Dhaka

Ovick Alam: BridgeWee

Editor’s Note: BridgeWee is a StartUp which assists English medium students to access public universities in Bangladesh. They are doing amazing works to open the doors of opportunity to English medium students. Ovick Alam, Founder and CEO of BridgeWee, has been working tirelessly to give access public university education to English medium students.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Ovick Alam recently to gain insights about his ideas, current works and projects to bring positive changes in Bangladesh which is given below.

Niaz: What did bring about your interest in the Entrepreneurship theme?

Ovick: I have always wanted to make a difference to the society and entrepreneurship is a great way to create positive change and leave your mark. In developing countries like Bangladesh, you can find many problems and problems like opportunities for entrepreneurs. Being a student of country’s premier business school gave me confidence about entrepreneurship. When I was preparing for the fiercely competitive admission test of the public universities in Bangladesh, I faced many difficulties due to lack of guidance and proper support. Moreover, as I came from an English medium background, I found the process especially difficult. The admission process was different, but it was not clearly communicated and transparent. There was no preparation center to help English mediums students. More than 30,000 candidates fought for only 930 seats in the business school, so it was quite competitive! My struggle during this time inspired me to bridge this profound, yet ignored gap in the education sector of Bangladesh.

I think entrepreneurship is about developing innovative model to solve society’s problems sustainably and profitably. It is about really understanding the deeply rooted problems of the society and devising idea to solve that problem. It is not all about profits, it’s more about a meaningful contribution to the society. If the contribution is substantial, the society will reward you with profits and high brand equity. Successful organizations really make a difference to their community through their actions. They create a place in peoples’ hearts and minds through good work. In Bangladesh, businesses have a very narrow focus on financial returns. They miss out the broader picture of positioning powerful brands in consumers’ minds and use a holistic approach to business by acting as a responsible citizen. I want to see this change take place in Bangladeshi business culture.

Niaz: Please provide details of the actions you have taken that portray your passion and interest for the Entrepreneurship theme. What did make you decide to be actively involved in this theme?

Ovick: The fact that there was no one to help English medium students prepare for public university’s admission tests in Bangladesh. It gave me an opportunity to form an organization and help them out. I think it is very important for a country to make its public universities accessible to all segments of the society. It can help to bring all the different kinds of people with the different backgrounds under one platform and bridge the gap between them. There are a lot of differences and a huge gap between different mediums of education in Bangladesh. I was inspired to close this gap and help them understand each other and grow collectively. For that to happen, studying together in the best public university of the country would be a big step. I was also, motivated to help English medium students in taking preparation for the public university admission tests because they preferred going abroad as there are no other good educational institutions in Bangladesh.

Therefore, I started an organization called BridgeWee – which prepares English medium students for the public university admission tests of Bangladesh.

Niaz: Have you taken any sort of initiative (e.g. campaigns, fundraising, raising awareness of issues, starting a company, etc) related to this theme? Where did you get your inspiration to start the initiative?

Ovick: I have undertaken marketing campaign on campus and through Facebook. I went to different schools and gave small presentation about the idea that English medium students can also access country’s best universities like The University of Dhaka. I went to many coaching centers and talked to their teacher who taught senior students and tried to spread the words. I spent many hours explaining the complicated process of the admission procedure. I found that many people were interested, but did not have any guidance before I met them. This motivated me even more.  I used the social networking site Facebook to reach many students whom I could not reach physically. It really helped the flow of communication, both ways. Apart from that, I had to raise the money for my initial investment (which was very small). I did that through digging into some of my savings and then borrowing some money from friends.

Niaz: What’s the current status of the initiative you’ve taken?

Ovick: In 2009 BridgeWee started its journey as a pilot project in the Faculty of Business Studies in The University of Dhaka.

In 2009 – We prepared 6 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s C-Unit admission test and 2 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 33.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 3.5%.

In 2010 – We prepared 12 English medium students for The University of Dhaka’s admission test and 7 of them were successful. Our acceptance rate was 58.33%, whereas C-Unit’s acceptance rate was 2.88%.

As a part of expansion with an objective to accommodate more students, we have moved to a new place out of my home; it is a rented place in Mohammadpur, Dhaka. This is the first step towards bridging the gap in our education system; a unified one with equal access for all. BridgeWee allows the country’s jewels to congregate in one platform, interact and learn to serve the country – thus reducing brain drain from Bangladesh and taking the student community one-step closer to achieving greater concord.

Niaz:   What are the current problems you’re facing in carrying out this initiative? What measures are you taking to try to overcome them?

Ovick: Most start-ups face the same problem in Bangladesh – funding. BridgeWee had the same problem. When it started, I arranged classes in a room in my home. From then onwards it grew. This year due to higher demand, we have rented a new and bigger space in Dhaka. However, funds for investment and expansion are extremely difficult to get. Local banks do not support these small ventures and there is no way to get a loan on against your ideas in Bangladesh. Getting a place in the capital city is difficulty and expensive. However, BridgeWee managed some money to finance its expansion, mainly form previous two years’ profits and with the help of loans from relatives.

Another difficult task was to bring about an adaptive change in the minds of English medium students. Many students from this segment think they do not belong to this country and that public universities discriminated against them. Therefore, they want to settle abroad from a young age. They are also very frustrated because they do not have the same access as the mainstream students do. I had to work very hard to bring about this adaptive change in students, their parents and among the teachers and administration of English medium schools.

Niaz: How has your proactive involvement changed your views about this theme? What have you learnt from the actions you’ve taken? What are your insights on Entrepreneurship?

Ovick: I have been proactive about this issue and taken an initiative at the right time. Moreover, I did not start big because the time was not ripe; I mean the market was not big enough in 2009. Today I can say that I have been successful in changing the mind-set of many English medium students and there is a solid demand for Bridgewee’s service to satisfy them profitably. I had to do a lot of research to develop the materials and develop the curriculum. This knowledge or intellectual property is not available to others and this fact has helped me to create a blue ocean with no competitors in the market. I believe early bird catches the warm. That is what I tried to do. For any leader or entrepreneur, it is very important sense shifts in social needs and understands the dynamics of the change very well. A good understanding of the society is the first step to bring about any change.

My experience with BridgeWee has taught me that one has to be very proactive and hard working to bring about the desired change in the society. It is also important to get help form people. Whatever little I have achieved is due to invaluable help form some people who has always guided me and supported my initiative. Moreover, you need to form partnerships with various individuals and/or organizations – which will be mutually beneficial for both of them. At the same time, you have to shrug-off the pessimistic judgments that others will make about your work or its potentiality. To be an entrepreneur, you have to believe in what you do. For me, I believe that BridgeWee is making a difference to the society and it is very fulfilling and inspiring for any entrepreneur. If you can really create an impact, rewards will follow. However, it is not easy to work against uncertainty, especially when you have invested a lot of time and money on something.

Another important learning from my work is that ‘Patience is a virtue’. Sometimes you try very hard and yet nothing happens, then all of a sudden, everything falls into place. However, if you give up during the bad patches, then you will not be there to enjoy the harvest of your hard labor. William Feather framed it precisely “Success is a matter of hanging on when others have let go”.

Niaz: What do you think of your peers are thinking about this theme?

Ovick: I am a third-year student in a business school in a third world country with very low per capita income. Moreover, I do not belong to some of the few rich, lucky families. Therefore, life is very difficult. I have to ensure that I contribute to the family and study at the same time. Most of the profits from BridgeWee goes to finance everyday expenditures of our family and financing my younger sister’s education. With this situation, it is very difficult for any person to be an entrepreneur because you don’t get money to invest. However, BridgeWee is a kind of initiative that requires little investment. However, as we(My peers and I) look to the future, it is extremely difficult for us to deal with the uncertainty associated with business. Most of my peers advise me to try to get a good job after my under-graduation next year. That is a much more safe option; you get a decent amount of money coming in every month. You do not need to deal with uncertainty and you a lead a decent life.

Although few in numbers, there are some friends who want to become entrepreneurs; but they suffer from harsh realities. Most of them come from a humble background like that of mine. They have great ideas and are very bright with excellent education in country’s premier business school. However, in Bangladesh you will see hardly see a young person getting loans for investment if they do not have a rich background. This fact has kept our country small, the gap between rich and poor is stretching everyday and most of the educated people are passive observers of the situation as they are not powerful.

 Niaz: Thank you so much Ovick for your time. And all the best wishes for BridgeWee as well as for your all of your upcoming endeavors.

Ovick: Thank you too!

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

3. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

4. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

5. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

6. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

7. Shaba Binte Amin on Poverty Fighter Foundation

Shaba Binte Amin: Poverty Fighter Foundation

Editor’s Note: Poverty Fighter Foundation (PFF)is an Youth Based Non Profit Organization in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Shaba Binte Amin, the founder of Poverty Fighter Foundation, has been working to educate underprivileged children by providing quality education for free.

eTalk’s Niaz Uddin has interviewed Shaba Binte Amin recently to gain insights about her recent works to bring positive changes in Bangladesh which is given below.

Niaz: Shaba, thank you so much for joining us. At the beginning of our interview can you please tell us about Poverty Fighter Foundation?

Shaba: Thank you Niaz for your concern about The Poverty Fighter Foundation. PFF  is a non-profit organization. Our primary goal is to eliminate poverty from Bangladesh by ensuring food, shelter, cloth and education to the underprivileged and providing them with pure water and medications. Our aim is to make some substantial changes instead of giving some temporary solutions. We aim to make the impoverished population self-reliant, so that they can free themselves from the curse of poverty. Children are the future of a nation. Poverty Fighter Foundation works to provide English version education to the underprivileged children through a free of cost English medium school. Our dream is to build full facilitated hospitals in every part of Bangladesh, which will ensure proper treatment to the poor people. A small contribution from us can help someone to a great extent. If we can change the life of a few, we will consider it as a great achievement.

Niaz: It is really a great initiative. When did you start?

Shaba: PFF was founded on the 21st of October, 2010. But one of its main project, Poverty Fighter Foundation School, started its operation on the 14th of February, 2011. Primarily, the school started with 30 children. The school marked its first anniversary on the 14th of February, 2012.

Niaz: Why the date of inauguration of the school is 14th February?

Shaba: 14th February is celebrated as Valentine’s Day. The day of love. But the day is not just about giving gifts to significant other or family members, but also about loving everyone else. That’s why we mark this day as the day of inauguration of the school through which we look after the underprivileged children.

Niaz: How many projects you do have?

Shaba: Including PFF School, Poverty Fighter Foundation has two other main projects. These are: i) Mission hygiene and ii) Healthy human. But the foundation puts much focus on its primary project, Free Schooling for Underprivileged Children.

Niaz: Can you please explain the term ‘Free Schooling for Underprivileged Children’?

Shaba: Basically students for this school are picked up from families that are under the poverty line. Most of the children, now student of PFF school, once used to be a victim of child labor. But now they enjoy all the modern schooling benefits at free of cost. Most of these students live in Uttara slum area and are aged between 5 to 9. And they don’t have to pay anything for getting their education.

By the way, PFF School started its journey with 30 kids and after 1 year all of them have been promoted to Play Group from Nursery. The Nursery class features Arabic, Spoken English, English, Bengali, Art, and General Knowledge. Play Group consists of all these subjects including Mathematics and English and Bengali rhymes. PFF believes that the opportunity it brought to these underprivileged children’s lives will ensure a bright future for them.

Niaz: What is ‘Mission Hygiene?’

Shaba: Besides studies, students are also taught about hygiene as it is important not only for their health but also for their employ-ability and general reception into different levels of the society.

The underprivileged children of slums are completely unaware of hygiene. As a result they often suffer from diseases, such as: diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, food poisoning, etc. Their parents are unable to provide them with hygiene products, as they can hardly provide them with food and cloth. The students, who are under the free schooling project of Poverty Fighter Foundation, are provided with different hygiene products, such as: soap, shampoo, detergent, toothpaste, toothbrush,  etc. They are also taught how to use these products properly, as many of the students have never used any of them.

Niaz: And what about ‘Healthy Human’?

Shaba: Children chosen for PFF School are from the families that lead life under poverty line. As a result of this, most of the students come to the classroom with empty stomach which makes it rather difficult for them to concentrate on study. To fight this, PFF provides healthy food to children.

The menu includes egg, bread, butter, etc. However, due to insufficient funding, PFF can’t offer them food every day. Instead, it provides these healthy foods once in a week.

Niaz: That is really sad. I hope you will be able to feed them as much as they need. What is your prime objective with PFF?

Shaba: Building a better Bangladesh is my primary goal that I want to achieve through my foundation. I believe that small changes can one day turn out to be a big change for the entire country.

Niaz: What are the Challenges?

Shaba: Insufficient fund is the main challenge in keeping Poverty Fighter Foundation going. It’s somewhat difficult to get people agree to donate funds to the foundation. Lack of manpower is also one of the challenges PFF is facing at the moment.

Niaz: So, how are you surviving?

Shaba: I have been been spending a lot of money from my personal fund to support various activities and projects being operated under PFF. Along with that, occasional loans, support from volunteer as well as a few people from the society are what keep PFF stand and survive despite of all difficulties and challenges.

Niaz: How volunteers, supporters, donors or some one having enthusiastic mind can contact to PFF?

Shaba: Well,  anyone who is interested to support PFF can visit our website (here). We also have a Facebook Fan Page (here).  We welcome everyone to contact us.

Niaz: Any last word?

Shaba: Please come and see what we are doing together to change the lives of underprivileged children. Keep us supporting and let make a better Bangladesh.

Niaz: Thank you so much for your time. I am wishing you good luck in achieving your vision.

Shaba: Thank you Niaz.

_  _  _  _  ___  _  _  _  _

Further Reading:

1. Stephen Walt on Global Development

2. Joseph Nye on Global Politics

3. Juliana Rotich on Social Entrepreneurial Innovation

4. Shaka Senghor on Writing My Wrongs

5. Jillian C. York on Freedom of Expression, Social Media and Nonprofits

6. Robert Stavins on Environmental Economics

7. Ovick Alam onBridgeWee