Interview with Syed Mehdi Hasnain — Chief Executive Officer, The Hunar Foundation
Syed Mehdi Hasnain is one of the leading Business, Operations Excellence and Resource Management brains in Pakistan at current. A unique career that started at grass-root level in Pakistan, with hands-on working experience in industrial manufacturing and installation projects in power, cement, oil and gas and chemical sectors. He has 25 years of experience in manufacturing, steel, automotive, retail and electronics industries which include serving Worldwide Director of Quality with APC-Schneider in US; a multi-billion dollar world leader in Data Infrastructures and UPS systems, prior to that he also worked as Global Planning & Launch Manager with MEMC (Inventors of semi-conductor wafers & now listed as SunEdison) and Product Manufacturing and Quality Champion with ITT Industries a conglomerate from MI. Mr. Mehdi also holds the distinction of co-founding the first Pakistan-based global e-commerce portal Tohfay.com, He has also received the prestigious PASHA awards twice for his contribution to Pakistan’s IT industry. Investing over a decade of Learning and Development initiatives in North America, his recent assignment is as the Head of Operations at International Steels Ltd. He is the founding partner of consulting venture AMG International, which is providing strategic and financial leadership to top-end management of major large and medium size organizations, both within and outside Pakistan. Mr. Mehdi holds BE in Engineering and dual MBA in Operations Management and Finance (PA-USA). He is also a Certified Black-Belt for Six-Sigma Quality and a Lead Auditor for ISO/TS Standards.
PAGE: WHAT IS THE HUNAR FOUNDATION’S VISION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT? PLEASE TELL US THE PURPOSE FOR THE CREATION OF THIS FOUNDATION?
SYED MEHDI HASNAIN: The Hunar Foundation’s (THF) vision is to create a new cadre of skilled Pakistanis with internationally recognized technical qualifications that will open a new world of opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship.
Keeping to this vision, THF is empowering the marginalized youth, both boys and girls, with vocational training at six THF Institutes all across Pakistan, making them gainfully employed thus creating ‘A Skilled Pakistan’ in the process.
Recently conducted census puts Pakistan’s population at over 207 million people with around 60 million between the ages of 16-35, making it potentially the sixth largest labor force in the world. If you even take out 10 million graduates, we’re still left with some 50 million people. The question was how can we harness this huge asset to boost the country’s economy rather than making it a burden? Our idea is to provide school graduates and other young adults with international standard vocational training and create a force of breadwinners across the country who provides sustenance and livelihood for their families.
Currently, we have institutes in Sindh and Punjab with plans to open new institutes in other provinces to expand our outreach thus maximizing the impact. The institutes are located in Karachi, Tando Allahyar, Lahore, Multan and Khairan.
Beside these institute, our seventh institute is under construction in Korangi, Karachi. Once completed, the Korangi Campus, which will be spread over 4 acres, will house 2500 students and include institutes for both boys and girls as well as a teacher training excellence center.
PAGE: WHAT SUPPORT DOES VOCATIONAL EDUCATION AND TRAINING NEED FROM THE PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTORS TO REACH A FULL IMPACT CREATING A ‘SKILLED PAKISTAN’?
SYED MEHDI HASNAIN: Our objective of a ‘Skilled Pakistan’ is a mammoth task, and no one be it the government or any organization can do it on its own. We need support, from everyone.
Corporate entities like OGDCL, Pakistan Petroleum Limited, China Power Hub Generation Co. are supporting THF’s cause through Student Sponsorship Program. Under the program, companies support the whole batch of students. We need more companies to come forward and help us in mission.
We have placement departments at each campus location that works with industry players and builds relations with HR officials in related industries by visiting their organizations and presenting credentials of students, arranging interviews in institute and on company location and following up with employers. Many of our students are working in many high-profile companies such as Coca Cola, Atlas Autos, Indus Motors, United Energy Pakistan etc.
While developing the curriculum, we take input from industry players to make sure what we are teaching meets the industry requirements. But companies also need to realize that these young grads are not your average unskilled laborer, they are trained and have the requisite skills, so they need to be compensated accordingly.
PAGE: WHAT ARE THE COURSES BEING OFFERED AT THF INSTITUTES AND HOW MANY INSTITUTES DO YOU HAVE?
SYED MEHDI HASNAIN: The courses that THF offers ranges from refrigeration, air conditioning, auto mechanics to plumbing, welding fabrication, electronics, auto cad and graphic animation for boys and hair dressing, beauty therapy and in near future culinary and industrial stitching trades for girls. All the courses are developed following the City and Guilds curriculum, and accredited by the Sindh Trade Testing Board, TEVTA Technical Board and City & Guilds, UK.
PAGE: HOW THF IS WORKING TO EMPOWER WOMEN FROM THE MARGINALIZED COMMUNITIES? (Has separate facilities been established for girls or they have to get training along with boys).
SYED MEHDI HASNAIN: When you talk about the vision of ‘A Skilled Pakistan’, you cannot simply ignore the women. It would be foolish to disregard almost half of the country’s population and labor force. We at the Hunar Foundation believes that the only way forward is through providing equal opportunities to both boys and girls.
Women in Pakistan generally have limited access to education and employment due to cultural implications and other constraints, which leads to limited personal and financial growth. We aim to change that by providing young women vocational training, enabling them to stand on their feet economically and instilling a sense of awareness in them that comes with financial independence.
THF’s Central Vocational Institute for Women (CVIW) in Karachi and Farouq Ahmed and Aftab Shamsi Technical Institute (FAASTI), Bedian, Lahore currently offering six months courses following the City &Guilds curriculum, and accredited by the Sindh Technical Board and City & Guilds, UK in Beauty Therapy, Hair Dressing and Computer Application. Another institute for women is under construction in Korangi, Karachi that will graduate 1,200 plus female students every year.
Furthermore, having a working woman as a mother proves to be a role model for all little girls as well as boys who grow up with a mind-set that fosters respect for women.
PAGE: DOES THE FOUNDATION CHARGE FEE FOR TRAINING
SYED MEHDI HASNAIN: Although the cost of a single course is around Rs80,000 but most of our students are not in a position to pay. So, THF provides these deserving students with scholarships and subsidies on fee payment to help them complete their training and stand on their own feet. Further, the institute also bears the expenses of only their uniform and stationary so they could focus on their studies rather worrying about all the expenses.
THF is a Shariah compliant organization and audited by Ernst and Young. Therefore, a lot of THF students are eligible for Zakat. We have been able to do this with the help of our esteemed donors, who are helping them to help themselves.