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Empowerment through the Power of Language

For Sazzad Hossain of KAIROS ASEAN, it is his crystal clear vision and relentless pursue to empower others that led to his quest on dissolving the language barrier which impedes foreign workers from raising their quality of life.

“Making the world suck less”

Is the life motto of 22 year old Sazzad Hossain, who’s currently the CEO and founder of Social Development Initiative (SDI) Academy. SDI Academy is an ed-tech start-up founded in 2013 that provides an interactive learning platform to empower migrant workers with English communication skills. While awaiting the start of his journey with NTU’s Engineering School, we managed to catch up with Sazzad on the weekend after his completion of yet another hackathon.

Sazzad’s KAIROS adventure started when he was interning at A*STAR and met KAIROS ASEAN’s co-founder Jian Min who was giving a talk. Jian Min’s work with engineers without borders sparked an interest in Sazzad who at that time was already conducting classes for migrant workers.

Social Enterprise in Singapore

Having arrived in Singapore at 11 from Bangladesh and not knowing a word of English, Sazzad could empathise with the plights faced by foreign workers who had difficulty communicating effectively. After graduating secondary school, he started conducting English classes for three migrant workers from a bench at Taman Jurong Green Park using his primary school textbooks. Word spread about these free classes which were conducted in their native language of Bengali and soon enough, there was no longer any space on the bench.

SDI Academy is the brainchild of the countless nights where Sazzad would pour over 150 language textbooks bought in Singapore and from Bangladesh to create a structured curriculum. The curriculum married concepts from textbooks and contextualised them by including practical information that workers would need at work. Eventually, he published his own book for the workers as a supplementary material for them to revise outside of classes. Since then, two more Yale-NUS students, Ms Valerie Pang and Mr Manas Punhani, both 21, has joined his effort to help him run the outfit. His lectures and group activities for the foreign workers are now held every Sunday at the Yale-NUS campus in Clementi, and the venue is rent-free. Growth wise, they plan on expanding the curriculum base to include Mandarin, Bahasa Indonesia and Tamil. They have also expanded their classes beyond Yale-NUS college campus to dormitories where these workers reside to increase convenience in attending the lesson.

Since then, there has been more than 20,000 hours of lessons delivered and he has touched more than 700 students who have graduated from this course. With the team, they have been crowned the Winner of the Youth Entrepreneurship Award from DBS-NUS Social Ventures Challenge Asia having competed with 683 entries from 30 countries.

One of the greatest challenge he is currently facing today is with the stigma and attitudes of employers hold towards their foreign talent and is working tirelessly to change that. Given that 84% of foreign workers own smartphones and newly purposed dormitories offering free Wifi, this increases the possibility of educating the migrant workers. It is their hope and aspiration to be able to help reach all of the migrant workers employees in Singapore.

Helping the Syrian Refugee Crisis

Sazzad was selected by Ashoka Changemakers Xchange Programme which is one of the ‘largest network of social entrepreneurs worldwide’ to visit Japan and ‘growth hack’ solutions to the various social issues in the world today. He connected with two German social enterprises “Bazaar” and “Project Together” and will be heading over to Germany in the coming months to help create a curriculum for the Syrian refugees there similar to the one in Singapore. This time round – it will have large impacts on the Syrian refugees that are moving across Europe. With the curriculum, he hopes to educate and help Syrian refugees and teach them basic commands of the English language to survive and communicate effectively.

Sazzad hopes to marry the best of technology and innovation within a social space to improve the lives and welfare of people. Still curious to find out more? Check out his speech at TEDxYouth!

Here's a little bonus for all the readers out there, listed is Sazzad's top three recommendations from his very own reading list:

  1. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
  2. Start with Why by Simon Sinek
  3. Delivering Happiness by Tony Hsieh

- Nicole

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