Small business role models: an Asian business support group is helping Bradford’s young Muslims into jobs – Enterprise

Small business role models: an Asian business support group is helping Bradford’s young Muslims into jobs – Enterprise – Brief Article

Michael Smith

When a minority of young Asians, provoked by the extreme right wing British National Party, rioted in Bradford, Yorkshire, last June, an unusual full-page advertisement appeared in the local paper four days later. It was placed by Asian Trades Link (ATL), a business support group for Asian businesses, and aimed to distance the Asian business community from the rioters. `The Asian Community is appalled and horrified by the scale and intensity of the violence which occurred,’ ATL wrote. `We strongly condemn the destruction and carnage caused by a small group of hooligans who by no means represent the Asian community. We are committed to working together with all the communities living in Bradford to build a city which is at peace with itself and one we can all be proud of.’

Bradford’s Telegraph and Argus hailed the advert as an `unreserved apology’ from the Asian business community, though ATL co-ordinator Ashad Javed is quick to admit that ATL didn’t have the mandate to apologize for the actions of unemployed youngsters who burnt down a BMW car show room. `We never saw it as an apology but as a message of sympathy for the citizens of Bradford,’ Javed says. `We did it to condemn the riots which were setting a bad example of the Asian community and of Bradford as a venue where businesses can invest.’

With recession in the Yorkshire textile industry leading to mill closures, unemployment in Bradford is running at over 10 per cent, but among the Asian Muslim community it is much higher. Even among Asian graduates unemployment is `significantly higher’, says Javed, who puts this down to racism and `postcode discrimination’. If you come from a deprived area such as Manningham, Bradford’s Muslim inner-city heartland–`which is always in the news for the wrong reasons’–then you are much less likely to get a job.

`We would like to see more Asians running their own businesses,’ Javed says. ATL’s project manager, Tariq Sadiq, points out that young British Asians don’t want to work for their fathers’ grocery shops or newsagents. `They have aspirations of their own’–such as information technology, e-commerce, accountancy, law, fashion retailing, graphic arts and media agencies. `There is a drive among young Asians for self-employment,’ he says.

ATL gives free advice and support–from accountancy and IT skills to marketing and exporting–to the growing number of Asian businesses in West Yorkshire. There are an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of them, though ATL is still compiling its database and no one yet knows how many Asians are employed in their own businesses. Javed himself owns a chain of three restaurants, called Shabab, with a turnover of 1.5 million [pounds sterling], employing 30 full-time and part-time staff.

ATL, founded in 1998 as a member association, recently received government funding to the tune of 250,000 [pounds sterling], through the Department of Trade and Industry’s Business Link network. ATL became a Business Link concession last April.

There are downsides in Bradford. While ATL is proactive in offering its services, too many of the first generation of small Asian businesses `are very insular and not receptive to external advice’, Sadiq says. And too many of Bradford’s young Kashmiri Muslims are underachieving in schools, compared, for instance, with their Sikh or white counterparts.

Philip Lewis, the Bishop of Bradford’s adviser on interfaith issues, worries that, with high Asian unemployment, Bradford is sitting on a `demographic timebomb’ that could explode in further violence. But Sadiq points out that West Yorkshire benefits from the financial hub of Leeds, and there are `almost daily’ announcements of new investment programmes.

Javed believes that if the timebomb is to be defused, community initiatives such as ATL will play a vital part. Muslim leaders have also been in dialogue with the Anglican Bishop of Bradford, David Smith, about setting up a `youth parliament’, to give a voice to unemployed youngsters of all ethnic backgrounds. And Javed sees ATL’s work also affecting the social, cultural and unemployment scene. `If the youth, aged 16-24, are inactive this sets out a shoddy foundation for them to build on,’ he says. `Our job,’ adds Sadiq, `is to find high growth Asian businesses–a few role models.’

COPYRIGHT 2002 For A Change

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group