Origin: Khujand, Tajikistan
Based in: Dushanbe, Tajikistan
Education: New York University, Harvard University & Stanford University
Azizjon Azimi was born in the city of Khujand in 1997, the year Tajikistan’s civil war came to an end. He had a privileged upbringing; his father is the director of Atlasi Khujand, a domestic manufacturer of national fabrics, and his mother is university educated. Azimi’s mother placed great emphasis on his education and from the age of three, Azimi entered school. By the age of seven, his teachers recommended Azimi be moved to a Turkish lyceum where his inquisitive mind could be challenged. During his childhood, Azimi was fascinated by all modern technologies, but he also had a great interest in current affairs. He remembers switching on the news covering the war in Iraq and becoming captivated by everything related to diplomacy and international relations.
At the age of 11, he was selected, along with two other Tajik students, to represent their country in Houston, Texas at an international I-SWEEP Olympiad project. Their challenge was to develop a system that could generate 3.6 volts of electricity from water and special mud. Azimi’s team won first place, which convinced his parents that he should stay in the U.S.\and continue his studies at a private school in New York. He graduated from high school at 15 and got his bachelor’s degree from New York University at 19. Azimi was the youngest graduate in the class of 2016.
After taking some time away from education, Azimi became a Knight-Hennessy Scholar at Stanford University and graduated with 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. Between studying for his degrees, Azimi worked as an intern at the U.N. and worked as a consultant for Simon-Kucher & Partners. He was invited to work in San Francisco with Keystone, one of the leading consulting companies in the world, but instead decided to move back to Tajikistan to begin TajRupt.
TajRupt is a non-profit organisation with a mission of empowering young people in Tajikistan. Since its launch in 2017, TajRupt has focused on the development of critical thinking skills among high school and university students. At TajRupt, students are offered English language courses and have the chance to learn concepts across topics such as public policy, global affairs, gender empowerment, markets and media. Thanks to TajRupt, 30 young Tajiks have entered the most famous universities in the world. TajRupt was the first NGO from Central Asia to receive financial backing from the European Endowment for Democracy. In 2018, Azimi’s success as a social entrepreneur was recognised by Forbes, which included him in their annual ’30 under 30’ list. He is the first Tajik to receive the honour.
Azimi’s next goal was to accelerate Tajikistan’s economic growth by developing a tech sector powered by AI. In the next decade, demand for highly skilled AI talent is expected to far exceed supply. Azimi wants Tajikistan to get ahead of the game by implementing a three-pronged approach encompassing education, applied research, and entrepreneurship, which will allow talented STEM students in Tajikistan to fully unleash their potential. In 2019, Azimi founded Zypl.ai, the first centre for the study of artificial intelligence in Central Asia. It received backing from the Islamic Development Bank’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Fund.
At the Zypl.ai centre, young Tajiks can take a range of dedicated short courses for IT and AI specialists, with the aim of training qualified workers for local finance and telecommunications companies. Azimi’s centre aligns with Tajikistan’s own national strategy for AI, which aims to open AI departments in 5 universities by 2022. His ambition is to make “Tajikistan a reference point for digital education in Central Asia,” and for Zypl.ai to become the first Tajik Unicorn.
Zypl.ai’s first AI creation assesses the solvency of customers and determines whether or not to provide a loan without the participation of an employee. This AI technology is now being used by Spitamen Bank. Out of 100 cases, 95 are correctly classified – this is phenomenal accuracy, as in partner banks without the use of AI, the accuracy usually ranges from 77 to 86. In 2021, by the decision of the shareholders of Spitamen Bank, Azizjon Azimi was elected as a member of the Bank’s Supervisory Board. In the same year, Zypl.ai began working on a project to use AI to check the authenticity of news about coronavirus vaccines. It is being developed in cooperation with experts from Microsoft. By the end of the year, foreign investors valued Zypl.ai at 6 million dollars and in 2022, Zypl.ai received investment from a top American venture capital fund, Battery Road Digital Holdings.
Quote: “Critical thinking is important in our information age, the age of Google, because it allows people to draw conclusions through the interpretation of information instead of naive acceptance.”