Part-time student, full-time social entrepreneur

By Christy Yip

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

IT IS only his first year at university, but 23-year-old Sazzad Hossain is already a chief executive officer (CEO).

Four years ago, he set out on a mission unthinkable to most 19-year-olds: teaching English to migrant workers. Today, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering student — a Bangladeshi immigrant himself — is the founder of Social Development Initiative (SDI) Academy.

When asked what inspired him to start a social enterprise at such a young age, he said: “We shouldn’t just wait for opportunities. There’s no such thing as a perfect time.”

He started with three eager students, a park bench and a primary school English textbook. Today, SDI boasts a structured curriculum with six learning centres, a dedicated team of eight teachers and more than 5,000 students who have completed the course.

SDI has also evolved beyond migrant workers and formed refugee outreach teams in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Germany.

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

With the success and extensiveness of SDI, some may wonder why Sazzad is still in school. The freshman – who is also taking a minor in business – believes that he still has much to learn, and that university is a gateway to meeting like-minded people who want to do meaningful things together.

Sazzad’s initiative made its first breakthrough when he met his partners at a Model United Nations conference held at NTU in 2014. In the same year, they began to participate in competitions such as NTU’s Ideasinc. His team won $10,000 in cash for The Most Socially Responsible Start-up, kick-starting a revenue stream for the enterprise.  

One word of advice Sazzad has for budding social entrepreneurs: “Just having the good intention alone is not enough.”

They must also consider how the cause can generate the greatest impact in the most innovative way, added Sazzad.

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIPBefore the start of every course, SDI conducts a free preview lesson to encourage the migrant workers to continue pursuing English. In a fluent mix of Bengali and English, Sazzad gives his 30 new students a rundown on what they can expect from the classes to come: understanding fundamentals of the English language, improving speaking and writing skills, as well as learning necessary vocabulary, phrases and conversation topics.

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

Apart from the basic English courses, SDI has also rolled out a mentorship programme where students who have completed the course can return as dormitory ambassadors. These students will learn leadership skills and assist SDI in organising events to bring the local Bangladeshi community together. Mr Israfil (photographed), 30, said that he has become confident in speaking and is proud to promote SDI as a learning opportunity for his peers.

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

Joshua Tan Wu Xian (photographed), a new volunteer, said that SDI is “a very empowering form of community service”.

“Many CIPs (Community Involvement Programmes) try to just serve. This one (SDI) takes it a step further to bring lifelong benefit to the foreign workers,” said the second-year student from the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.

PHOTO: CHRISTY YIP

Moving forward, the young CEO is hoping to set up a learning centre in NTU given its proximity to several dormitories. SDI has also partnered with the National Youth Council to provide consulting services for student groups who wish to organise overseas service learning.

Sazzad said: “We’re called SDI, but we’re not just about foreign workers.

“Social development is about empowering people with skills to prepare for the future.”

SDI is currently looking out for volunteers, in particular, to help with their media and publicity team.
If you are interested in volunteering or interning with SDI, visit: http://www.sdi-academy.org/