In a conversation, Fadiah Khan, Director at Summit Communications Limited, explicates how the company aims to break the barriers by liberating the females and males of this country through connectivity, the importance of revising our academic curriculum and what inspired her to break the bias.
The theme of International Women’s Day is ‘Breaking the Bias.’ Could you please share how Summit Communications is dedicated to breaking the bias?
Happy Women’s Day. This year the Women’s Day hashtag is #BreakingTheBias. Breaking the bias means there is a discrimination against one person – it can be male or female, or someone who has different coloured skin or hair, etc. The issue here is that there is a bias towards one type rather than the other. Where Summit Communications is placed, connecting the entire country with the internet, the beauty of that is the liberation of male and female, and not having a bias. I don’t think the women in rural areas in Bangladesh ever imagined that they would be making something and it would be sold in ‘x, y, or z.’ In Bangladesh now, there are a lot of scribers and call centres and the benefit of these is that there is no gender specificity. Connectivity is acting as a catalyst to break the bias. For once, all of these technological advances are powered and empowered by the internet, and having good quality connection. Operating cloud kitchens and businesses where the key is providing quality service and products rather than discriminating genders – no one has time for that! Everything is fast paced and at the palm of your fingertips. Funnily enough, this reminds me of a movie my uncle was telling me about where a man was pretending to be a woman at a call centre. This was a long time ago, and today, it’s actually true. You don’t ask whether it’s a male or a female. I find the whole connectivity thing so beautiful because, essentially, for the first time, it is actually breaking the bias.
Summit Communications has about 47,000 kilometres of fibre optics that run around the country. We also run an international terrestrial cable which is how we bring in very good quality bandwidth into the country. When the submarine cables are under maintenance there are no disruptions. We work 24/7 and 7 days a week to ensure 99.99% uptime of our network. Our goal is to provide seamless connectivity to individuals, families, schools, organisations and our Country so they are able to enrich themselves with limitless possibilities. A very critical point here is that, because of our network, all the Upazilas are connected. We are working with the government on the Info Sarkar project to make it reach to all the Union levels. And what will flourish are Union centres run by their own community leaders, which will empower the locals to introduce their products to the world. Such connectivity provides the opportunity for anyone and everyone in that area to contribute to their household thus creating immense mindset changes. Whereby in that Union, it liberates and equalises the position of men and women in their households, and our hope is that this will spill over and shape the upcoming generations as well.
COVID-19 has taught us that there are only physical barriers, and no intellectual barriers. We are now able to train, even from Harvard from the comfort of our homes. So, while all the corporate developments are happening, you need to think about the women in the rural area. If I can change her mindset, maybe she will be different with her daughter, and maybe that daughter will be different with her daughter, and then it’s a domino effect. That’s the change. We now have 123 million people connected to the internet and Bangladesh is one of those few countries that has 100% mobile internet penetration. That’s unthinkable! We need to utilise this advantage to the fullest.
You have been working at Summit for the last 11 years. What is your feeling working in Summit Communications in this leadership position?
I have grown up with Summit watching my father and uncles work hard and tirelessly to build this organisation. It is something that has been ingrained in us and I am very fortunate that my father or uncles never discriminated against genders – it has always been about merit. In the second generation, there are 6 of us – 4 girls and 2 boys – and honestly, I really don’t see any difference. We are all here based on our merits, not based out of some inherited position. We have very good succession planning, and in general, planning – things that are mandatory for us to do to reach certain positions.
Luckily, when I joined Summit, my sister, Ayesha, who is now the Managing Director at Summit Power International, was also working here. I always felt very empowered to learn from her because not only was she working, she was also raising her children. Today, almost all of us are working parents and we receive immense support and encouragement from Summit and thrive to extend that same support to all working parents within the organisation regardless of paternal or maternal roles.
Summit Communications has about 47,000 kilometres of fibre optics that run around the country. We also run an international terrestrial cable which is how we bring in very good quality bandwidth into the country.
I think when you are working in a company where the core does not have a bias, inherently the people that are working, and who want to work here also know the core. I feel like that has a spill-over effect. A lot of the positions you would think would be male dominated, Summit constantly strives to put out the message that merit speaks louder than gender.
I’m also very lucky to have the support of my husband. That is another aspect that all of us are quite lucky to have. We have spouses that are very encouraging. These tend to be very big hindrances in our society. But your core has to be supportive, and that is something I have been incredibly lucky to have.
How does the revision of academic curriculum enhance the capacity of human resources in Bangladesh?
Bangladesh is graduating from LDC status and with it there are a lot of expectations that will come from the country. Our strength is our ‘people.’ What we can provide to the world is skilled force. Now, a lot of countries, even developed countries, have the skilled force, but they are ageing rapidly. Our advantage is that we have a young, ready-to-learn population. We need to take advantage of this and begin the teaching at the youngest age and mould the mindset, begin and discuss equality studies and introduce STEM learning modules – essentially, with connectivity, introduce the freedom of “you can be whoever you want to be.”
Everything has to begin at the core. Which is why this Women’s Day, at Summit Communications, instead of sending gifts we decided to sponsor the tuition of 10 girls for the year through the AMAL foundation, to provide these girls with preschool supplies and education. What does promotion from LDC status have to do with preschool? Like I said, it’s the root and the greater, more sustainable expectation from the country. If today, we go to the village, like in Bogra, where we sponsored these girls – if we can empower these girls from a very young age and if they can understand that they are able to go to the next level, you are harnessing human capital.
Alongside, we are sponsoring JAAGO at the group level – I went to UWC and a student from JAAGO recently went to UWC! That is breaking barriers! And that should be merit-based. Nowadays, there are no tunnel visions like you’ll only be a doctor or something else. These kids are also so different and worldly because of technology. I see it in my own child. When I was 3 years old, I didn’t know how many planets there are and how many moons there are for each planet, but my 3-year-old knows this. Kids know this because they are connected to the whole world. So, communications and revising curricula are an absolute necessity.
Everything has to begin at the core. Which is why this Women’s Day, at Summit Communications, instead of sending gifts we decided to sponsor the tuition of 10 girls for the year through the AMAL foundation, to provide these girls with preschool supplies and education.
During the peak of the pandemic, JAAGO taught all these schools remotely. It is amazing! The only thing you need is the internet. One person teaches in Dhaka, and kids in a village gather together in one space, and there is a supervisor, and the whole process is interactive. Essentially what is important is the utilisation of connectivity and we have to collaborate to reap the most advantage from it.
What change would you wish to see happen for the betterment of women in Bangladesh?
I want to be able to give any woman/person the chance to follow her dreams and be free. What is freedom? To be whoever you want to be. If you want to stay-at-home and enrich your life and your children’s lives, I want to be able to provide the best education curriculum for these kids so that they are not stopped, or there is no hindrance because of their gender. “I don’t want to study” is very different from “I don’t have the opportunity to study.” That’s the difference. And I feel like that’s a very important point when we are celebrating Women’s Day. I await the day where it’s all based out of freedom of choice, not freedom of opportunity.
Happy Women’s Day to every woman around the world. While every day we celebrate you, let us also acknowledge this special day for all the women in history who have paved the way for where we are today, and may we continue to empower each other towards a gender equal world.