded by the amazing support the IRI has received from people all over the world – virtually across every sector. Seeing the great milestones the IRI and its partners have achieved in such a short period of time is really motivating. Most recently, seeing the IRI recognised as one of the leading initiatives in Islamic finance in the 2017 Global Islamic Finance Report published by Cambridge IF Analytica was truly humbling, but also very inspiring.
What is the greatest achievement of your life so far?
I’d say my greatest achievement in life has been to have surrounded myself with great people – many of whom are much smarter than I am! Without the tireless support of our members, advisors, donors, and Trustees, the IRI would still be just a dream.
What has been your greatest disappointment?
Seeing the state of the world we’re in today – the poverty, the lack of education and dialogue, the environment.. – I sometimes wonder if we could have initiated the IRI sooner. I feel the support for the IRI would have been there then, too.
If your 20-year-old self could see you now, what would he think?
I think he’d be amazed to see the enormous – and very real – potential the IRI has brought to leveraging a massive contribution to society and the environment on a global scale. It is truly an honour to be at the very forefront of such a great movement.
If you had to rate your satisfaction with your life so far, out of 10, what would you score?
There’s always room for improvement – you’ve reminded me about fitness, for one! – but overall I feel very fortunate to have a wonderful family, and amazing friends and partners – so I’d definitely rank myself on the higher end of that scale. When the IRI’s membership and impact surpasses that of the Global Reporting Initiative, I’ll probably scale it up a notch!