Shabana Faizal on co-founding a multi-million dollar enterprise

Shabana Faizal

Shabana Faizal is the Co-Founder and Vice Chairperson of Singapore-based enterprise KEF Holdings and the Faizal and Shabana Foundation. She is also the wife of Founder-Chairman Faizal E. Kottikollon.

KEF Holdings works in six critical areas of development: Infrastructure, education, agriculture, metals and investments, with a focus on delivering off-site construction technology and solutions. The Faizal and Shabana Foundation is KEF Holdings’ philanthropic arm.

Earlier last month, KEF Holdings announced an investment of over Rs 1,500 crores in India in the five verticals it works.

We at YourStory took this chance to speak to Shabana Faizal.

KEF Holdings first started its journey in the United Arab Emirates from a small scrap metal trading and recycling company Al Ahmadi General Trading in 1995. In the course of two decades, the family has earned a reputation for its ethical business practices, philanthropy and development ethos.

Shabana, herself, has had a vibrant and diverse working history, from working at a steel mill to data entry at a time when both areas of work were dominated by men. A psychology graduate from St Agnes College, Mangalore and fashion design and merchandising diploma-holder from National Institute of Fashion Design (NIFT, Dubai), even after she married, the thirst to work never died. She says, ‘I wanted to start something new.’ Many business opportunities came and went, Shabana finally had her first child Sophiya. Sophiya was followed by Sarah, Zacharia and Czarina. After years of working and motherhood, Shabana still felt something was missing.

When the KEF Holdings’ 100,000 sqm manufacturing facility was established in Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah, Shabana wanted to help with the interior designing of the factory. That was her first ground-beaking experience in her husband’s work. Soon after, she started and developed its Human Resources department, because this area of work meant dealing directly with the people who worked there.‘We built the first community centre for employees, and the facilities were open for everyone. Even the catering was the same for those who worked at the workshop all the way to the senior level workers. We didn’t believe in separating people based on their status,’ Shabana says.

Shabana’s insistence on providing workers a wholesome environment to work in helped develop various programmes within the community centre. Here, workers received cutting-edge training, English lessons, in-house syllabus to educate them in areas of health and hygiene.

Between 2008 and 2013, Shabana and Faizal sold KEF Holdings to Tyco International, a global conglomerate. Soon after, KEF Holdings was registered in Singapore as a holding company with The KEF Company Ltd established at its corporate headquarters in Dubai’s International Financial Center.

On philanthropic work, Shabana believes those who have the means, espsecially when they’re in such a position as she is, it’s pertinent to give back to society. One way was through their patronage of the KE Safiya Autism Centre in Mahe, Kerala. In 2013, they helped upgrade the Government Vocational Higher Secondary Schools for Girls, Nadakkavu in Kozhikode (Calicut), Kerala under the PRISM (Promoting Regional Schools to International Standards through Multiple Interventions) scheme. The school, before their intervention, was dilapidated due to lack of resources. Simple facilities like clean toilets or educational ones like labs were either too poor or non-existent. The mid-day meal scheme, like in many government schools across India, was mismanaged. For a school with over 2,000 children, only 9 toilets were functional. Through KEF’s infrastructural technologies, the school was renovated extensively, new facilities added and teachers were re-trained. Shabana says the school saw a significant increase in test results and school attendance.

Likewise, Shabana and Faizal hope to work with government schools, local MLAs and community members across India to create productive public-private parternships. ‘Everyone has to be part of the management to create sustainable development,’ says Shabana. But, working towards such extensive progress isn’t always easy. ‘We faced a lot of challenges in terms of distrust. But, people are very open and positive about it, too. The distrust goes once they see the results of the work. So, in the end, the your work has to speak for you.

‘We need a lot of intervention to improve, and I think private corporations can push this goal towards development. Everyone has to work together and sincerely.’

Government Vocational Higher Secondary Schools for Girls, Nadakkavu

The Nadakkavu success story doesn’t necessarily mean the same model can be scaled to a national level owing to the diversity of conditions in different parts of India. Whilst Nadakkavu is an excellent case study in what kind of development government schools need and how to execute it, Indian needs are so diverse, progress would require far more participation than we currently have.

Hence, the Shabana and Faizal Foundation, besides this, takes part in numerous charitable projects from university grants for students to contributions towards medical research for diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s.

As a woman, nothing has stopped Shabana from realising her passion. In person, she’s warm, affectionate and incredibly sincere in her desire to help people.

The thought of giving back to the community – it’s always been with us. We need to take care of people and the community. This work is the only thing that gives me satisfaction. Life is full of challenges. That’s just how things are. So, we need to start somewhere, right?



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