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Azizjon Azimi, TajRupt
This spotlight focuses on Azizjon Azimi, founder of TajRupt, a non-profit organisation with a mission of empowering the youth in Tajikistan. Azizjon is a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University and is currently pursuing a dual-degree Master’s in Business Administration at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Master’s in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. Azizjon has been featured on Forbes “30 Under 30” Asia in the social entrepreneurship category.
Please can you tell us about your work?

Since our launch in 2017, TajRupt has focused on development of critical thinking skills among high school and university students in Tajikistan through a tailored civic education curriculum that is delivered after-school. Hundreds of students have completed the English language curriculum, while learning concepts across public policy, global affairs, gender empowerment, markets, and media. In the process, we have adopted an active learning methodology centered around in-class student engagement and have digitised our course materials through the use of Canvas as the learning management system. 

Upon implementing several iterations of the curriculum, we came to realise that there was a sizable demographic of students at TajRupt who were passionate about fields within science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). This was particular interesting to us since we had initially expected to attract students with a primary focus on social sciences. Further research showed that this trend was characteristic of Tajikistan’s public education system, that places an outsized emphasis on theoretical knowledge in STEM subjects, rather than practical. 

This pointed us to a host of challenges that could be converted into opportunities to bring Tajikistan competitive advantage in the age of tech. Today, a student in Tajikistan with a demonstrated talent in STEM is likely to focus on theory as opposed to practice in secondary school, have limited opportunities for applied research at university, and further face shortage of opportunities on the job market down the road. These three areas emerged as the founding pillars of TajRupt.AI – Central Asia’s first artificial intelligence research center that we are planning to launch in Tajikistan this summer. TajRupt.AI seeks to concurrently address these areas in the following way: 

  • Education: Talented high school and undergraduate students in STEM fields will receive educational training in computer science after-school. The curriculum will be designed to train the students in the fundamentals of data science and AI (Artificial Intelligence) and include several levels of tracking of student progression.  

  • Applied research: University students, both at undergraduate and graduate level, will receive access to workstations in order to conduct specialised research on AI applications for social good. The tools of machine learning and deep learning will be prioritised in the process of applied research. 

  • Entrepreneurship: Student entrepreneurs will have an opportunity to commercialise their products through an incubator space and mentorship resources. One specific area of work will include establishment of local ventures, providing global companies with outsourcing services for AI-related programming work, replicating the success of eastern European countries in becoming hubs for IT outsourcing in the past two decades.

The reason we have decided to prioritise artificial intelligence in the work of our organisation is due to the immense potential for growth in the sector over the coming decades. Research by McKinsey Global Institute has estimated that the increasing adoption of AI can deliver additional economic output valued in trillions of dollars by 2030. More mportantly, the demand for high-skilled AI talent is expected to far exceed the supply in the near future, presenting an opportunity for developing countries like Tajikistan to emerge as regional AI hubs.   

TajRupt.AI’s mission is rooted in accelerating Tajikistan’s economic growth through development of a tech sector powered by AI, an ambitious goal that could positively alter the country’s development over the next decade. The three-pronged approach encompassing education, applied research, and entrepreneurship outlined above, will allow talented STEM students in Tajikistan to fully unleash their potential and carve a path towards a brighter future. 

How is Engage and the Transform Fund going to help you achieve your ambitions?

Funding from the Transform Fund will enable us to build the capacity that is necessary to launch TajRupt.AI’s work. It will go towards setting up the technological infrastructure, forming the project and research teams, as well as organising educational and entrepreneurial activities. In addition, the funding will allow us to host short-term fellows from leading global STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), institutions like Stanford and MIT who will lead research and teaching at TajRupt.AI. We also hope to capitalise on the Engage network to establish partnerships with other entities in the Central Asian region to further our work and impact. 

Which Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) does your work support the most?

TajRupt.AI’s work focuses on two SDGs: Quality Education (Goal 4) and Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure (Goal 9). 

Why do you think it’s important to support the SDGs?

The SDGs present an important framework to tackle contemporary challenges, while working across a variety of disciplines. We view the SDGs as a vehicle towards local action and inducing a meaningful impact on the ground. 

What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a business to make a difference in today’s world?
  • Have a bias toward action. The worldespecially in the age of rapid technological change is often too complex to accurately map out in your first attempt
  • Plan for iterative action coupled with a critical mindset and openness will present ample opportunities for you to make a difference in the world. 
  • Recognise the incredible role that luck plays in all of our lives and use it as a guiding principle toward practicing humility. 
What was the last book you read and why?

Leading Matters” by John Hennessy – Chairman of Alphabet (Google’s parent company) and former President of Stanford University, is the most recent book I’ve read. Called the “Godfather of Silicon Valley” by Marc Andreessen, John is also the recipient of the Turing Award, the most prestigious award in computer science. In his book, John shares core elements of leadership that have guided his journey through the worlds of academia and entrepreneurship, from empathy and courage, to curiosity and storytelling. My deep respect for him is rooted in his decision to return to academia after earning success as an entrepreneur in the 1980s, a path that is rarely seen in the Valley today. Being able to interact with John as part of the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program at Stanford has been a privilege of a lifetime for me. To this end, John’s personal support of TajRupt’s work has further inspired me to work toward converting our ambitious vision for the younger generation of Tajikistanis into a reality! 

Learn more

Learn more about TajRupt on their webpage.