Malik Ahmad Jalal “Our Education System Is Broken At All Levels.”

BY SHAHRUKH WANI

Ahmad is on a mission. The kind of citizen who would work towards transforming lives and driving change in other countries, but in Pakistan, usually leave for greener pastures abroad. Which he did, at the peak of his adolescence. But he is also the kind of man who is oddly traditional, one of those who eventually returns to their roots — no matter the cost they have to pay for it.

After decades abroad, Ahmad oddly feels at home in Karachi, a city which he wants to become “a cosmos comprising the glorious days of Cairo, Damascus and Baghdad.” For Ahmad, the unique opportunity and challenge about Pakistanis is that “you can have the best and the worst experience in the same day.” He credits Pakistan’s “self-driven, motivated segment of youth” as setting the bar high on one side, and the countries universities for lowering the bar on the other side.

Ahmad himself has been raised in a military family in Rawalpindi, he left Pakistan to attend the London School of Economics and then became a chartered accountant with Deloitte in London. “The only reason I became an accountant because of my uncle, I saw him and he did pretty well,” he adds, “following someone else’s path is the wrong way to manage your career today. The pace of disruption is so high that you have to chart out your own destiny.”

Looking back, “I have made many personal and professional mistakes, though even then, I would give himself more chance to fail,” adding “we make things more complicated. They aren’t.” After Deloitte, Ahmad worked with Goldman Sachs as an investment banker, though left disillusioned by the global financial crises. He went on to spend two years at the Harvard Kennedy School, to study how countries grow and develop and looked east, joining Abraaj Group as its managing director, before eventually moving to Pakistan to head Aman Foundation, Pakistan’s largest private foundation.

At the core of the work Ahmad is doing at Aman is meeting the bulging skill gap. “We have graduated at more than 6,700 graduates in vocational training courses,” adding that “74% of graduates have been placed in jobs.” Ahmad’s frustration lies with Pakistani universities “who aren’t giving enough practical skills to their students,” adding that “most of them are degree mills.” He admits that there are few good elite universities, however, “can’t provide a mass solution.”

For Ahmad, the changing world requires applied knowledge, which most universities aren’t giving to their students. “I know graduates who admit that they don’t have the technical exposure employers need,” hence “vocational training reduces the cost for employers who can get more technical employees.” In many ways, he claims, universities have abdicated their role in youth development. However, Ahmad admits the workforce is evolving and ‘soft skills’ — which he calls life skills — will be critical. “Technical skills can get you only so far,” adding that skills like “discipline, collaboration, empathy and communications,” are critical.

Looking forward, the trustees of Aman want to expand by building the foundation as a ‘thought leader’ in public policy through conducting data-driven research. All the while, expanding the foundation’s health and vocational training portfolio across Pakistan.

“By the strength given to me by Allah, I have made a bet on Pakistan, and I firmly believe it will pay off,” he says with a degree of optimism usually reserved for teenagers.

This is part of our #BeyondClassrooms series.

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