“What does it take to be the first female anything? It takes grit, and it takes grace.” – Meryl Streep

When people think about role models, women aren’t always the first to come to mind. But they’re out there. We know them. We are them.

Dr Zulekha Daud, the Founder and Chairperson – Zulekha Healthcare Group, is one such role model who has delivered when no one expected that she would come to be known as the first recognised Indian woman medical professional and senior-most lady entrepreneur in the UAE.

Dr Zulekha Daud
Dr Zulekha Daud

In fact, there were those who thought much less of her, when she first arrived to work in the Kuwaiti Mission Hospital located in Sharjah in 1964. This lady with a mission to serve in the most challenging of times has, for over five decades, been working tirelessly towards the welfare of the Emiratis and the expatriates. It’s no doubt that ‘Mama Zulekha’ has come to be known as a true female trailblazer in the medical field here.

Many of us would not have been here had it not been for the deft caring hands with which she performed home deliveries, at a time when finding a female doctor was not the norm. With immense patience she dived into any and every patient requirement that knocked her door – from deliveries to accident cases, burns to fractures, high blood pressure to diabetes, diarrhea to fever. She says all she had was her patient’s unquivering trust in her. She knew that she was their only bet for a life of health and she couldn’t disappoint them!

This lady with a mission to serve in the most challenging of times has, for over five decades, been working tirelessly towards the welfare of the Emiratis and the expatriates.

Young ‘Jullu’ as she was called at home, could never have envisioned that this was a life awaiting her as she belonged to a very conservative orthodox muslim family of Shantinagar in Nagpur, India. “It was written all over, ‘You are a girl, so stay quiet in a corner’,” recalled Dr. Zulekha. But it was her rather progressive father, Sadiq, who insisted that she not limit her education to the local ‘madrasa’ and sent her to a Convent school propelling Zulekha to reach higher. Both, she and her elder sister, entered the medical profession and she graduated with a medical degree from the Government Medical College in Nagpur.

Dr Zuleha Daud
Dr. Zulekha Daud greets Indian Prime Minister HE Shri Narendra Modi on his maiden visit to UAE at the reception hosted by Consulate of India jpg

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During her residency she gained a lot of experience treating patients with varied diseases. On a tryst with destiny, Dr. Zulekha found herself treating patients in the trucial states. She soon graduated from a young medical graduate to a practicing physician in pursuit of her dream of serving people in need from all walks of life and offering affordable medical facilities to all. The only woman doctor became a household name.

Today, Zulekha Healthcare Group boasts of super-specialty hospitals, medical centres, educational institutes, pharmacies in UAE and in Nagpur, Central India with 400,000 plus satisfied patients a year.

Her strong advocacy for women is quite evident, when the group’s top management is woman run, with her daughter Zanubia Shams, taking the seat of the Co-Chairperson at the Group and about 60 percent of her more than 3,000 personnel including over 300 qualified doctors, staff nurses and a host of paramedical staff, are women.

For her notable work, Dr Zulekha Daud has been felicitated with several prestigious laurels in the region. She was honoured by His Highness Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation for her five decades of valuable contributions to the healthcare sector in the UAE and her tireless efforts to boost welfare levels for UAE citizens and residents. Dr Daud is the only Indian persona chosen to receive this honour from The Office of His Highness.

But healthcare for all is just one of her dreams. Educational and vocational training for women and under-privileged students has always been on her priority list, as she believes that financial independence is the key to garnering the respect women so deserve. With this belief, she started in 2008 ZED Vocational Training & General Shikshan Sanstha (ZEDVTGSS), in Nagpur, India – a locality considered as backward with poor quality educational institutions. ZED is a Minority Commission recognized institution imparting courses in Education, Science, Commerce and Technology streams.

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The single-minded mission of ZED is to provide quality education with focus on all-round development supported by state-of-the-art infrastructure at nominal costs. Management Scholarships are provided to the needy and deserving students to ensure they are not deprived of high-quality education. The college strives to not just provide main stream education but also train women on vocational skills like computer application, teaching courses, home science skills, etc.

Dr Zulekha Daud
FAMILY – 25 June 2018 03 (LtoR – Aamir Shams (grandson), Taher Shams (Son in law and MD of the Group, Dr. Zulekha Daud, HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Zanubia Shams, daughter and CEO of ZHG

Dr. Zulekha Daud went on to engineer the cause of bringing affordable education and professional courses for the downtrodden and deserving students in and around Nagpur. With a quiver in her voice she recalled an incident when a few girl children came to visit her in Nagpur and while expressing their adulation for her said, “You’ve been fortunate to have studied. We are treated like garbage, denied education, least a complete meal and married hurriedly to the first man that comes forward.” It broke her heart and she decided that these girls needed a platform. She set up colleges – Zulekha College of Commerce, Science And Technology, Zulekha College of Education and Zulekha Post Graduate College of Education with over 5,000 students for variety of professional curriculum such as Polytechnic, BBA, BCCA, B.Com, B.Ed and M.Ed.

Zulekha College adopted non-functional schools in the neighbourhood in a bid to revive them as knowledge centers and also initiated the ‘Clean Drinking Water’ project with Metito.

Still young at heart, in 2016, Dr Zulekha Daud realised her parents’ dream by setting up an ultra-modern hospital in her hometown Nagpur under the name of Alexis Multi-specialty Hospital. With affordable international standards of quality healthcare, Alexis Hospital is the first multi-specialty facility to offer the most advanced cancer care treatment to the entire central India.

Care and compassion personified, Dr Zulekha is known for her consistent commitment to bring the best for society through quality healthcare. She is one of the most respectable personalities among top leaders in UAE and India. For her relentless efforts she received India’s top most honour for overseas Indians – the ‘Pravasi Bhartiya Samman’ award. The award is conferred upon individuals who have made significant contributions to philanthropic and charitable work and for prominence in one’s field which has enhanced India’s prestige in the country of residence. The award was presented by the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind on January 23, 2019 at a ceremony held at Lalpur in Varanasi, India.

Dr Zulekha Daud
Dr. Zulekha Daud with Hon’ble President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind, Smt.Sushma Swaraj, Minister for External Affairs and other awardees

Under her leadership, the Zulekha Healthcare Group has also been actively involved in various CSR ventures and campaigns such as CHANGE TO CHANGE (a cervical cancer awareness campaign), PINK IT NOW (advocates early detection and reduction of deaths from breast cancer), NO MORE EXCUSES (a community based campaign dedicated to promoting the need for people to take responsibility of their own health and wellbeing), EFFORT (environment- friendly activities conducted in the hospital) etc.

With work that speaks for itself, Dr Zulekha is not satisfied. She wants to do more. She wants to ensure that the girl child isn’t denied the opportunity to be educated by being a catalyst behind changing the society’s mindset. “That’s the only way to secure a promising future.”

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Listening to people, Yasmeen Maqbool acquaints herself to their life’s feature. What inspires and encourages, she’s always on the lookout for ‘passionistas’ and weaves their stories to bring to you the movers and shakers of today! Her only other true indulgence is spending quality time with her green fingers while listening to Jagjit Singh ‘ghazals’.

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