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Q&A with Durdana Rizvi

Durdana Rizvi is Director and Course Leader at DSR Professional Training JLT in United Arab Emirates. She was previously the Director and Course Leader at the Financial Training Centre at Dubai Men’s College. She talks to Blue Chip about the importance of financial know-how for everyone involved in any type of business, highlighting that knowledge of finance is the key to success in any organisation.


When did you to venture into education in the UAE?

Durdana Rizvi: “I came to the United Arab Emirates about 31 years ago, newly married and young. I am an accountant basically and I was working for an oil company at the time. After many years of working there we shifted to Canada where I did my MBA and upon our return I joined Union National Bank as head of their strategy unit. The bank went through a period of great restructuring and I found it heartbreaking because restructuring meant people losing their jobs – they were people I knew, people whose children were still in school. I prepared the final blue print which was required for the restructuring to be successful and it meant a lot of people I knew would lose their jobs. A lot of them were from the Pakistani community and it was a heartbreaking and soul destroying experience. I decided I didn’t want to be in the corporate world anymore. I decided to venture into teaching and fell into it purely by coincidence. But once I was in there, I enjoyed it immensely and finally found what it was that I was really meant to do and that was to teach. I never felt it was a job. I joined Higher Colleges of Technology and taught there for nine years.

I became very aware of the fact that the Emiratis were misunderstood a lot. However, I found them to be respectful and like any other students in any other part of the world. Some of them were very smart and others which were not as smart. Some of them were very hardworking and then there were others that weren’t. Just like students in Pakistan, Canada or in any part of the world. What I did discover however was their thirst for learning.”

When did you become more involved in financial education?

DR: “I felt like a point had come where I was not making the kind of impact I wanted to make. So I resigned as the director of the Dubai Men’s College and set up a partnership with the college known as the Financial Training Centre at the Dubai Men’s College – it was a runaway success. The first thing we offered was the first level of the Institute of Chartered Accountancy exams. This first exam is in itself a certification called CFAB, (Certification in Finance Accounting and Business), a very sought after certification. We offered that first course just to test the waters and it immediately sold out.”

Were you surprised at the response and was it beyond your expectations?

DR: :Yes, we were definitely surprised. I wanted to make the first one purely Emirati as part of the Emitisation drive here. I was really surprised because we were so new, we didn’t have half the things most training centers do; we were struggling to set up our basic accounting system and faced other basic struggles that come with setting up a new business. But, we had students even before we were off the ground. It was very satisfying and once we ran those courses the response in terms of what they learnt was very good.”

When did you set up DSR and what courses are you offering?

DR: “We set it up DSR Professional Training on 2nd September 2010. We are offering a series called the financial literacy series which are one day workshops and ten workshops in total for non-accounting people. This could include entrepreneurs, HR professionals, people in marketing, even housewives who want to understand what financial statements tell you, since it’s a skill.

It is essential to understand financial statements because accounting is a language. So if you are in any form of business, whether you are a project manager or in marketing, or you’re a decision maker of any kind, if you avoid figures you cannot be successful. Basically, you should know the language called accounting because it is the language of business just like if you’re in France you better know French. Similarly, if you are in business you better know finance.

We are using Emaar as a case study because Emaar’s shares crashed and then went through the roof. So we were looking into what is it that causes this to happen and if you are able to read financial statements, would you buy these shares at this price? I don’t think anyone ever did that because people usually buy shares because a friend or a relative asks them to.

The other course we’re offering is analysis of financial statements which is looking at ratios, trends, etc. This is all for non-accountants. We are also doing simple and capital budgets. Capital budgets are basically decisions on buying long-term assets, like a house or a car. Where there is a large investment involved, this enables a layman to decide which is a better deal. Previously such calculations used to be a long detailed exercise that accountants did. However, today anybody can do it using Excel through built-in tools that people don’t know about. You can evaluate decisions such as: which television or car to buy or which bank to borrow money from. It has all become very easy.

Subsequently we are also going to invite speakers who will talk about the global financial crisis. There will be a one day seminar on the causes and consequences of the crisis. We’re having somebody come in from the Philippines who is going to discuss what actually happened in layman terms. We are also looking at the impact of leverage, which is borrowing; how it impacts businesses: in good times how it snowballs or accentuates your earnings and in bad times how it accentuates your losses.”

You’ve been involved in education, what are your views on the education drive spearheaded by the Ministry of Education in the UAE over the last few years?

DR: “ When I compare the effort made and the resources invested on education here to other countries, it’s quite impressive. The quality of free educational institutions established here is admirable. There is a great sense of commitment to education, particularly from Sheikh Nahayan Mubarak Al Nahayan. His passion for education and his desire to make the UAE a hub for education is clearly visible.

There has been tremendous development. Previously students used to go overseas for studies, nowadays students come into the UAE for studies. They are giving out visas for people in the surrounding area to come here to study, so that’s already a huge step forward.”

You have also been very involved in coaching and mentoring your Emirati students. Can you explain the importance of that?

DR: ”I’ve had a lot of students whose parents or at least mothers may not be as qualified, literate or educated. Their mothers are smart, but that gap remains and they need to turn to somebody for career counseling. They need advice particularly in terms of decisions regarding their career and education. For example I had a lady today seeking advice over whether she should take a job she had been offered. It was a better company with the same job description. I asked her if she was married and she said I’m newly married. I asked her to look into their maternity leave options as she hadn’t thought of that.

Students come to me with queries such as ‘shall I join another company which is offering me twice as much salary and benefits, but it could be a dead end street.?’ So I map their future for them on a white board and ask them where they aspire to be twenty years from now. And from their future goals we work it back to the present and determine their career plan. So instead of thinking short-term I help them in thinking about the long-term.

Career counseling became a part of my job and they just kept coming for advice.

Students claim they like being here better than being at a sheesha joint because here they are learning. So the mantra is that learning must be fun. You will take tough exams but it’s fun, social and interesting and something you will want to do all your life, because for me learning never finishes.”

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