Zaheer Allam is a holder of a PhD from Curtin University (Australia), an MA in Political Economy from University of Sydney (Australia), an MBA from Anglia Ruskin University (UK) and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Architectural Science from Curtin University (Australia). Based in Mauritius, he works as an Urban Strategist for the Port Louis Development Initiative (PLDI), the Global Creative Leadership Initiative and consults on a number of projects on the thematic of Smart Cities across the African Continent and on strategies dwelling in the increasing role of technology in Culture and the Society. Zaheer is also the African Representative of the International Society of Biourbanism (ISB), member of the Advisory Circle of the International Federation of Landscape Architects (IFLA), and a member of a number of other international bodies. For his contributions to society, he was made recipient of a number of awards and was elevated, by the President of Mauritius, to the rank of Officer of the Order of the Star and Key of the Indian Ocean (OSK); the highest distinct order of Merit in Mauritius. He is the author of over 30 peer reviewed papers and 4 books: Cities and the Digital Revolution: Aligning Technology and Humanity (2020), Theology and Urban Sustainability (2019), Urban Governance and Smart City Planning: Case Study of Singapore (in Press), and Cities and Climate Change: Achieving Decarbonisation and Sustainable Economics (in Press). His research was featured in a Nature Journal and he was recognised among the 25 best scientists under 42 in Africa by the Next Einstein Forum (NEF); hosted by the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS).
1. What has been your favourite job?
I’m really enjoying the job I am engaged in at the moment. I’m currently working as an Urban Strategist and I look at how to regenerate cities in the developing African context and most of the times, we are invited to ponder on strategies for vulnerable economies. This can be challenging as they do not have the financial capacity to support infrastructural developmental programs, so we need to find innovative fiscal mechanisms to support their economic growth while encouraging a higher quality of life. Those are not usually explored by developed economies, so we navigate in unchartered waters; which brings a satisfying outcome.
2. In one word, how would you describe Anglia Ruskin University?
3. How did your time at ARU help you?
I think adding a business and economics perspective to my field of expertise - cities, helped me in seeing things differently and helped in the crafting of more equitable and inclusive policies. We are often called for missions for various governments across Africa, so this added perspective allows me to devise policies oriented to equally support developmental agendas of the public sector, while also catering for the economic prosperity of the private sector.
4. What did you love about your chosen course?
As I personally prefer working while studying, I really liked the flexible nature of the distance learning programmes at ARU. It allowed me to pursue my career ambitions while gaining the knowledge I was seeking. This was made seamlessly, in a good communicative fashion. It didn’t feel like I was a few thousand kilometres away; my keyboard was at my reach, and so were the ARU staff when required.
5. What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
Looking at the evolving job market and the upcoming fields of need, I would tend to suggest that instead of being a hyper-specialist in a subject, to welcome the idea of studying different, but complementary fields. This will equip future employees with the ability to understand various facets of the same job from a much broader perspective, helping craft them in a more malleable asset. Hyper-specialising can be interesting too for people who are really passionate about one particular field and can see themselves competing in that field for the next few decades. For those looking to adopt a more flexible route that will allow migrating to adjacent fields as the market evolves, adopt a multi-disciplinary approach, and open up to the idea of going beyond your field to learn about others.
6. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst studying?
While, to be honest, my studies were aimed at studying the minimum to get through, I now look back and see that it was an opportunity to actually learn about case studies and an opportunity to exchange with lecturers; leaders in their field. While this is not an opportunity lost, as there are wonderful books out there, the exchanges with those figures are somehow what I think I would have enjoyed should I have realised this earlier on.
7. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Four names come to mind: Nikos Salingaros, Gaetan Siew, David Jones and Peter Newman. All of them work in Urban Planning but have varying interests. Collectively, they helped shaped my understanding of cities from a philosophical/ethical to the practical economics perspectives. This wide ranging interest allowed and continues to allow me to engage in high level thinking to better devise concepts that are more inclusive as we can have a deeper appreciation for the varying dimensions in a city.
8. What advice would you give your younger self?
a) Start strategising your career very early on. This will provide you with the ability to achieve more earlier.
b) Start reading from early on and do not neglect fictional works, as these will help you to better frame and communicate your ideas.
c) Connect with people better than you and actively exchange ideas with them. This will help nourish a deeper network where people will see your growth; leading to trust-building.
9. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
My journey is not entirely my own. I have very good mentors that push me in directions I wouldn’t have normally looked towards if I were travelling alone.
10. What’s next?
I am always working on the next paper or the next book, but I think I would love to transit to a more strategic position sometime in the future... one where I could engage in regional, or international, policy making. This is strange, as I initially started with Architecture, but I feel my experience somehow directs me to a different field now. Maybe, in five years, I would be tempted to consider some other field, who knows?