It has been a year since I have been working at BYLC, and it has been a remarkable experience watching and learning how leadership can be taught. I have had the opportunity to meet young people from different backgrounds and observe interesting dynamics between people who normally would not have met each other. I have watched as common assumptions were challenged in class, stereotypes were broken during group activities, and fears were conquered during public speaking workshops.
While the influence of leadership training is apparent to those of us interacting with the students, it has been a challenge to quantify and demonstrate the impact of our initiatives. While many have gone on to work for social organizations, start their own companies, and gain important positions in private sector companies, we have not able to show a direct correlation between our leadership training and their success.
So it was very exciting when DFID gave us the opportunity to offer the BYLC Youth Leadership Prize to graduates of our leadership programs. Equipped with the right leadership skills, our graduates are positioned to lead progress and actively work to solve the problems they care about.
On August 24, 2016, in the aftermath of the Youth Leadership Summit, we launched the application for the Youth Leadership Prize. We promoted the competition across our digital platforms and sent emails and messages to all our graduates, asking if they had an innovative solution to a problem. We were inviting ideas that aimed to create positive impact, which were to be assessed on innovation, their potential for social impact, how inclusive the teams and ideas were, and whether the projects were sustainable.
We worked hard to make the process interesting and challenging. In Round 1, the application asked for basic information about the main applicant, the team, and the project idea. To consider the main applicant, who had to be a BYLC graduate, questions were posed to understand their leadership potential, what inspired the idea, and why they chose their specific team members. To recognize the potential for social impact, the application asked detailed questions on the project’s relevance in the context of Bangladesh, and how their idea was different from current initiatives. The application was prepared based on extensive research on existing grant programs, and was inspired by applications and processes of Echoing Green, Ashoka, and Manusher Jonno Foundation.
Initially, we did not receive a large volume of applications and received feedback that the application was too long and complicated. However, we felt that since a sizeable amount was being awarded, the application needed to be intensive and difficult to ensure that only those who were serious and prepared to work hard were considered.
We received 66 applications in the first round, which proposed different kinds of solutions to various problems. Among them, were ideas to support students with disabilities, provide income opportunities for transgender people, and initiatives to educate underprivileged children. A team consisting of BYLC team members who have little contact with graduates assessed the applications. Each application was reviewed by at least two people and scored out of 100.
Round 2 asked groups to fill out a template with specific details on their interventions, their intended outcomes, beneficiaries, and a tentative budget. They also had to submit a video describing their idea. We asked applicants not to stress too much on the production quality of the video but on introducing their team and their idea clearly. The same panel assessed the applications and narrowed down to top 20. It was heartening to see the creativity in the videos and put a face to the names and ideas.
In the third and final round, the top 20 teams presented in front of an external judging panel, to ensure that there was no bias in judging the winners (since we had some favourites at this point). The judging panel included Anita Ghazi, Founder and Partner at Legal Circle who often provides pro bono services to NGOs and social enterprises, Abdullah al Mamun, who works as a Program Manager at Manusher Jonno Foundation with expertise in child rights and grant giving, Mamunur Rahim, Program Manager from DFID, and Hasib Ahsan from mPower, who has extensive knowledge about technology and agriculture. We chose these specific people to judge because we wanted a varied range of perspectives and expertise.
I was personally grateful to the judges for giving up an entire Friday to assess the presentations, but they each took their role very seriously, and asked insightful and tough questions when clarifying the ideas. A common question was about sustainability beyond the funding. The groups that had done extensive research, demonstrated knowledge, had a clear focus, and told powerful stories were the most notable ones and it was inspiring to see their energy and ability to think quickly on their feet. The judges (almost unanimously) chose the top 10 winners.
The top winning groups are Pandora, Green Power, Aqualine, Younifi, Campaign Red, Ground Zero, Waste Free Bangladesh, Aroggo, Zhink, and LLC for Dropouts. These particular groups stood out because they were able to convince the judges about their ability to take on the challenge, their ideas were creative, and attempted to address a largely ignored problem. We personally called the main applicants of the winning groups the next day to let them know they won. It was an incredible feeling to call and deliver the good news and hear their reactions of disbelief and excitement.
We hosted a grand gala dinner and award ceremony at Le Meridien Hotel where the applicants received their awards and networked with foreign dignitaries and industry leaders. Speakers at the event congratulated the teams on their achievement and reminded them of the enormity of the responsibility.
While we are excited about the promise and potential of the groups, we felt that they need further guidance since most of them are students. To bring out the best in them and ensure maximum productivity and impact, the individuals in the winning groups were made to participate in the Art and Practice of Leadership workshop. They will take part in workshops on project planning, financial management, and monitoring and evaluation so that they can be effective in project implementation and tracking progress. They will be connected to organizations who work on the same issue and BYLC team members will mentor and guide the teams. We will monitor the teams based on indicators they set for themselves and provide support in managing the funds.
Working closely with the teams, I am humbled by their dedication and proud of their determination. Their hard work begins now, and I am sure there will be several obstacles and heartbreak during the journey. But I am confident that they will rise to the challenge, and excited to see how their projects will impact the lives of those they are attempting to help.