Personal Journey

Eight days of class, learning for a lifetime— Three lessons from my time at Harvard Kennedy School

2177 1500 Almeer Ahsan Asif

Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC) history has a deep-rooted bond with Harvard University. It was there that BYLC’s founder, Ejaj Ahmad, while completing his Masters, conceptualized the idea of a program that teaches adaptive leadership while bringing together young people from different backgrounds.  read more

Kickstart Your Designing Career

4000 2666 Jubair Islam

It is always difficult to determine what you are going to do next when you are just graduating. It could be more difficult if you are planning to switch from another academic discipline. During my undergrad, I was an engineer in the making. I enjoyed studying science but was more fascinated by creative designing. However, the stereotype of a starving designer haunted me whenever I thought about a future that way, and I did not want to starve. read more

Everyday Leadership: An Interview with Anik Sinha

5012 3648 Noshin Noorjahan

Over the years that I have been affiliated with BYLC, I met graduates who accomplished concrete goals at an age I deemed too young to achieve anything. I find their stories fascinating and look forward to learning about their perspectives towards life. read more

Things will go Wrong: The Nightmares of Public Speaking

2055 1080 Nubaira Forkan

For the longest time, I debated using a prop, especially one as blatantly patriotic as the flag.

It was ROSTRUM week at my primary school. Children stood at the head of their class and gave a short speech on a topic of their (let us be honest, parent’s) choice, their voices undulating with the shaking of their knees. By the time we got to our closing remarks, no amount of air conditioning could protect us from the sweaty lips and erratic eye twitching that are the hallmarks of the Australian heat. We were, in equal parts, unprepared and overly prepared. The night before, we stood on furniture, dizzy, our parents staring at us expectantly, making us make and remake our opening anecdotes. Yet, we, not one of us, knew what a ‘rostrum’ actually was. My preparation went one step further; for that one week the internet became my temple. There was no public speaking forum stone left unturned. In hind-sight that probably did more damage than good.

The night before my speaking rounds, I stood, flustered, over my tattered and sweat stained flash cards and a thinning cotton Bangladeshi flag. I was going to be educating my class of predominantly Anglo-Saxon and Chinese students about the Bangladeshi Liberation War. The facts were well researched, the emotions strategically intoned, and yet the speech was incomplete. “In 1971, the West Pakistani Army…uff,na…In 1971, on the night of March 25th…no,too dark…In 1971, my country was liberated…”. It was not a good night. In an effort to inject some panache into my speech, I debated over adding a prop. Nothing says patriotic diatribe like a flag. The only dilemma: all the public speaking gurus advised against it lest the prop detract the audience’s attention from the speech. Sadly, that wasn’t the only problem.

A pro tip for giving a speech is choosing focal points. Focusing on certain people in different parts of the audience engages everyone in the room. So it didn’t help that I was half-blind. I had noticed my eye-sight waning a few months earlier. It was getting harder to see the board and recognize people from afar. I could’ve gotten prescription glasses, but I was hiding my problem, specifically from my mother. I was afraid that she would take away my books – the small script and yellowed pages, and my dark time reading, the main contributors to my myopia. In any case, anyone in any audience was a blur to me and there was no point to these focal points.

There is a certain calming effect on the speaker when you have someone you know and trust in the audience: a family member or friend. My family couldn’t make it: my mum had classes and my brother was too young. Having entered school in the middle of the school year in Canberra, by which time the cliques were constructed and enemy lines drawn, I was having trouble making friends. I talked to my class mates but our interactions were strictly cursory. I wasn’t close enough to anyone to make their presence in the audience a comfort. Ultimately, on the day of my speech, I faced a sea of people I could not and did not know.

Probably the lowest point was when we lost the microphone. In the beginning, the students would give their speeches using mikes to their classes which numbered, at most, thirty. But by Wednesday, my speech day, the auxiliary cable for the speakers in the classroom failed and we were relocated. I was prepared for this failure, in mind if not in reality. My forums told me to enunciate and that my voice will carry my speech home. But I was a shy girl in a foreign land; the chances of me vigorously enunciating were slim – the power of the microphone was my lifeline. And I was drowning.

In an effort to counteract the need of a microphone they relocated us to the main hall. The cavernous hall, that served as our auditorium, had great acoustics but I did not. The teachers instructed us to project our voices. Louder. LOUD-ER. I could not mold myself to ‘project’. To exacerbate the matter, the main hall also served as the gym. At the start of P.E. classes, we would push the chairs against the walls and pull out the racks of balls and makeshift goals from behind the stage, and at the end of class the hall was returned to its original state. When my turn came, the hall was filled with the older classes in the middle of P.E. When I finally made it onto the stage, I was faced with a sea of despondent faces, sweaty overalls and the distinct smell of ridicule.

That day, I gave a speech on a stage, where I was expecting level ground. I gave a speech in front of sixty, where I was expecting half of that. I had no comforting microphone to even out my shakes and tremors. The walls and people were blurry. However, in that moment of flailing nervousness, I realized my resolution was not. I had come to give a speech and, by God, I would give it.

“In 1971, my home country, Bangladesh, earned its independence, surviving the ravenous clutches of the West Pakistani Army……”

It would be remiss of me to say my speech went well. It went terribly. Almost no one beyond the front row could hear me and, at the end, one boy’s constructive criticism was, “May be try and make your speech a little funnier”. (Sigh)

However, like at the end of almost all essays, I can honestly say I learnt a lesson. Things will go wrong (roll credits) and we just have to make do. Our shyness, blindness, or indecision cannot hamper us from, not just public speaking, but taking on challenges, and growing. So be strong, God knows I tried to be.

স্বপ্ন দেখি দিন বদলের

5364 3576 Jamia Rahman Khan (Tisa)

“ট্রাফিক জ্যাম, পরিবেশদূষণ, অপরিছন্ন ঢাকা, অতিরিক্ত জনসংখ্যা, বেকারত্ব,  শিক্ষ্যাব্যবস্হায় গলদ, দুর্নীতি, ঘুষসহ আরো হাজারটা সমস্যা আমাদের চারপাশে আছে। সমস্যাগুলোর জন্য দায়ী কে? অবশ্যই সরকার। এটাই আমরা মনে করি। কিন্তু কোনোদিনও কি ভেবে দেখেছি প্রত্যক্ষ বা পরোক্ষ যেভাবেই হোকনা কেনো এই সমস্যা সৃষ্টির পেছনে আমারও দায় রয়েছে।  আমি চাইলে এই সমস্যার সমাধানে একটা ভূমিকা রাখতেই পারি। হোকনা সেটা খুব ছোট কিছু। হোকনা সামান্য,  তবুও তো সেটা পরিবর্তন।” বিবিএলটি থেকে পাওয়া সবচেয়ে বড়ো শিক্ষা আমার এটাই। read more

10 lessons from the International Leadership Program

1024 683 Shaveena Anam

“Leadership is something that is good. Anything else is an abuse of power”, Mohamad Amersi, philanthropist, and CEO of Emergent Telecom Ventures said in his introductory speech at the inauguration of the Prince’s Trust International’s Leadership Program. This statement stayed with me throughout the two weeks I spent in the UK, where I had the honor of being 1 out of 80 young change makers selected from over 6000 applications. read more

‘Intern’alized

1500 1000 Noshin Noorjahan

I am a striving pharmacy student and an intern at Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). About a year back, the latter made a big difference in my life. The all caps ‘BIG’ kind. read more

Leadership Inward; tale of a girl who has always been the outcast

3643 2667 Halima Akter Liza

Have you ever felt that you belong nowhere? Do you feel alone amidst a crowd that is full of familiar faces? If you are accustomed to this solitude, I dedicate this article to you. read more

Breaking Barriers and Challenging Stereotypes

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Ever since I was young, I always considered myself as a person who got along with everyone. I enjoyed keeping myself busy with different kinds of activities, meeting new people, and having new experiences. Little did I realize that the world around me was not as big as I perceived it to be. Going to an English medium school, my life revolved mostly around friends from school, and I hardly ever had the opportunity to meet anyone from other education mediums in Bangladesh. I thought that there would be little that I would be able to connect with them on, even if our paths crossed, as it was difficult to think of much that we may have in common.

For example, in this day and age, when you think about Madrassa students, many preconceived notions come to mind, such as extreme conservatism and lack of tolerance for diverse views. Similarly, perhaps, English medium students are also subjected to certain stereotypes such as being too vain, or trying too hard to emulate Western values and culture. In reality, however, the fact that young people from different backgrounds don’t have many avenues to interact in society leads to such broad generalizations in their views about each other.

We must ask ourselves, does this bode well for Bangladesh? In a country where 52% of the population is less than the age of 25, our future will in large part be shaped by the next generation of young Bangladeshis. What would that future look like if young people with diverse perspectives cannot reconcile their differences? In truth, I would have never been prompted to even consider this issue had I not learned about the BBLTJ program at the Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center. The BBLTJ, or the Building Bridges through Leadership Training Junior, is a month-long leadership training program that brings together students from diverse backgrounds. It features English, Bengali, and Madrassa medium students who come together in the classroom to explore their ownselves, and try to bridge their differences through team building, reflection, and service learning.

I applied to the program with a lot of trepidation, not knowing what to expect, but felt that the opportunity would at least push me out of my comfort zone. And I felt that without moving to the edge of your competencies, you cannot grow as an individual. The next few months that I spent at BYLC were truly memorable. I grew more than I could ever imagine in self-confidence and motivation, and felt that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. What inspired me in this journey were the friendships that I had forged with my fellow participants who came from all walks of life. Their leadership journeys and struggles to be the best versions of themselves inspired me to also live for a bigger purpose than just my own.

My preconceived notions about Bengali and Madrassa medium students were also shattered. I realized that we all really have the same aspirations in life – to do well for ourselves while making a positive impact in society through our work. Most importantly, however, I learned that when a group of diverse individuals come together as one, great things can happen.

One of my best experiences in the program was during the Leadership in Action phase. In this component of BBLT-J, we went out to underprivileged communities and tried to deliver a positive and sustainable intervention as a team. In this project, the diversity of our team led to approaching the problem at hand from a multitude of perspectives and added to the richness of our project. It helped reaffirm why diversity and building bridges is instrumental to creating positive change. Differences can often be translated into strength, if all the voices are given an equal chance to be heard.

I am sharing my thoughts with you today to also encourage you to step out of your comfort zones to meet other promising young men and women who share the same passion and drive for change in society, but do not necessarily hail from the same background as yourself. Based on my own experience, such interactions can often be transformative and seminal in your growth as a person.

The program that first provided me with that opportunity is taking applications for its latest batch of participants. The tenth  BBLTJ program has launched and the deadline is set for February 28. I encourage everyone to visit the website www.bylc.org/bbltj and apply.

Monoshita Ayruani, a graduate of BBLTJ 1, is an undergraduate student at the University of Liberal Arts, and Copywriter and contents strategist at WebAble. She is also the Co-founder of the blog Mad Koffee.

Being a Leader

1920 1255 Zehra Nawreen Khan

This article was originally published in Star Weekend, The Daily Star.

”What makes a leader?”

This question was asked by the lead instructor, Khaled Saifullah, to my class, on the first day of the Building Bridges through Leadership Training (BBLT) program at BYLC. Each of us produced different answers. One participant said, “A leader is someone who mobilizes people”. Another said, “A leader is one who takes initiatives”, “A leader is someone everyone looks up to”, “A leader motivates, inspires and represents people,” the comments poured in. Khaled Bhai neither refuted any idea nor did he rule one as accurate. Geared up with pens and notebooks, we all waited intently for him to give us the answer. A moment of silence ensued, accompanied by confusion. We looked at one another, some of us shifting in our seats, others trying to hide their growing anxiety. As the restlessness became palpable, we waited for him to relieve our tension. There came no answer and on that momentous first day we never ended up learning what qualities define a leader. But this was only the beginning.

The BBLT journey, for me, was a rewarding experience, one that tore at my convictions but exposed me to a world of opportunities. Thrusting myself into new territory, I was able to transcend the limits of thought, and gained the confidence to initiate action addressing social issues that are important to me.

Once we were equipped with the rights tools, the second phase of the program required us to implement what we learned in the real world and catalyze social change. This was the hard part; no matter how many books you read on leadership, nothing can prepare you for practical situations, if you lack the knowledge acquired by experience. My teammates and I chose a makeshift school for the street children in the vicinity of Panthokunja Public Park, as we were familiar with the area. After brainstorming different ideas and assessing the site, we came up with a plan to help the school.

We felt that, in addition to poverty alleviation, lack of access to essential services such as primary education, basic healthcare, water sanitation, nutrition, etc. are the most pressing issues and overarching challenges facing Bangladesh. Due to lack of access to essential services in underprivileged communities, our group, Project Lighthouse, decided to work on raising awareness about education, health and hygiene among the underprivileged children attending the school, as well as delivering modest support services to improve their standard of living. However, since we only had modest resources to aid our project, we decided to focus on education and sanitation. We planned to donate an electronic projector so that they could learn from different visual mediums, and to install a portable toilet to ensure better sanitation.

The challenges we faced to achieve our mission were formidable. One such instance was when we realized that it is easier said than done to install the toilet. We needed prior permission from City Corporation before we could put it in place. The City Corporation recognized the importance of the matter for provision of sanitation facilities to the community .It was fortunate for the community and us that they agreed to donate a toilet from their own resources. We then had to revise our plans, but it could not overshadow the joy and satisfaction of making a small difference in the lives of those students.

So, back to the question at hand, ‘what makes a leader?’ Without having the answer laid out in front of us, we learned what we needed to through experiential sessions. It is this heuristic approach to learning that enabled us to discover our potential and develop qualities attributed to leaders. Going into the program, we all had our individual concepts about what ‘leadership’ meant and we realized that none of them can be ruled out as either accurate or otherwise. But one thing that we learned on Day 1 is that when there is a crisis, a leader is one who does not look up to authority for answers.