Khalid Zayani, Chairman of the Bahrain British Business Forum, spoke to Liz O’Reilly.
I understand BBBF is celebrating a big anniversary this year?
Yes. We are celebrating a 25-year milestone of BBBF serving the business community.
How long have you been involved?
I joined as a member in 2005 and took over the leadership as Chairman in 2009
How and why was the BBBF founded? By whom?
A steering committee in 1994 was formed by a small group of businessmen with the British Embassy in Bahrain, and in January 1995 the first forum AGM to elect a committee took place. The forum was set up to support and offer a networking/communication platform for businesses and to promote trade and investment relationships between Bahrain and the UK.
How many members did it originally have? Are any of them still there today?
The BBBF started with 25 members and some are still members today, such as Jamal Fakhro, George Middleton, Mohammed Dawani, Ameen Budagher, Raymond Nakfour, Joseph Dunn, Ismail Khonji, Richard Monkhouse and Adrian Pinto. Today we have 425 members, the largest group by far, I believe.
How has the organisation evolved over the years?
It has grown from being like a social club to become truly a mix of businesspeople getting together to act for their own benefit. We created special interest groups (SIGs), in which people from certain sectors of the business community, for example IT or engineering, get together, aside from the main BBBF, and create the focus for their meetings. They can invite ministers and other experts to come and address them on their specific areas of interest and often ministers will interact with them directly. This is unique and other societies are trying to replicate it. It means that members are active, not just the committee, and it is what has brought us such a large membership. A major change has also been the increase in the number of Bahraini members.
What has kept BBBF going when other national societies have failed?
Members come because they see that their interests are important. Also, because we deal with real issues. Every meeting that we have for lunch or dinner is usually addressed by a person of importance within the community or we have a subject of major interest to our membership.
The forum is regularly addressed by visiting VIPs from the UK and we are blessed with the support we receive from our own ministers and government. We have never yet been refused a request for a speaker. The British Embassy is also very supportive.
In times of crisis, such as now with the Coronavirus, for example, our members within the health sector SIG are creating information for all members and, before the restrictions, we were expecting a visit from the health minister.
We have dialogue with ministers in all areas relevant to our members. We are credible with government, society and members – that’s what keeps us going.
What does the future hold for the organisation?
I hope to see tighter relations with the Chamber of Commerce in Bahrain. We have signed a Memorandum of Understanding that chamber members are welcome to come and join us. I also would like to see more Bahraini participation and we are encouraging that, it is very important for the future.
What I’m trying to say is that when I joined the organisation, I was slightly critical, I said: “I don’t see many Bahrainis on the board, on the committees.” I’m happier now that many Bahrainis have joined us. We should be a true mix. Unfortunately, in the last [board] elections, not many Bahrainis got through, partly because they did not concentrate on the numbers so the vote got diluted among them. Partly also because you have the British members unsure of which Bahraini to vote for. I hope in the next election we will correct that situation.
Also, I would also like to see a new chairman at the next election. I believe it’s time for a new face – something I put in place in my own company, that the chairman should step down at a certain age – to bring new energy and new leadership. I had hoped this would happen at the last election, but nobody wanted to stand!
How will BBBF be celebrating its anniversary?
We plan to hold 25 different events including a 25-years gala dinner to celebrate this milestone. I was asked by the Royal Court to lead the initiative for the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of Bahraini-British relations and we exceeded our own expectations. I hope we can do the same for our 25th anniversary.