An overview of Footsteps’ initiatives that are empowering the youth of Bangladesh to become changemakers.
In 2013, Shah Rafayat Chowdhury asked five friends to form an organisation that would assist marginalised areas in overcoming poverty. Rafayat saw it as his duty to empower people to solve their social and economic issues. As the country’s first next-generation organisation, Footsteps holds several principles at heart – a human-centric approach to understanding, designing and solving complex, interconnected development problems; mobilising young people’s potential in solving global development challenges; ensuring every stakeholder wins; focus on social programs and product innovation to solve development challenges; adapt to needs and culture with time to stay relevant and attract participation; build social business and programs which are both affordable and just for the stakeholders; design solutions which create lifelong impacts; do it with heart, do it with joy, and never give up.
Footsteps allows young people from across Bangladesh, regardless of their social backgrounds, to collaborate on creative social programmes and initiatives without the bureaucracy of traditional non-profits. The organisation encourages these young individuals to share their ideas, interests, and dreams, with its leadership offering guidance and education to help shape their ideas for addressing societal issues.
A Development Footprint
Footsteps is currently engaged in four primary sectors – water and sanitation, climate action, public health, and livelihood enhancement. With its focus both on access to basic rights and its empowerment models, Footsteps is currently empowering more than 400,000 individuals across Bangladesh.
Among these initiatives, Project Trishna stands out for its mission to empower communities by providing safe water and sanitation access. Simultaneously, the Shushather Odhikar Shobar (SOS) Health Program is empowering communities by delivering quality healthcare facilities and services, particularly in hard-to-reach areas. The Disaster Resilience Program (DRP) is dedicated to enhancing community adaptability and mitigation capabilities, crucial for addressing natural and social disasters. In parallel, Project WECan is dedicated to creating carbon-neutral communities through the mobilisation of green energy, sustainable practices, and circular economy. Lastly, Project Britto focuses on empowering marginalised individuals by bolstering their financial and economic capacities through skill development, employment opportunities, and market-building endeavours.
Milestones and Impact
Footsteps’ youth-led programmes and initiatives have addressed complicated and critical social issues. Project Trishna, launched in 2015, provides healthy water and sanitation to nearly 300,000 Bangladeshis. Footsteps initiated the SOS Health Program and the DRP during the COVID-19 pandemic. These programmes have helped Footsteps build community resilience, with SOS providing quality healthcare to 38,000 Bangladeshis and DRP improving resilience for over 30,000 during natural and social disasters.
In addition to its main programmes, Footsteps builds innovative social enterprises to solve community problems. Footsteps created Dreamwater Enterprises Limited in 2022, a social enterprise that develops new water technologies to provide clean water from untapped sources. Dreamwater’s portable water filter helped NGOs like CARE, Shakti Foundation, Ahsania Mission, and others transform 450,000 litres of flood water into drinking water for emergency response during the 2022 Sunamganj and Sylhet disaster.
Since its inception, Footsteps has pioneered the engagement of young people in driving positive change in Bangladesh, with over 2,000 changemakers actively contributing to strengthening communities and altering lives. Changemakers are recruited via social media or word-of-mouth and work in multifaceted campaigns and programmes. Footsteps’ 6-month Changemaker Development Programme trains changemakers in the development sector and exposes them to the professional world.
Photographs: Courtesy of Footsteps