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May 2020

Changing the trend of social gatherings: Virtual iftar held by BYLC

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Iftar is one of the most celebrated events during the holy month of Ramadan. This year, COVID-19 struck the world on a global scale, and altered the decades-old tradition in just a matter of weeks. Every year, BYLC in association with BYLC Graduate Network (BGN), schedules an iftar with their alumni to refresh long-cherished memories, meet new and old graduates, and rejuvenate the power of effective leadership. Although COVID-19 has made it quite impossible to arrange such a mass-level gathering physically, BYLC chose to continue the tradition this year as well, just a little differently.

Using the popular video conferencing app Zoom, BYLC, in association with BGN, held their first-ever virtual iftar event titled “Virtual BYLC Alumni Iftar 2020” on Thursday, May 21, 2020. This time, it was not just about cherishing memories and catching up with old friends. Now, it also focused on showcasing the noble work done by BYLC’s graduates in the front lines, battling against the COVID-19 situation. 

Attended by over 110 participants, the iftar was a huge success, bringing BYLC graduates from across the world on a single platform under the dialogue “Share the Happiness”. BYLC graduates from home and abroad came together to share their experiences during this time of crisis. BYLC showcased the inspiring stories of seven organizations run by BYLC graduates – Youth Movements, Surge Bangladesh, SONGKOLPO Foundation, Campaign RED, Bandhu Foundation of Bangladesh, Astha Foundation, and Alokito Shishu. The representatives of the organizations shared their experiences of fighting this pandemic and helping marginalized communities across the country. The showcase was followed by an inspiring speech by BYLC’s founder president, Ejaj Ahmad. In his speech, he urged the graduates to invest in their skills in order to stay upgraded with this challenging world. The president additionally invited the graduates to enroll in the 45 courses available in the new and improved online platform of BYLCx,

The event commenced with recitation from the Holy Qur’an and duwa. People from different time zones attending the event broke their fast sitting at their home maintaining social distance yet staying virtually connected to each other. This one of a kind event was inspiring for a lot of the guests and perhaps even monumental in shaping the way we see the future of public events and social gatherings.

Effective communication: improving our social skills

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Social skills are essential in both our professional and personal relationships. Although it is not a skill that is usually taught in schools or colleges, it is essential to learn and cultivate for our own well-being. 

Before we start practicing social skills, we have to first understand what the term entails. Generally, social skills are recognized as interpersonal or soft skills, which involves verbal as well as non-verbal communication styles. Verbal communication involves spoken language, while nonverbal communication tilts toward body language, facial expressions, and eye contact. Strong social skills can also help to build and maintain successful relationships, both professionally and personally.

For developing strong adaptability traits in a public sphere, there are several recommended ways that can aid in developing social skills.

Being productive and taking initiatives

This does not mean dominating a conversation but being well-prepared, engaging more with people, and taking ownership.

Accepting feedback

 Generally, people are hesitant about receiving feedback. However, it can be useful to ask friends, mentors, or supervisors for honest feedback to improve oneself. These feedback can be translated into achieving personal and professional goals in the long run.

Prioritize how rather than what to say

You might have a brilliant idea, but no one at your workplace will be on board if you do not properly communicate it. Body language plays a role here as well, as research says, 97% of our communication is unspoken. Improving body language can increase acceptance of a message or idea.

Speak clearly

Do not mumble when conversing with anyone. Train yourself to speak slowly and coherently, so that everyone involved in the conversation can understand your point.

Practice actively listening

There are few tricks to improve active listening skills. Make eye contact with the person with whom you are having a conversation. Reiterate your understanding. Acknowledge their feelings and underscore what you have understood from the conversation. People need to be made to realize that they are being heard, and active listening is the key to create that desired comfort zone for people to speak up. 

Be respectful of people’s choices and personal space 

A simple ‘thank you’ can go a long way. Having good manners and mutual respect is an essential social skill. Giving personal space and treating people the way they want to be treated will help build your social skill in an interpersonal manner.

Be empathetic and build a connection

 Show respect and appreciation of other’s work and achievements. A good reminder is to put yourself in other people’s shoes and understand their point of view before taking any impulsive actions.

Social skills are the core skills you need to learn and practice to thrive in every relationship, whether it be personal or professional. The best way to develop these skills is to put your learnings into practice. The more you practice, the better you will be at it.


Online education: the new norm

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In today’s fast paced world where everyone is constantly striving to improve themselves in one way or another, online education has opened up a plethora of opportunities. It has become even more relevant at present, when most of us are quarantined within the four walls of our homes and the only access we have to the rest of the world is through the internet. Apart from offering an inclusive learning path, online education has broken all the rules of conventional classroom learning. The wide array of courses available online provides useful benefits for students on a global scale:

Whether you are a professional looking to brush up on a skill you already have, a college graduate on your way to a masters degree, or a job-holder looking to resume your education, the world of virtual learning has something for everyone. While conventional classroom learning can often feel like a rat race, online learning allows you to progress at your own pace, making it exceedingly inclusive and accessible. You have constant access to go through all learning materials, review lectures easily, and go back to them as many times as you need.

Multiple modes of communication
The flexibility that comes with online learning as opposed to traditional learning, allows you to communicate with your instructor or professor a lot more vigorously, thereby enhancing your overall learning experience. It may not always be possible to ask your teacher to stay back after every class so that you may ask your questions or schedule an appointment during office hours in a traditional setting. However, between emails, phone calls, text messages, and discussion forums, your teacher can be more involved in guiding you through the course and efficiently addressing your questions.

This applies for both parties. While you are saving on transport and other incidental expenses, your instructor and the institutions at large are saving on overhead expenses, such as classroom space, supplies, and maintenance. Seemingly, this appears to be a small fraction of capital saved, but in the bigger picture it accumulates to a large amount of money and resources that is being saved.

Customized learning environment
Learners who are introverts or of similar nature might find it difficult and therefore take time to adapt to a new learning environment in the traditional setting of a classroom. Online learning allows them-and generally most learners at large-the opportunity to learn in an environment of their own choice and comfort, be it one’s study room or a cafe. You do not have to feel pressured to cope with a new environment or mingle with a new group of people every semester. Even if the need for such an endeavor arises, one can do so at his or her own pace.

A more global experience
Studying in a college in your city or your neighborhood may restrict you to meet people who only live in your city or country. While the similarity in social and cultural backgrounds may be comforting, it does take away from the possibility of meeting people from different countries and cultures. This is made possible through online learning, which allows you to closely and regularly interact with people from all over the world, widening your professional network while opening up your mind to efficient cross-cultural communication.

Instant feedback
In a traditional setting, receiving feedback on an assignment that was turned in before the first midterm, right before the finals, may not be surprising. Having been a teacher myself, I can safely say that amidst preparing lesson plans, quizzes, assignments, while finishing numerous other house-keeping chores, it becomes increasingly difficult to meet deadlines. However, in an online learning setting, it is possible to provide instant feedback on both objective and subjective questions. The advantage of such a facility is two-fold: it saves time and it helps the learner be motivated to stay on track.

The persisting uncertainty about when life will go back to normal again has not been able to take away the ambition and spirit of many indomitable, young individuals who are consistently focused on achieving their self development goals through virtual education. For now, online learning is here to stay.

Start-ups: cash flow management during COVID-19

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Typically, nine out of ten startups fail within the first few years. Although the reasons are not always the same, there are some key problems which can be identified across the board. These challenges have been greatly magnified by the unprecedented effects of COVID-19 and the ensuing lockdown. The whole entrepreneurial ecosystem has been transformed and it is getting increasingly difficult for small businesses, start-ups, and budding entrepreneurs to flourish.

One of the fundamental problems affecting startups right now is cash-crunch or negative cash-flow. Some of the main causes of negative cash flow are:

  1. During the early days of a start-up, the expenses are almost always going to be higher than the revenue generated, often causing a cash-crunch and liquidity issues.
  2. Supply chains are often inefficiently designed, causing cash-flow issues.
  3. Marketing expenditures can often initially be unnecessarily excessive, causing a hit to cash-flow. 

In order to forge ahead with their businesses, many entrepreneurs endorse considerable Research and Development (R&D) and increase their marketing efforts to substantiate their customer base and product reach. On most occasions, the only viable option for start-ups is to spend more than their revenues can offset, to reach their primary goals and objectives.

It is therefore vital for entrepreneurs to have a viable, ambitious, yet realistic plan that enables them to push forward and accelerate growth, minimizing the effect on cash reserves. The following strategies can help new businesses overcome these issues:

  • Management of fixed vs. variable expenses

Fixed expenses are those which are incurred regardless of whether the start-up generates a single unit of sales, i.e. rent, salary, equipment costs, etc. Variable expenses are those which are related to transactional volume, i.e. expenses like direct materials, production supplies, shipping expenses, etc. These can be scaled up and down according to the activities and the overall strategy of the organization.

It is vital for successful start-ups to convert more of their fixed expenses to variable expenses to ensure that it makes the most of the time value of money. Utilizing the time value of money is key to start-ups, as money that it has now is always worth more than the identical sum in the future due to its potential earning capacity. This enables them to maximize liquidity whilst at the same time extending the runway.

An example of converting fixed expenses into variable expenses is promoting employees to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) instead of purchasing devices/laptops with full payments by the organization.

  • Minimizing non-essential expenses
    It is key for any budding business to properly utilize its cash. Many organizations make the mistake of taking on too many non-revenue generating expenses at its early stages, such as splurging on non-targeted advertisements and running inefficient campaigns which do not gain sufficient traction. Another way to cut down on non-essential expenses would be to manage and complete tasks in-house without excessive outsourcing. This will also enable efficient and maximum utilization of in-house resources.
  • Efficient fund management and reducing cash conversion cycles 6
    Start-ups must negotiate with both their customers and suppliers at the same time, during this crisis, to improve its Cash Conversion Cycle (CCC). The CCC can be improved by converting inventory and other resources into cash sales. Maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with its customers to recover receivables within a shorter cycle could make or break the future of the company. On the other hand, entrepreneurs should also try to introduce Just In Time (JIT) inventory management systems and convince their current suppliers to extend their payment schedule. This allows the company to effectively maximize its cash reserves.

  • Increasing productivity and ensuring optimum usage of its human resources
    Start-ups must make sure that their human resources are optimally used. They must ensure that staff within the organization carry out tasks which they are best suited for, whilst inter-departmental cooperation is seamless. Making sure that each staff is working to the best of their abilities and in the right role shall ensure companies can maximize productivity. This downtime could also be used for capacity building of staff; an easy and good way could be through the many online trainings that some of the major online platforms, such as Coursera, Udemy, and BYLCx, are offering for free or at reduced prices. This enables companies to make the most of existing resources, rather than spending more on additional staff.

Without adapting to the current scenario and bringing about these changes, start-ups across the landscape are destined to fail more often than not. In the current COVID-19 ecosystem, it is key to increase organizational efficiency and utilization of existing resources, and to make the most of the assets the business owns or rents. This will enable start-ups to maximize their cash reserves and increase their runway. 

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