Slum dog millionaire to mentor: a designer's journey

Slum dog millionaire to mentor: a designer's journey

Zakir Hussain at Fintech in Vizag. DH PHOTO/ JBS Umanadh

The only son of a Tamil Hamali working at the Mumbai dockyard, Zakir Hussain might have ended up as a nobody in Asia's largest slum, Dharavi. But his designing skills wrote a different story for him.

Zakir is now mentoring engineering students in two colleges in Andhra Pradesh, the CBIT in Proddutur and Anantalakshmi College in Anantapur, with an aim of turning students into innovators and entrepreneurs.

An artist by nature, Zakir took up to drawing comics and cartoons by the time he was in seventh standard. Speaking to DH on the sidelines of Vizag Fintech Festival here on Wednesday, he said that his father had shifted him to a good school in New Mumbai away from Dharavi.

"A brother among four sisters, I had an opportunity to study what I wanted. My father struggled to get me admission for a bachelor’s degree with psychology and economics as electives," Zakir said.

His free-hand got him jobs in newspapers and reporting even when he had no degree in that subject. He acquired computer skills, got a job in a pharma company as a visualiser, then become a designer, worked in brand-making and moved to the Gulf looking for a job, and made a fortune there. He returned from Oman in 2008, and become a creative head in an IT company.

"I understood well about design-oriented technology. Worked as a consultant to HP and Microsoft. But I realised that whatever I am visualising is not getting implemented," Zakir said. He left that job and started concentrating on human perspective of technology.

"We are not getting enough patents in spite of having technology in hand. To get good designs we have to start with students while they are still raw, and not when they finish their studies. So, I started an organisation (Ilm, meaning education in Urdu) to work with students," he said.

While he was looking for a project, he convinced business tycoon Mukesh Ambani and got a project with Ambani's telecom brand - Jio. "I convinced Mukesh Ambani and I got a project in Jio for four years working on thousands of towers. The stint with the Jio has made me rich," he said.

He said that he roped in hundreds of undergraduate students to work with him for implementing the technology. “I have developers who are just 12th standard students,” he said.

Zakir invested "all his money" on these students by setting up start-ups inside the colleges. "Many students have failed in implementing what they have planned, but I encourage failure," Zakir said.

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