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Syed Shahid Husain was born in the Bahir region of northeast India in 1931. In 1948, Husain emigrated with his family to Karachi, Pakistan. He studied at the University of Karachi and later finished his Bachelor of Science in economics at the London School of Economics on an unknown date. In 1961, Husain returned to Pakistan to serve as an Assistant District Officer in southern Pakistan, and later as the Deputy Secretary of Planning and Development in West Pakistan. In 1963, he completed a Master of Arts in Development Economics from Williams College (Williamstown, MA).
Husain's World Bank career first included a brief position as an Economist in the Economics Department (ECD) in 1963. In 1969, he returned to serve as the Division Chief for the Western Hemisphere Department (CAC) from 1969 to 1970. His career at the World Bank included numerous positions thereafter, including: Division Chief for the South America Department, Division E (SAMDE) from 1970 to 1971; Deputy Director for the Eastern Africa Department (EAFDR) from 1971 to 1972; Program Director for the Eastern Africa Department (EA2DR) from 1972 to 1974; Vice President for the Eastern Africa Region from (EANVP) from 1974 to 1976; Vice President for the East Asia and Pacific Region (AENVP) from 1977 to 1982; Vice President for the Operations Policy Staff (OPSVP) from 1983-1987; Chairman for the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) from 1984-1987; Vice President for the Latin America and the Caribbean Region (LACVP) from 1987 to 1994; and Vice President for Management and Personnel Services (MPSVP) from 1994 to 1995. Husain retired from the World Bank in 1995.