By Yvonne Lim Wilson
Ali Khataw is widely known in Austin for his leadership and contributions to business, philanthropy, civic and cultural groups in Central Texas. Beyond his professional accomplishments lies a passion for collective justice. As he states in his online biography: “He looks beyond the obvious to find the extraordinary in what is possible for the community and the people.”
Born in Karachi, Pakistan, Khataw is a world traveler, having lived in many different countries during his childhood including Pakistan, Bangladesh, China, England before coming to the United States study Civil Engineering at the University of Texas at Austin.
Khataw started his own engineering firm, Encotech Engineering Consultants, in 1990 and now serves as Chief Executive Officer of this first-class engineering firm. In addition, he serves on more than 10 different board of directors including Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce (GAACC), Mayor Lee Leffingwell’s Central Corridor Advisory Group, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas and Austin Area Research Organization (AARO).
He has been recognized for his accomplishments and community contributions through many accolades and awards, most recently receiving the Leadership Award from the University of Texas at Austin Division of Diversity and Community Engagement and also the Hope Award from Interfaith Action of Central Texas, which recognized the contributions of both Ali and his wife Nahid.
Most recently, Khataw has turned his creative passion, photography, into his latest philanthropic projects. All proceeds from photographs posted on http://www.khataw.com will benefit those in need around the world. Find out more in our discussion with Ali Khataw in this month’s Asian Austin’s A List.
AA: Did you know what you wanted to do with your life or did it just happen?
AK: I have always had a plan. When I was a child, my father inspired me to look outside of the standard and to push the boundaries as an entrepreneur.
AA: What was your attraction to your vocation? What drew you to do the work you do?
AK: Construction and building intrigued me my entire life. Watching my father lead in creating iconic structures in the subcontinent drew me to my work. When you are building something, it is easy to see it expand and go beyond itself. I knew I could design better and achieve more.
AA: How did you first get involved with the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce? Why is this work important to you?
AK: A dear friend of mine familiar with the Asian community asked if I was interested in being a part of the AAACC [Austin Asian American Chamber of Commerce] at the time. I took some good advice and joined the Chamber. What I didn’t know then is it ignited a passion for me in economic development. Helping others with humble beginnings establish themselves in all facets of their future truly became my mission.
AA: What does the American Dream mean to you?
AK: Having lived in multiple countries, I can out rightly say the United States of America is the land of all opportunity. Find yourself in any environment and the U.S. will implement an opening to help you fulfill your goals. One can come to this country and work hard, be a productive member to society with integrity and persistence and accomplish anything.
AA: Is there anything particular about Austin that inspires you?
AK: For almost three decades, my family and I have called Austin “home.” This city completely sold me on the fact it is a perfect place to raise a family. You can find a high quality of life and a WELCOME mat set out for the entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. Those who live in Austin know it is a wonderful place. Leaders are not without challenges for growth to continue the expectations of our Central Texas residents in this beautiful city. For me, it is another reason to be dedicated to community leadership.
AA: Asian Americans are becoming a powerful force in Austin economically, culturally, politically and otherwise. How do you see Asian Americans fitting into the larger Austin culture and community?
AK: Asian Americans are so diversified in their own culture. What makes them a powerful force is their knowledge and skill set in every industry. As far as cultural heritage, Austin is a perfect place to display, integrate and preserve traditions. Not to mention, Asian Americans can be proud of the way in which they are united and work together to carry on and strengthen one another.
AA: What do you consider the most important cultural value for you and for those close to you?
AK: Social Justice. Addressing the educational, political, workforce development, as well as social services needed for all ethnicities and economically disadvantaged residents.
AA: Your photography is amazing! What do you look for in your photographs? Can you tell us what you have planned with your photo philanthropy?
AK: My desire to help others and use art to make a difference has inspired me to delve into the world of Photo Philanthropy. Images have an undeniable power, and I want to harness this power and use it to better the conditions of living for those in the world not lucky enough to enjoy the luxuries many of us have been blessed with. By means of non-profit organizations and charities, all proceeds from my website will benefit those in need around the world (www.khataw.com)
AA: Anything else you’d like to share?
AK: I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to Asian American Community and TODO Austin for selecting me. This is a true and incredible honor.
Originally published December 2013