Firoz Merchant in his office. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: A man who came to Dubai three decades ago with literally nothing in his wallet, Indian business magnate Firoz Merchant is one of many success stories of the city of dreams. But what makes him stand out are his efforts to give a ray of hope to those who have hit a roadblock in life.

Founder and chairman of Pure Gold Jewellers, a major jewellery chain with a presence in 11 countries, Merchant has helped release 4,500 debt-ridden prisoners over the last two decades and has pledged around Dh4 million to bail out more prisoners this year.

“Debt is a big burden and many people are trapped in it due to difficult circumstances. Helping clear debt is one of the provisions of Zakat or charity in Islam and I feel this segment has been somehow neglected by the modern society. That is why I took up this cause and I urge other people with the means to come forward and do their bit for these needy people,” said Merchant.

The 59-year-old gold merchant runs a business empire worth more than Dh3.6 billion, employing around 3,500 people across 125 retail outlets and two jewellery factories, but these days he is in news more for his philanthropic activities than his financial success.

This year alone, Merchant has helped release 700 inmates, who were behind bars for failing to repay their debts or meet other financial liabilities.

Currently, Merchant’s office is going through another list of inmates and by the end of this month, 300 more prisoners will be repatriated.

“Most of these people are victims of circumstances and deserve a helping hand. All of us deserve a second chance to restart our lives and to realise our dreams and I am just trying to give people this hope. When we extend our hand, we don’t discriminate on the basis of faith, nationality or race. We help those in need, whoever he or she is,” added Merchant.

The Mumbai-born tycoon, who grew up in abject poverty along with eight other siblings in a single-room apartment, has so far spent around $3 million (Dh11 million) in bailing out defaulters.

“Every person is born with hope. When you are struggling and trying your best to achieve a better life, you don’t know how successful your efforts will be, but you keep marching on only with hope. It was this hope that helped me succeed in life and I want to extend this light of hope to all those who are struggling in life,” said Merchant, who started working after dropping out of school when he was 11 in one of the most backward areas of Mumbai.

Merchant’s major philanthropic activities began in 1998, when he chartered a plane with the help of the Indian Consulate in Dubai and UAE authorities to repatriate 350 Indian amnesty seekers.

“We all come here chasing our dreams and some people realise it and some don’t. In 1998, I opened my first retail jewellery outlet. My dream was coming true but there were thousands of others who were stuck and the authorities were offering a general amnesty. I felt the need to help these go back home and start a new life,” said Merchant, explaining how his philanthropic journey began.

Philanthropy, he feels, is part of life and is a responsibility of every human being.

“As human beings it is important for us to understand the purpose of life and what is our moral responsibility towards the society. Whatever Allah has given me is His and we will be held responsible for the way we make use of these blessings,” he said.

Despite, his astonishing success in life, Merchant says he is grounded and his mother’s words help him stay so.

“My parents have been a great source of inspiration for me, particularly my mother. Their words of advice and admonition still keep ringing in my ears and help me stay grounded. Unfortunately, both of them passed away during the early years of my success but till her last breath my mother kept reminding me of my responsibility towards the society and fellow humans and those words will stay with mee till the end,” said Merchant, speaking about his inspiration.

Merchant’s programme helps clear the debts of those who have been jailed for unpaid loads or liabilities and provides them with air tickets to their home countries and Dh100 in cash for their last leg of the journey.