At the end of July 2023, the second of two mega-events in the Zarathushti calendar for 2023 happened. On the coattails of the 8th World Zoroastrian Youth Congress, the WZCC UK Chapter welcomed over 105 Zarathushtis from all over the world for the 2023 WZCC Global Conclave. Having been postponed multiple times due to the pandemic, the wait in the end was worth it. To say that the four day event was a fantastic success would be an understatement.
Appropriately themed “Inspiring Conversations in Inspiring Locations” participants got a chance to hear amazing speakers, and do it in world class venues that are for many, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
On Wednesday July 26th delegates gathered at the Zoroastrian House, the home of Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe (ZTFE). The venue, a beautiful heritage theater was the perfect backdrop for the welcome cocktail reception. Malcolm Deboo the President of ZTFE welcomed the gathering and Shernaaz Engineer, Chair of WZCC UK set the stage for the evening. Lord Karan Bilimoria, the founding chair of the WZCC UK Chapter was the Guest of Honour and he gave an inspiring talk about his work and how the Zoroastrian ethos plays a role in all he does in the business, education or political world.
Dorab Mistry introduced the Keynote speaker of the evening, advertising legend Sam Balsara. Sam took us on a journey of his professional life. Sharing the key elements that made him and his firm India’s largest ad agency, he was also candid and humble in sharing the “OOPS” in his career. The dinner that evening was a lavish Parsi affair catered by London’s own Cyrus and Pervin Todiwala and their team. The night ended with entertainment by Dinaz Hira. The evening ended with delegates getting back on the iconic London Red Double Deckers for a ride back to the hotel.
The second day Thursday July 27th started bright and early at the Sky Room at the Tower Suites. Location and view-wise this has to be the best venue of any WZCC Conclave ever, and something that will be very hard to beat. The backdrop of the speakers was the iconic Tower Bridge !
The first speaker of the day was Zubin Karkaria- CEO VFS Global who spoke with Javid Canteenwala discussing Innovation and Entrepreneurship. Zubin spoke about growing up in Dadar Parsi Colony, and his reverence for the Rustam Framna Agiary. Being a mobed he spoke about the power of prayers in his personal life. He shared his professional journey and the growth of VFS into the global behemoth it is.
The next panel titled Women in Business was led by Zarin Patel- Non Executive Director at HM Treasury, with panelists:
- Bapsy Dastur– General Counsel, Head- Corporate Risk, Compliance & Legal at VFS Global
- Behroze Daruwalla – Global Chair, WZCC-Women Entrepreneurs
- Mehrnavaz Avari– Area Director UK and General Manager, St. James’ Court- Taj Hotel
- Shernaz Cama– Associate Professor at Lady Shriram College and Zoroastrian Scholar
- Shernaz Engineer– Founder Director Verity Appointments
In a spirited discussion the women spoke about the challenges of making their own mark in what is a very skewed patriarchal society. They shared on strategies, lessons and some failures in the various spheres of their work and profession.
After the session the delegates got on another Red Double Decker and made their way to the Palace of Westminster, where the British Parliament is located. Lord Karan Bilimoria hosted a private reception on the waterfront bank of River Thames at the Palace of Westminster where he invited his friend and colleague in the House of Lords Lord Simon MacDonald who spoke about Global Trade and Industry:- Prospects for World Trade. In a brilliant talk and a very candid Q&A Lord MacDonald and Lord Bilimoria spoke about world events and their intended and unintended consequences, including the Ukraine war, and India’s rise as an economic giant in the years to come.
Later the participants were given a tour of both the chambers of the House. It was a fantastic opportunity be in both the actual House of Lords and the House of Commons, that one has seen in the news and on TV umpteen times. After a historic group photo and a big thank you to Lord Bilimoria for the opportunity, the delegates made their way to the Westminster Piers to board an evening sunset cruise on the Thames.
Taking in the sights of London as the sun set left some amazing lasting memories for all those on the boat.
The third day Friday July 29th, 2023 we returned to the Sky Room at the Tower Suites. Capt. Percy Master the Global Chair of WZCC started the evening with a very inspiring talk titled “From Shipping to Shipping Services and Beyond” about his life at sea and subsequently setting up of his business and later his philanthropic ventures. He too spoke about how the faith, prayers and an undying belief in the teachings of our faith have helped him in over half a century of professional life.
The next speaker was the brilliant Zar Amrolia Chairman XTX Markets. In a coversation with Javid Canteenwala, Zar spoke about the complex world of currency trading and how he leveraged his knowledge and talent to continue to push the boundary and think outside the box. Zar also spoke about the faith, and how he is now focusing his energy, time and money towards making long-lasting change and improvement within the faith. In a current project he is working with Ervad Ramyar Karanjia and Prof. Almut Hintze to develop a continuing education program for Mobeds in India and Iran. The project is already on it’s way and it was inspiring to see social entrepreneurship in action.
Lord Karan Bilimoria returned to the Conclave and invited his friend Paul Drechsler CBE- Chairman International Chamber of Commerce UK. Mr. Drechsler spoke about the ICC and its various activities and hoped that in the future WZCC and ICC can collaborate on mutual areas of interest.
Post lunch Perses Sethna– Global Vice President WZCC MC’d a very interesting and topical panel on Entrepreneurship, Risk and Wealth Creation. Panelists included
- Darius Kumana Co-Founder / Chief Product Officer at Wrisk
- Jehaan Kotwal– CEO JFK Transporters Pvt. Ltd.
- Jeroo Doodhmal– Founder, Pip & Henry -Sustainable Footwear Brand for Kids
- Navaz Sethna– Director at Kumon Maths and English Study Centre
- Ruzbeh Bacha– Founder & CEO, CityFALCON – FinTech
All these entrepreneurs spoke about their challenges in setting up their enterprises or running them over extended periods of time. What was interesting to hear was that in spite of the rough and tumble of entrepreneurship they all said they would do it again and again. A common theme from the talk was the need for mentorship. Many of the panelists felt that they would have loved to get more mentorship in the early days and at the same time offered to be mentors to those starting up. There was a call out to WZCC to facilitate this in a structured manner, and the WZCC International Board should look into this in earnest.
Post-teat Karishma Koka spoke about Learning from the Gathas about running a business the Zoroastrian way and Edul Daver shared some findings pertinent to entrepreneurship from the recent results of GEN Z AND BEYOND : A Survey For Every Generation
The delegates then got a deep insight into the WZCC Strategy Session. Capt Percy Master, Global Chair along with others on the International Board shared WZCC’s strategic plan. Each of the panelists listed below spoke on different aspects of the plan. You can read about it in detail in a forthcoming WZCC Newsletter.
- Capt Percy Master – Global President WZCC, Founder Chairman & Managing Director, Master Marine Services Pvt Ltd,
- Behroze Daruwala– Global Chair, WZCC-Women Entrepreneurs
- Edul Davar– Past Global President WZCC and Past President at ACuPowder International, LLC, ZEDF- fund raiser for USA/CANADA
- Farrokh Mistree– Professor at the University of Oklahoma
- Jehaan Kotwal– CEO JFK Transporters Pvt. Ltd.
- Karishma Koka– Zarathushti Neuro Scientist from Cambridge University
- Perses Sethna– Global Vice President WZCC, CEO PRT Partners Ltd
- Viraf Deboo– Managing Director, Albaj Group of Companies
- Xerxes Dastur– Partner, V. S. Dastur & Co. Chartered Accountants
- Zerick Dastur– Founder of Zerick Dastur Advocates & Solicitors, BAC- India, fund raiser
The day ended with a short presentation by Aban Rustomji inviting all to the 18th North American Zoroastrian Congress to be held in Houston in December 2024.
A smaller group of delegates headed to Cafe Spice Namaste, the restaurant run by Executive Chef Cyrus Todiwala and his wife Pervin. Situated in the Docklands area, it was a short train ride. The attendees had a chance to taste some more amazing Parsi food with special tastings of Kyro Vodka and whiskey.
The last day of the Conclave Saturday June 29th dawned bright and sunny. Allof the delegates got on another red double decker bus and headed to the hallowed Lord’s Cricket Ground, the Mecca of cricket. Just as the delegates were settling in, legendary cricketer Farokh Engineer walked into the room to a thunderous applause.
The venue was the location for the day’s activites which kicked off with Sir Rohinton Minoo Kalifa in conversation with Javid Canteenwala on “My Innings with FinTech, Private Equity and the wonderful world of Payments”. Ron shared his fascinating story from humble beginings to his stellar pathbreaking work in the world of payments. What came across in his talk is humility and a deep connection to the Zarathushti faith and its teachings and daily practise.
After a short break, Melwin Mehta- Investor and Fund Manager, Sterling Investment Management spoke about the Do’s and Dont’s in investing at the individual level.
Next on was Executive Chef Cyrus Todiwala who spoke on the topic “My journey in the hospitality industry”. Cyrus enthralled the audience with his very infectious storytelling style. He shared his journey from India to the UK along with his wife and partner Pervin.
Then the delegates were divided into groups for a docent led tour of Lord’s. Participants got to go to the Media Box, the hallowed Long Room and also see the original Ashes in the Lords Museum. We also got to see the plaque celebrating the very first team from India….a complete Parsi team to tour the UK in the late 1800’s. Cricket buff or not, this was another once-in-a-lifetime experience for the attendees.
After lunch we all made our way back to the hotel for some R&R before dressing up to head to the Gala and Awards Night at the Taj St. James.
ZTFE Trustee Dorab Mistry OBE, was the MC for the evening as he invited the three awardees present in the crowd to accept the awards at the hands of Farokh Engineer. Zar Amrolia received the 2021 Outstanding Entrepreneur of the Year Award. And Sir Ron Kalifa won the same for 2022. Dr. Shernaz Cama won the Social Entrepreneur Award for 2022.
The torch for the next Conclave was passed on to the WZCC Pune Chapter and Viraf Deboo made a short presentation and welcomed everyone present to assemble in Pune from Jan 4-7, 2024 for the next WZCC AGM and Conclave.
After a scrumptious Indian cuisine dinner, young soprano Frazaan Kotwal enthralled the crowd with some amazing songs. He had the audience on their feet, as they demanded encore after encore. Frazaan was brilliant and everyone who heard him that night will never forget his powerful voice.
Shernaaz Engineer, the WZCC UK Chair brought up her entire time for a vote of thanks. The team of volunteers truly deserved the gratitude of all present for a wonderful 4 days.
On Sunday a small group of attendees went on a sight seeing tour of Oxford and Windsor Castle.
Some personal thoughts….
Without a doubt this was the best Conclave I have attended since I started going to these in the last decade or so. The hosts capitalized on venues in a world-class city and more importantly the access to these venues to create one of a kind unique experiences.
It was heartening to see very successful Zarathushtis like Lord Karan Bilimoria, Sir Ron Kalifa, Cyrus & Pervin Todiwala using their position and influence to open doors for the community to experience the best London has to offer. That all of the panelists and speakers gave freely of their time to speak with others, and looked forward to being involved with WZCC can only augur well for the organization.
That the WZCC UK crew used these amazing locations not just as tourist stops but as meaningful backdrops to extremely engaging talks and panels was a masterstroke.
While the organizing team was small in size, it was evident that they had thought of every single thing, including the London Tube Strike, which got called off at the last minute, thankfully.
The best thing about WZCC Conclaves is the small and intimate size of participants. Over 4 days one got a chance to speak meaningfully with every single participant and make friendships and network professionally.
The one thing that I would have loved to see was that all sessions and panels be recorded to be shared in the future on youtube etc. WZCC should make this mandatory. A lot of amazing talk, discussion and debate happened and in this day and age, to not record it, seems a waste of opportunity.
When WZCC UK shared their first bits of information 6 months ago, I was a bit skeptical as to whether this would be a sighseeing trip or a conventional WZCC networking one. I am happy to say that I was completely wrong and they made this the best of both worlds. It now sets a new paradigm for how these events can be organized in the future.
Thank you WZCC UK, you outdid yourselves and the collective gratitude of all the delegates shall remain with you for months and years to come.