“The starting point of all achievement is desire” – Napolen Hill
Ideas are a dime a dozen – even the great ones. But it only matters when you can churn that idea into something substantial and make it flourish. Breaking conventions is always difficult, sometimes even considered a taboo, although true success lies when you can tough it out and come out victorious. This month we bring to you men who dared to do it differently and we bring to you their riveting tales of success. Read on as they discuss their achievements and passions.
Knocking out the hurdles
By Mehrin Mubdi Chowdhury
Photos: Ashraf Uddin Apu
Call it a stroke of luck or driving passion, S M Shaikat’s unremitting work in the field has earned him recognition within the country and beyond. Diligently working towards women’s rights, Shaikat works for Socio Economic Rural Advancement Committee (SERAC-Bangladesh) and is the country coordinator for International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP). He is also an Advisor to Bangladesh’s Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS, and has been nominated as one of the hundred global young leaders by Women Deliver in 2013.
What encouraged you to work for women’s rights?
The fact that I am a man is what encouraged me the most to work for this issue. Since men are usually accused of being the prime reason behind the shortcomings in women’s freedom, I considered it my duty to work on altering this mindset as much as possible.
I believe that by being a man if I am able to take a stance for women, then many other men might follow suit and ultimately a day would come when men no longer are considered to be the major cause of hindrance to women’s rights.
What lead you to take this challenge?
While studying LLB, I had to read up cases on domestic violence. I learnt that most of the violence towards women was because of dowry. This really affected me and I wanted to do something to improve the situation.
I approached a few friends and relatives to join me in my stance. Initially, everyone discouraged me saying that the concept of dowry was too deeprooted in our culture. Also, they thought that being a man I wouldn’t be able to make much of a difference. However, I was adamant. As the years passed and social media came into existence, things started looking up. I finally opened a page on Facebook calling it Anti Dowry Awareness Program which was highly appreciated with innumerous ‘likes’ especially from men.
How did project Jagoroni, one of your most celebrated projects, come into being?
In 2013, Women Deliver had a global conference in Malaysia for youth leadership. My work regarding social awareness was selected as one of the top ten ideas amongst thousands of submissions. Later, based on the voting process, I won the competition. I was granted a stipend with which I started project Jagoroni.
Jagoroni was a pilot project established in Mymensingh where six hundred and fifty young volunteers spanning over an area of thirteen districts had been trained to revolt violence against women. We called our volunteers Jagori which meant “uprising.” In cases of child marriages or dowry, they would immediately inform the law enforcement agencies and convince them to take immediate action. Jagoris also had the duty to raise social awareness by giving lectures, distributing posters and stickers to the inhabitants, etc.
What are your other accomplishments in the field of women empowerment?
In 2010, after winning the UN habitat growth competition, we utilised the grant received to educate fifty women slum dwellers with life skills such as sewing, handiwork, etc. Every year, we have a new batch and with every new grant, we try to provide for the latest batch of students.
Apart from your unending personal efforts who else would you like to dedicate your success to?
It would be the three volunteers who have been helping me since the inception of my first project. There are more volunteers today, some of whom have formally joined as team members. Apart from them, SERAC-Bangladesh contributed widely by recognising and supporting my efforts.
What were the major setbacks?
There were many, but the major one was in the case of collaborative work. If leadership ideologies don’t match, then a project gets negatively affected. So it is better to work solo than to work with someone with different principles.
Any profound message to the younger generation?
Perseverance is the key to success. No matter how many times you fail, do not give up because there will come a day when you will be successful. People will fight you; they will also mock you in every way possible. Do not be disheartened easily. Face life headfirst with courage and ultimately you will come out victorious.
A smile that fits
By Mehrin Mubdi Chowdhury
Photos: Ashraf Uddin Apu
Director of Pandora Associates, Deputy Chairperson of Jahan Education Group, Deputy Director of Bangladesh University, Quazi Taif Sadat is a man with many establishments under his belt. However, he is best known for meticulously setting up reputed and effective charitable trust organisations like the Smile Foundation and the People’s Rokeya Foundation.
How did it all begin?
I was always involved with charity organisations; donating a portion of my income regularly. However in 2011, a major incident turned my life upside down. My mother was diagnosed with cancer and things simply went haywire. To harness back the lost happiness and discover the true meaning of existence I thought of dedicating a major part of my life to charity and hence Smile Foundation was conceived.
Smile Foundation has made a big name within such a short time, what would you say is the major driving force behind this achievement?
The major driving force behind Smile Foundation is the work of young students volunteering everyday. They work diligently and believe that their united effort can help create a positive outcome. These volunteers don’t seek any monetary benefit. They are solely driven by the will to see a better society.
How does Smile run? Is it true that the organisation has not yet received any grant or external funding?
Smile has not asked for or taken any monetary donations from anyone as of yet; all the projects are financed by my businesses. Up until now, we only took donations in the form of books, clothes and food. I also want to add that, not taking financial donations from anyone has had a tremendous effect on our volunteers. They believe in Smile’s initiatives and have faith in the organisation’s motives.
How actively involved are the volunteers in the operations?
They are the major driving force behind Smile. We have a Smile student wing in almost all public and private universities of Bangladesh. Whenever there is a disaster or a calamity in any part of the country, our team reaches that area as soon as possible. Even the remotest part of the country is not out of our reach and the team can be at the spot within twenty four hours, at max.
What are your future plans with Smile Foundation?
I want to increase our volunteer base and work further towards improving the society. Currently we have more than seven hundred kids in remote areas of Bangladesh availing our education programs. I am inspired by BRAC, which has over twenty thousand schools all over Bangladesh. Although Smile has a long way to go, we hope to reach that dream number very soon.
In case of disaster management, we have successfully dealt with the Rana Plaza mishap by setting up a rehabilitation centre for the victims. In disaster management and support, our ideal is Centre for the Rehabilitation of the Paralysed in Savar and someday Smile hopes to be able to provide a massive scale of support.
Besides Smile, what other projects are you currently working on?
I am the co-founder of People’s Rokeya Foundation. Fifty three orphans are currently residing in our shelter house for females. We provide them with training and also plan to increase the number of students in the shelter.
Your journey with Smile is very inspirational for the younger generation. What message do you have for them?
Most young people nowadays are extremely mature, displaying the right amount of eagerness to work towards social welfare. I would like to say that wanting to contribute is great but one must be self sufficient before one can donate. Try not to depend on others financially. Each one of you must personally try to reach a level where you have enough to help others. Self sufficiency is the best policy.
By Mahfuz Mizan and Nisha Ali
Photos: Ashraf Uddin Apu
Working out in a gym on a regular basis is generally associated with an objective to lose weight in our culture. ‘Fitness training is not just about becoming skinny, it’s about being in the best shape you can. I have clients who come to lose weight, those who aim to gain weight, and also those who wish to maintain themselves overall. It’s about getting into a shape that you desire,’ says Ruslan, fitness expert and entrepreneur. Ruslan, whose humble beginnings included a one room studio for working out with one of each type of equipment is now the proud owner of a 3000 square feet gym called “Ruslan’s Studio” with a rapidly increasing client base.
It’s one thing that an overweight individual works hard to shed the extra pounds for absolute body sculpting, but to make a successful career out of it is something extraordinary. In Ruslan Hossain’s inspiring story of success, an obese person literally transforms into a "fitness expert" and runs one of the most popular fitness centres in the capital.
Back in 2005, Ruslan used to be a young, obese individual who ran out of breath climbing stairs. Fed up with his bodily encumbrance, he began working out at a gym with his friend. Not knowing much about fitness, he religiously followed whatever the trainer there asked him to do. Soon, the results were visible but he wasn’t satisfied, “I could see my arms pumping up and this motivated me to work harder, but I didn’t actually want a large build. I was aiming for a six-pack with a lean build.” He set out in search for his desired physique by following the routine of others who had that structure. ‘I often visited the bodybuilding.com forum because it’s a treasure trove of information on nutrition and workout plans. After collecting information on the forum, I put my knowledge into practice,’ reveals Ruslan.
‘First and foremost, comes the diet for sculpting your body and then a tailored workout routine to help you achieve your goal," adds Ruslan, who as a certified nutritionist provides individualised diet plans besides workout routine to all his clients."When I began to work out, my parents and elders used to say that being on a diet has nothing to do with fitness. Then one day I saw my trainer having chapatis with honey, that’s when I realised that my diet is a vital part to accomplish my goal." Through studies, gradually he gained an idea of what food consists of how many calories and what proportion one should have to stay fit.
Ruslan participated in quite a few bodybuilding competitions in his initial years. He won a competition organised by Sports Zone in 2007 and was in the top four for Mr. Bangladesh contest in 2011. “I used to work out relentlessly. Even if I was ill, I would get back as soon as I recovered,” informs Ruslan. He completed a Bachelor (Honours) in Food Science & Nutrition from Kolkata in 2011. To become a professional fitness trainer, he also pursued a long distance six month course for Specialists Performance Nutritionist from the International Sports Science Association in USA.
Ruslan’s first gym set up was a spare room in his flat in Mohakhali DOHS, where his friends became his first clients who were inspired by his total transformation."It was a small set up so I couldn’t call it a gym, hence I opted for the word studio. Due to space constraints, I couldn’t train more than ten people at a time, but I got great feedback,’ he recalls. After a while, with increased members, he shifted to another space in Mohakhali DOHS by the end of 2010.
Ruslan added more equipment along with assistant trainers and coached them on how to train each member depending on their goal. He tailored different diets and work-out plans for the members."We’ve had clients who want to gain weight, develop a six-pack and elderly people who wish to retain a healthy lifestyle’. He monitors his clients himself and he also sits down with them for personal consultation."If they are sincere and determined to transform themselves, I back them up a hundred percent," tells Ruslan. Due to the personalised attention from the fitness expert and assistant trainers as well as positive word of mouth, the number of members has grown rapidly, and in less than six months Ruslan’s Studio shifted to a prime location in Banani.
Now a satisfied fitness expert, Ruslan hopes to increase his knowledge on how to train better. He plans to sit for exams for a Certified Fitness Trainer from the American College of Sports Medicine. The dedicated fitness trainer is uncompromising regarding the training equipment and keeps upgrading them on a regular basis even if it means huge sum of investment.
When asked why he opted for a career in fitness, as it’s not perceived favourably in Bangladesh, he responded, "Sheer passion. I think the social perception is changing now. People have begun to understand the significance of leading a healthy lifestyle and they are more aware regarding fitness, which brings more respect to the profession."
Ruslan intends to eventually open up a fitness club with a swimming pool, gym and court for outdoor games and at the same time keep training individuals to stay fit."Beginners in the gym must know that 90% of the transformation is in one’s head and the rest depend on their eating habits and work out. It is difficult and you'll want to give up but you need to have the mental strength to keep going," states Ruslan.
Recipe for Success
By Nisha Ali
Photos: Reaz Shariar Rahman
Owing to the success of his food joints, Melange, Mirage, Wow Burger and recently Tokyo Express, Nafees Reza Vicky has become a popular name in the food industry. His journey in the food service business began five years ago when the sector was relatively untapped. Although several food joints in Dhaka kicked off with a bang in the last five years, many had to close shop due to the tremendous competition in the industry. Fortunately, none of Vicky’s ventures had been a part of this trend. He has established that despite all the competition, the fluctuations in the food service sector and all other odds, his ventures have the capacity to stand strong and he is definitely here to stay.
“Back in 2009, when I was in London, I used to regularly visit cafes and lounges. I was overwhelmed by the extraordinary service and treatment I received from such places. This was something that was missing in Dhaka. That’s when I planned to own a food joint that gave customers such an experience of warmth and comfort,” shares the thirty-three year old food entrepreneur. Upon completing his MBA and another Master degree, when he finally returned to Dhaka in 2010, he noticed that people hardly had anything to do for recreation. Even though his father wanted him to join the family business, the young graduate decided to follow his heart, taking a huge risk in an unfamiliar territory. “I’ve always been a risk-taker; I knew that this is what I wanted to do. After my mother agreed to use the land where Melange stands today, I called my close friend Tanvir Azad to discuss plans. My family members lent their full support,” says Vicky. The two began to look for other potential partners and eventually joined hands with Zafar Iqbal to begin their journey in food industry with Melange.
“Melange became an instant success on its inception. We pulled in a diverse crowd, starting from young individuals to corporate professionals. From the very beginning, we strictly followed certain rules, such as ensuring that customers are of minimum twenty-one years if they wanted to order sheesha. We are proud to have created a fuss-free environment with Melange and Mirage. Despite having no idea about the kitchen initially, I quickly learned the ropes from my partners. Other than training the staff, we handled marketing, accounts, and customer service. Soon we reaped the benefits as a team,” expresses Vicky.
Managing a restaurant wasn’t all about the success and profits either – during peak hours Vicky lent a hand in taking orders and even washing plates. “It’s something I do, even today when required. I still take orders from customers and collect their bills. When I was abroad, I learnt that doing your own work and helping out the staff makes things smoother,” Vicky candidly expresses. According to him, it’s not enough to just open up a plush restaurant; it’s vital for owners to be deeply involved with the business in order to ensure its smooth operation, understand consumer behaviour and estimate the finances.
“Customer service is crucial in the success of restaurant business. If, in rare circumstances, customers are unsatisfied with the food or the service, we either don’t charge them or offer discounts to make sure we retain our clients,” elaborates Vicky.
Once the business was stable and the partners at Melange had gathered enough experience, they conceived the idea of doing something on a larger scale. In 2013, Mirage was opened in affiliation with Kabir Reza, owner of Dhaka Regency Hotel. Mirage consisted of three sections - café, lounge and fine dining.
On the topic of customer satisfaction, Vicky shares, “Our employees are a crucial part of customer satisfaction and we wouldn’t have been so successful without them. Maintaining the staff is very important as customers expect to see familiar faces. Other than commissions, we try to help our staff as much as possible, like financial aid for their weddings or rebuilding their village homes,” informs Vicky.
Two years ago, Vicky along with a few partners entered the food cart business with Wow Burger. There were about thirty carts, competing vigorously with one another. Among them, Wow Burger gained a loyal fan base. “It’s a small enterprise which caters to people of all ages at an affordable rate,” says Vicky. Last year, Wow Burger started their own shops in Banani and Uttara, while the cart operation continues.
Nafees Reza Vicky’s latest venture, Tokyo Express is quite different from his previous ones. It’s a posh Japanese restaurant in Banani which, despite being a month old, has gained immense popularity. One of his partners at Tokyo Express said, “Apart from the hard work and business insight which every partner brings, Vicky’s strong social network has been a tremendous forte for us."
“I’ve been blessed with supportive partners, employees, and the prayers of my family and loved ones,” says Vicky, “The supportive nature and encouragement of my wife who is a barrister and understands work pressure at ungodly hours, has been vital to my success. There are several other things in the pipeline and I hope they become equally successful.”
When asked to express his opinion about the growing competition in food business Vicky responds with a smile, “Greater diversity in choices for consumers, isn’t that a great thing? As for the owners of such joints, we have to constantly be on our toes to ensure that we’re keeping our customers happier than our competitors. For me, the increased competition is a positive sign because it helps raise the bar.”
Let there be light
By Sheikh Sadaf Tasin
Photos: Ashraf Uddin Apu
What if an average man was made to spend an entire day in the slums of Dhaka city? The first thing he would notice is the eerie darkness. The slums are built in a way which allows little or no light to enter into the homes. The residents of slums had found a temporary fix by borrowing electricity from neighbouring electrical poles. But the procedure itself is inconvenient and against the law since it leads to misuse of non-renewable energy. Sajid Iqbal, founder of CHANGE, talks about his project Botol Bati, a noble initiative to curb electricity inconveniences in the slums.
Sajid Iqbal completed his Bachelor degree in Environmental Science and Management, from North South University. He was also actively involved in the sport of fencing and participated in several tournaments for the Bangladesh National Fencing team. He is currently running a research and consultancy firm called CHANGE, which is the global partner of Liter of Light that is active in eleven countries. Sajid Iqbal and his team are installing solar light bulbs made from plastic bottles in slum areas which provide proper environmental friendly lighting to these households.
Iqbal founded the consultancy firm, CHANGE in October 2013. The firm seeks to provide renewable energy using eco-friendly solutions like bottle lights, reduced carbon emission and proper lighting to households in the slums. They are also the global partners with Liter of Light. In addition, Iqbal has gathered a group of hard working volunteers, from different universities, who are associated with this firm. Several workshops are also organised by CHANGE to get the youth involved in environment friendly activities. Amongst all their projects, Botol Bati has gained recognition.
The idea for Botol Bati which means bottle light was conceived back in 2012, when Sajid was half way through his bachelor’s degree. A friend of his, shared a YouTube video showcasing the activities of an organisation called the Liter of Light in Philippines, where solar light bulbs made up of bottles were installed in slums. This struck Sajid as a brilliant idea and he thought this could be implemented in Bangladesh as well. Since 95% of the slum households in the country use illegal electricity, a project like this would reduce the misuse of electricity and also benefit the environment. He used this idea as a research paper for university. “We convinced about four to five families from the slum areas of the Muslim camp to adopt this new technique. Initially, we faced a lot of challenges. One common problem was rainwater leaking from the roof tops. Moreover, we also had to face issues like social acceptance. Despite all obstacles, finally we got a positive response from a lady who wove saris for a living. She had to get her job done even if it was under minimal lighting. Considering her conditions, this bottle light was a godsend. It was inspiring to see that this project was actually helping people and that encouraged me to pursue this more seriously,” the twenty-six year old environmentalist informs.
Sajid entered a social business competition organised by South Asian Youth Leaders' Summit. Later that year, he presented the idea of bottle lights at the Summit with its environmental benefits and came out as the first runner up.
With the attention from the local media, Sajid Iqbal’s efforts finally caught the eye of the Liter of Light organisation situated in the Philippines. “We signed a contract with Liter of Light to be their partner in Bangladesh in September 2012. They provided a strong global network and allowed the sharing of information. After that, we got in touch with the German and Swiss embassies about expanding this project. The German corporation called GIZ handed us an eight month long project in March 2013. The project entailed installing bottle lights in a new slum called Baoniabadh. We installed two hundred and fifty light bulbs and in the end ,we found that we reduced the electricity misuse to 8.3 megawatts per month. Furthermore, three hundred and twenty kilograms of carbon emission were also reduced. Twenty eight more lights were installed in a school at the Geneva camp of Mohammadpur.” To overcome the social challenges, Iqbal came up with a plan to campaign about the environmental benefits by giving out leaflets to make people aware that bottle lights shouldn’t have anything to do with their social status. In September 2014, CHANGE distributed Botol Bati, amongst school children of Khasia community in a remote area called Double Chhara in Sylhet. After researching and slogging at a workshop for more than six months, Sajid Iqbal and Asaduzzaman Noor, the technician working for Change was able to develop the design and the first unit of Solar Bati.
CHANGE provided thirty-two lights at Double Chhara to the best four students from each class of the school at the end of a seminar titled “Solar Light Distribution Project”. At the seminar, Iqbal showed the students how to use the solar lights.
About his future plans, Iqbal said that with assistance from the government and private organisations, CHANGE plans to expand. In addition to this, he is involved in extensive research to use bottle light technology for industrial purposes. Iqbal hopes to get the youth more involved in environmental based activities in Bangladesh.