*** DEBUG END ***

Interview: Ram Gidoomal, entrepreneur, author, philanthropist

18 November 2022

‘I wrote the new book to make everyone a floating voter: never take things for granted’

My grandfather and his two brothers set sail from Karachi in the early 1900s. The youngest, Jethanand, went to Japan; the middle brother went to Nairobi; and my grandfather went to Cape Town. They sold silk from Japan to the indentured Indian labourers recruited by the British in India to build the railways in South and East Africa, who bought these saris for their wives.

I had an idyllic childhood growing up in Mombasa, with my 14 siblings and cousins living in an extended family. We always had enough children for cricket or football on the veranda of our home.

But my father was one of the trickle of Asians deported from Africa before Idi Amin unleashed the flood. We found ourselves in a corner shop in Shepherd’s Bush. We all had different jobs to do, and mine was managing the finances, but we all helped with everything. Even granny would fill the shelves if we were all busy. My brothers and cousins bought their own shops, and eventually I worked with Lloyds Bank International. Now, I live in Cheam Village, in Surrey, with Cheam Park literally outside our front door.

My wife’s, Sunita’s, uncle traded with Nigeria, and, when he opened a branch in Geneva, I joined Sunita’s cousin there, running the company HQ. The company grew in eight years to a $200-million turnover trading in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. We bought a Scottish seafood company which was laying off 200 women, and re-employed them overnight.

In six months, we’d recovered our investment, and bought several more seafood plants in Scotland, mainly employing women, and we found seasonal fish supplies in other parts of the world to give the women work for the three months of the year when they had always been laid off.

You hear my breakfast sizzling? I’m having a good late breakfast to stop me having a rumbling tummy, because later I’m going to Buckingham Palace for a ceremony with King Charles to honour the 50-year contribution to the country made by Ugandan Asians, which has been considerable.

My first book was Sari ’n’ Chips. I’d observed how my sisters and nieces were discriminated against. When a girl is born, in many Indian families, there is sadness. It’s because of our dowry system — which makes for resentment and misunderstandings.

I’ve helped found many charities, but I was co-founder and chairman of the Christmas Cracker Charitable Trust, following my visit to Asia’s largest slum in Bombay. What I saw shocked me. There was a five-year-old who could not afford to pay a slumlord to sleep in one of the cardboard boxes on the pavement. Young teenage girls were being sex trafficked and locked up in cages to be abused. We mobilised nearly 50,000 teenagers in the UK, between 1989 and 1996, to raise nearly £5 million for good causes in the developing world.

I founded South Asian Concern in 1989. We work with partners in South Asia and the diaspora, encouraging prayer and connecting people for effective outreach as well as helping to train Christian leaders.

I was brought up in a Hindu home, and also brought up in the Sikh faith, given the proximity of the Sindh to Punjab. In Mombasa, I was sent to an Ismaili Muslim school. Jesus was seen as a colonial god; so we were never told anything else about him.

Becoming a Christian helped me to relate to God in a very personal and real way. He is someone who existed in space-time history. There is a sense of historic reality about him. He is someone I can speak with and pray to, and I can understand and follow his example.

When sharing about Jesus with my mother, I referred to Jesus as my sanatan sat guru: the eternal true and living master that John speaks of in John 14.6, something my mother could identify with without any difficulty.

I already had a deep understanding of what prayer meant, as I used to pray and meditate, albeit to Shri Krishna and Guru Nanak. I read daily the Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, and Guru Granth Sahib, which my father bought for me. They instilled in me good values. The key difference for me once I met Jesus was learning that he had forgiven all my sins — my karmic debt. Everything I do for Jesus is an expression of my thanksgiving to him for what he did for me on the cross.

I ran for Mayor of London when I saw a poverty map of London from 1890 and 1990, and saw what little difference there was between the two maps. Having arrived as a refugee in January 1968, with 15 of us living in four bedrooms above the corner shop, with just one combined bathroom and toilet, I could appreciate the challenges faced by so many in our city [that] no other mayoral candidates discussed. I got 100,000 first- and second-preference votes, saved my deposit, and put the key candidates under pressure to state what their policies would be for these communities.

One of my promises in the 2000 election was to set up a £500-million regeneration fund for London. This was mocked by many of the other candidates, but I’ve proved that such an initiative is not just wishful thinking. Allia Ltd, which I chaired for 20 years, has now raised over £1 billion in social-impact funds, with some bonds even quoted on the London Stock Exchange.

Someone said: “This Jesus geezer walked on water, didn’t he? That makes him a floating voter.” I wrote the new book to make everyone a floating voter: never take things for granted. Check what your candidates stand for. I score candidates on six principles: social justice, compassion, reconciliation, empowerment, respect for life, and respect for natural resources. Vote for the person who offers the best.

Rishi Sunak appears to be a good man with good values. He’s a man of faith. Politics is, of course, the art of compromise, and I wonder whether his appointment of Suella Braverman as Home Secretary was a compromise too far, given his commitment to restore trust and bring integrity and professionalism and accountability. Judge him on policies and delivery, not ethnic background.

I can’t explain why Priti Patel and Suella Braverman are so hostile to immigrants. I was helped many times by women here, who perhaps understood from experience how hard it is to survive discrimination. I wonder if there’s an element of arrivistes being more committed to extreme English right-wing causes than those born here?

I chaired the Lausanne Movement, set up by Billy Graham and John Stott; and also serve on the board of movement.org, which brings together local government, business leaders, and church leaders to look at their city to see how we can better address its needs. Getting business leaders, church leaders, and local government (bringing together knowledge, motivation and money) works a treat. I’ve lost track of how many cities have one now: Nairobi, Bangalore, Pretoria, Melbourne, Dallas, London, Manchester, Singapore, Hong Kong. . . And I’m a global ambassador.

I’m happiest spending time with my children and grandchildren. Young people give me a lot of hope for the future.

I pray for the people I have met with whom I have been able to share about the hope I found through Jesus.

I’d like to be locked in a church with Nelson Mandela. I’d like to understand how he was able to remain so committed to fighting apartheid with love and grace, despite everything that was thrown at him.

Ram Gidoomal was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

My Silk Road: The adventures and struggles of a British Asian refugee is published by Pippa Rann Books and Media at £25 (CT Bookshop £22.50); 978-1-91373-860-0.

Browse Church and Charity jobs on the Church Times jobsite

The Church Times Archive

Read reports from issues stretching back to 1863, search for your parish or see if any of the clergy you know get a mention.

FREE for Church Times subscribers.

Explore the archive

Welcome to the Church Times


To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read four articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)