UPDATED:  February 27, 2011 10:42 PM
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South Asian Networking Conference Inaugurated in Washington Area

By: Geeta Goindi

McLean, VA, April 24 – Providing a promising platform to entrepreneurs from the subcontinent, the South Asian Professional Network Association of DC (SAPNA DC) held its inaugural conference, on Easter Sunday, in the Tysons Corner business hub.

Adroitly organized by Sibtain Kazmi of A Money Matter Mortgage, Inc., and wife Neena Bhaskar, the event drew some 100 business leaders, primarily from the Indian and Pakistani communities here, with a view to unite them and forge ahead together!

The conference was Sibtain’s brainchild.  Addressing the gathering, he said, “Sapna means a dream.  I had a dream to have an event which promotes South Asia.  My idea is for South Asians to grow together as a community, to do business together.  We all come from professional, intelligent backgrounds.  Back home, everybody wants to have their own business and we have carried that legacy to this country”.

Neena told us that the event “is an effort to get South Asian professionals together, especially business owners or any sort of service providers, so that they can network with each other and figure out if there is any way that they can leverage to improve or enhance their business”.

We asked her about the target audience.  She replied, “It is South Asian, but we welcome other people also.  We would like to get more of the younger generation involved.  We feel most of the people who come to this event have developed businesses.  But, we would love to involve more entrepreneurs who are starting out”.

Neena and Sibtain bring a high degree of professionalism to every event they organize and both are adroit at reaching out to people.  The conference was no exception!

“We have tried to get people from basically every industry to come here and use this as a platform to meet one another, to meet new people, talk about business - something that you really can’t do when you have social events like weddings or birthdays”, Neena explained.  “This is much more about talking about business, discussing with other business people, leveraging our contacts somehow”.

Both were optimistic that the concept would take off and gain ground.  “We want everybody to come to these events and bring more people so that we can make it bigger and better and maybe have a different type of format”, Neena told us.  “We really like the idea of a ‘Speed Networking’, something like ‘Speed Dating’.  When the event is bigger, we would like everybody to get up and move to another table, make it more interactive so that it is more interesting for people.  As you saw today, when people got up and talked to others, there was all this energy in the room”.

Among the speakers at the conference were: Manan Singh Katohora, Washington-based Bollywood film-maker and one of the biggest event promoters in our area; Mrs. Nilima Mehra, hostess of the television shows, ‘Chitrmala’, ‘Salaam India’ and now ‘Religions of India’; Rubina Wadhwa Arora, an immigration attorney; and Elizabeth Randell, a successful entrepreneur.

Manan commended Sibtain and the sponsors - A Money Matter Mortgage, Inc., Global Title Services, and MyDosti.com - “for this brilliant platform we share, something that was very much needed, required, essential for South Asian businesses in the tri-state area”, he emphasized.  “We needed an entity to promote and develop businesses and networking”.

Quoting Jack Welch, former chairman and CEO of General Electric who is credited for turning this struggling company around, he said, “Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion”.

Manan believed, the SAPNA DC conference would provide enormous benefits.  Among the tangible rewards, he mentioned communication, marketing, advertising, networking of your business, and being aware of businesses around you.  “Most importantly, this can give us the business exposure in our community and the mainstream through a wide range of events and activities”, he said.

In his daily life, Manan convinces businessmen about marketing and promotions.  Regarding his target audience, which ranges in age from 25 to 52 years old, he claimed that in today’s day and age, it does not get the daily dose of information from traditional sources of marketing, rather from Twitter, Facebook and listservs.  “I think that is what is the future of marketing and business”, he said.

Mrs. Nilima Mehra, who has been hosting television shows for the last 25 years, effusively acknowledged the accomplishments of Neena and Sibtain who, she said, “have made history, from A Money Matter Mortgage, Inc., to dinners, stage plays, Miss India beauty pageants.  Their names are all over the community”.

She pointed out that there are mortgage companies which have come and gone, but A Money Matter Mortgage, Inc., in the heart of Tysons Corner, is different - a success story!  “It’s because of Sibtain’s hard work”, she said, adding “behind every successful man, there is a successful woman and that is Neena Bhaskar and she deserves a big round of applause”!

Mrs. Mehra noted that the duo “have taken a very bold step today.  They have got all of us together, especially on an Easter Sunday”.  About SAPNA, she said, “this organization is built for us and for future generations ... We all need to network”.

Drawing attention to a recent Jewish function held in our area, she remarked, “every Jew in the community supports each other, so why can’t we do it?  Let us get together hand-in-hand and work for it”!

Rubina Wadhwa Arora, an immigration attorney in the Washington region for almost 19 years, stressed, “We need this kind of platform ... All of us in this room have been in business and are virtually self-made.  We need to invite the next generation to come in and see the success of our community.  SAPNA will provide that kind of platform.  This is a great community.  We are all growing and we should stick to each other”.

On a lighter note, Dan Nainan, an international comedian and voice-over artiste, had the audience in splits.  Dan, who grew up in Chevy Chase and graduated from the University of Maryland, has a cross-cultural background.  His father hails from Kerala, while mother is Japanese.  “For me to discover my roots, I need an around-the-world ticket”, he said, to much laughter.

For entertainment, there was also a musical program by vocalist Lucky Ali, accompanied by Amir Ashraf, a musician and singer.  Both artistes are originally from Pakistan, now based in New York.  At the event, they sang Indian film songs and light classical ghazals.

Also, on hand that evening, was Sayeda Aisha, volunteer coordinator with Express Care, a humanitarian organization working to provide essential social services to low-income families, immigrants, refugees and individuals in Northern Virginia, offering a support network that is often lacking.  Express Care services include: empowerment through training (personal care aide training, CPR, computer training and ESL training); social services and emergency assistance; medical, food and financial assistance.

Aisha and her family have undergone, and continue to experience, trials and tribulations!  At the gathering in Tysons Corner, she recalled how her father, a Muslim, was shot and left critically wounded in a store robbery.  The family would have become homeless if it was not for the timely assistance provided by Express Care.  Today, they owe everything they have to this organization.

Aisha is currently promoting a new project, ‘Cure Cancer through Compassion’, founded by Express Care in honor of her sister who was recently diagnosed with cancer.  “We support families who have children that are undergoing treatment in hospitals”, she said.  “Our goal is to raise three million dollars for this project.  We want to open an education center where we can educate people about different life-threatening diseases”.

To support this initiative, readers are encouraged to visit www.expresscare.org

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