This years overall top student, Ebrahim Ismail, left, receives an award from Ebi Patel, the chief executive of FirstRands IslamicFinance unit.

Proponents of Islamic banking have gone a step further to add value to a discipline that is regarded as an alternative to mainstream banking practice.

This month, 24 students graduated from a year-long certificate programme offered by IslamicFinance, a division of FirstRand Bank, designed to enhance and mentor candidates who are in business but have not had the opportunity for formal business education.

He said 37 percent of students achieved an A, 31 percent achieved B, 20 percent achieved C and 7 percent achieved D.

According to Ebi Patel, the chief executive of IslamicFinance, the course was born out of the IslamicFinance Business Awards established four years ago.

The programme, which had not yet gained traction among women, was aimed at enhancing the entrepreneurial, innovative and strategic management skills of young leaders.

The awards were formed to recognise the role the Muslim community played in growing the local economy and in uplifting previously disadvantaged sectors of society.

Three years later its organisers introduced the category Young Entrepreneur of the Year.

“This was introduced to honour young entrepreneurs for their vision, courage and business acumen.

In assessing the nominations, the panel of independent judges recognised two different types of candidates: those who have entrepreneurial ideas and start their owner businesses and others who, without formal business education, have responsible positions either in family enterprise or in corporate companies,” Patel said.

The programme is offered in collaboration with Wits Business School and consists of five three-day modules held over weekends in Sandown, Johannesburg.

Candidates are nominated by their businesses, peers or are identified from the Islamic Finance client base.

They submit their CVs, highlighting their education and experience, present business focus and motivation on why they would benefit from the course.

Islamic finance offers similar products to conventional banking and is only differentiated by its adherence to Islamically accepted principles that include not to charge or pay interest on financing or deposits or transact in investments involving alcohol and gambling.

FirstRand’s IslamicFinance unit had shown 20 percent to 25 percent year-on-year growth since inception in 2004, Patel said.

The course is free to the candidates except for their travelling and accommodation expenses. Course material and tuition is sponsored by IslamicFinance.

The syllabus includes formal lectures and practical projects revelant to the delegate’s sector. Candidates complete assignments after each of the five modules, which are assessed by facilitators and lecturers from the Wits Business School.

On conclusion of the year students present a business concept to judges. It is judged on criteria that include clarity of strategy, ability to execute concept and level of ambition. - Asha Speckman