|24 September, 2019

Merchant of Hope: Pure Gold tycoon offers second chance to thousands of UAE expats

Firoz Merchant has spent about $5.5 million to free thousands of insolvent prisoners across the UAE through his various initiatives

Firoz Merchant plans to open 35 more Pure Gold stores over the next five years and wants to release about 1,500 prisoners in 2020 and has set aside a suitable budget towards this cause.

Firoz Merchant plans to open 35 more Pure Gold stores over the next five years and wants to release about 1,500 prisoners in 2020 and has set aside a suitable budget towards this cause.

Pure Gold / Handout via Zawya

Firoz Merchant’s story is a classic rags-to-riches narrative of an expatriate coming to Dubai from India with little more than a dream of success. On his first day as a gold broker in Dubai, the high-school graduate from Mumbai earned a princely sum of 10 UAE dirhams; today, he is ranked 21 on Forbes’ 2019 list of Top 100 Indian Leaders Making an Impact in the Middle East.

The founder and chairman of Pure Gold Jewellers is also well-known for his philanthropic work. Since the global economic recession hit in 2008, the 61-year-old jewellery tycoon has given a second chance to thousands of expatriates in unfortunate circumstances.

His reasons are simple: “At some point in our lives, we all wish we had someone to help us. Unfortunately for many, there is no one to help them, and this may drive them to desperation, and their dependents also suffer. Every person’s suffering has a ripple effect on society.”

EARLY DAYS IN DUBAI

The self-made millionaire first came to the UAE on his honeymoon; on his next trip, he came for good. He then founded Pure Gold and grew it into the multinational jewellery chain it is today, with 157 stores in the Middle East and Asia and a manufacturing factory in India and China each.

Merchant opened his first store in 1989. “Dubai was not that developed when I set foot here. I was mesmerized by the glitter of gold in the Gold Souq and started my business as a gold broker. I worked hard, and today I am proud to say [that] we are one of the fastest-growing jewellery chains in the region.” 

FORGOTTEN SOCIETY

Merchant’s philanthropic work took off in the last quarter of 2008, when people in the UAE began to feel the brunt of the global recession, resulting in a tide of bounced cheques and subsequent incarceration.

“I felt that I should help these people, while there were others who ignored them, thinking that prisoners are criminals. But to me they were insolvent people who became prisoners,” he said, and later remarked, “First we are human, thereafter everything.”

Merchant launched the Forgotten Society campaign to help free the insolvent prisoners in the UAE. Eligible candidates are selected by the relevant authorities, and Merchant pays off their debts and funds the prisoners’ air fare to their final destination. “I do my best and support accordingly,” he says. To date, he has spent about 20 million UAE dirhams ($5.5 million) and freed thousands of insolvent prisoners across the UAE through his various initiatives.

Besides Forgotten Society, he has supported numerous local charities in the UAE, including the Red Crescent Society, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Humanitarian and Charitable Foundation, Dar Al Bait Society, Beit Al Khair Society, Sharjah Charity International, the UAE Genetic Diseases Association, Breast Cancer Control, Faraj Fund, the Directorate General of Police, the UAE Ministry of Education, the UAE Ministry of Health and Zakat Fund Abu Dhabi.

Merchant credits his philanthropic pursuits to his mother. “[Her] spirit of kindness and giving has stayed with me all my life. Whenever I do something to support any needy, it’s in honour of my late mother.”

Over the last decade, Merchant has received several awards for his philanthropic efforts, including the Community Service Medal and Award in 2017 and membership no. 560 VVIP for the “We Are All Police” initiative by the Abu Dhabi Police in 2018.

Yet for him, the UAE government’s decision to give him a 10-year visa earlier this year was his 30-year-old dream came true. He said, “When I landed in UAE, it was my host country, but after getting the permanent residency permit status, it has become my home country.”

He is excited about the recent developments in the UAE economy. “This new wave of reforms will change the business and investment scene of this great country, which hundreds of thousands of international professionals and entrepreneurs consider home. They can now make long-term plans for their business and career. This will, in turn, strengthen the economy.”

FUTURE PLANS

Merchant has big plans in the pipeline, not only for his jewellery chain but also for his charity work. He plans to open 35 more Pure Gold stores over the next five years, depending on global economic conditions. He also wants to release about 1,500 prisoners in 2020 and has set aside a budget of approximately 1.5 million UAE dirhams towards this cause.

Having achieved his dreams, Merchant now wishes his charitable work to be carried on by his children and grandchildren. “My children are already involved in my philanthropic work, and I hope the philanthropic activities that I have started will continue from generation to generation.”

(Reporting by Mily Chakrabarty; Editing by Daniel Luiz)

(mily.chakrabarty@refinitiv.com)

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