About Sanjay Shah
Sanjay Shah is a passionate advocate for autism research, treatment, and awareness. He’s the founder of Autism Rocks, an innovative Dubai-based charity that combines the awesome power of popular music with an unrelenting focus on making life better for autism-affected individuals and their loved ones. By harnessing the star wattage of music’s biggest names to raise millions of pounds for Autism Research Trust and other worthy causes, Shah is doing more than most to change the conversation around autism.
Prior to founding Autism Rocks, Sanjay Shah enjoyed a long, largely successful career in high finance. This is his story.
Sanjay Shah: The Early Years
The son of hardworking immigrants, Shah grew up in polyglot London. From a young age, Shah obediently followed what he thought was his true passion: studying medicine and becoming a practising physician.
Shah was a talented student who had no trouble with medical coursework, but he eventually realised that his supposed passion was in reality his parents’. After putting in his best efforts at Kings College medical school, he confronted his mum and dad with his choice and withdrew to pursue his true calling.
Shah’s First Calling: Global Finance
The next years found Mr. Shah working his way up the ladder in the City of London’s ultra-competitive financial industry. His first career-track position was an entry-level job in the back office at KPMG, where his responsibilities included assisting senior auditors in their accounting work. Shah shortly transferred to Merrill Lynch, where he worked in the trading department at the global finance giant’s London back office. It was 1996, during the early years of what would become a multi-decade finance boom in the British capital.
Over the subsequent decade-plus, Sanjay Shah held positions of escalating responsibility at several major financial firms. Between 1996 and 2008, he performed trading and managerial duties at Credit Suisse, ING, and Morgan Stanley. His final role in London, as head of the derivatives trading desk at the Dutch firm Rabobank, terminated during the 2008-2009 financial crisis, when Shah (along with dozens of his fellow employees) was made redundant.
Following his dismissal, Mr. Shah and his family relocated to Dubai. Rather than shop his CV around at the sorts of global financial firms for which he’d worked in the past, he decided to strike out on his own and launch Solo Capital, a boutique brokerage. Solo Capital operated globally, with Shah managing day-to-day operations from his Dubai home base.
Sanjay Shah Finds His True Purpose
Shah faced other challenges following his family’s relocation to Dubai. Shortly after they’d got settled in their new home, Shah’s youngest son, Nikhil, became ill with a mysterious and troubling affliction. The boy struggled to digest solid food and fell into a deep malaise, eventually requiring hospitalisation. Concerned about the likelihood of receiving timely care in Dubai, where local health resources were challenging for outsiders to navigate, the Shahs returned to London with Nikhil and sought care from a battery of top-tier physicians.
A series of thorough examinations revealed that Nikhil was displaying symptoms of ASD, or autism spectrum disorder. Once Nikhil’s condition improved, the family returned to Dubai to arrange longer-term treatment. They visited the government-run Dubai Autism Centre, the city-state’s main resource for families with autism-affected children. Shah was struck by the centre’s overwhelming burden: despite well-meaning staff and state-of-the-art technology, the facility simply wasn’t equipped to deal with demand for its services.
Intentional Philanthropy and Autism Rocks
Difficult though it was, this trial introduced Sanjay Shah to his true passion: helping those affected by autism. Shah’s first intentional act of philanthropy was the purchase of two new minibuses for the Dubai Autism Centre’s exclusive use. The centre continued to use those buses for years, transporting lower- and middle-class Dubai families from far-flung homes to the centre’s grounds.
Shah continued to devote his time and resources to improving conditions at the centre, but he believed that there was more he could do to make a difference. He researched autism charities around the world and called on past and present colleagues to help him raise funds for autism research and awareness. In short order, he’d earned a seat on the board of Autism Research Trust (ART), a Cambridge funding clearinghouse for cutting-edge autism research.
In 2014, Mr. Shah took a brief but career-changing meeting with American hip-hop artist Snoop Dogg. Shah asked Dogg to support his vision of an ongoing, celebrity-driven pop concert series capable of raising large sums for autism research.
Dogg was receptive, and things moved quickly after that. Within a few weeks of the initial conversation, Shah had formally launched Autism Rocks and scheduled its first performance. The show, held at London’s Cafe de Paris, was a relatively intimate (about 600 attendees) bash featuring Prince. It raised approximately £200,000 and proved that the Autism Rocks model was viable under easily replicated conditions.
Since its inception, Autism Rocks has held over a dozen concerts at various locations in Dubai and the U.K. Some of the music world’s biggest celebrities, including Justin Bieber and Nicki Minaj, have participated. And, despite its humble roots at the intimate Cafe de Paris, Sanjay Shah is wagering that Autism Rocks will really hit its stride at scale.
What’s Next for Sanjay Shah and Autism Rocks?
Sanjay Shah is currently spearheading two Autism Rocks projects. First, the organisation’s leaders are in the midst of a final push to open the permanent location of its massive Autism Rocks Arena, which is to be one of the largest concert spaces in Dubai. Autism Rocks’ headline shows are currently held in a temporary arena with space for about 21,000 near Dubai’s city centre. The permanent facility will include a range of upscale amenities and state-of-the-art acoustic technology customised for the site.
Autism Rocks are also nearing completion on the Autism Rocks Support Centre, a treatment and care facility intended to complement the now-inundated Dubai Autism Centre. Shah expects the Autism Rocks Support Centre to fill a critical need for residents of Dubai and surrounding emirates. In the meantime, he’s committed to continuing to raise funds and awareness for worthy autism research projects around the world.