The Fruits of Entrepreneurship
Hossain Khaled shares his insightful experience as a member of the global platform, Entrepreneur Organization and the headway the platform is gearing up for in the future.
We are eager to know how you were introduced to EO, how did it all happen?
It was back in 2012 when a group of representatives from EO was visiting Bangladesh, two of our present members introduced me to EO. Later in 2013, when I was travelling back and forth to Toronto I met up with some members from the Toronto chapter, and it made me realise that this would be an excellent opportunity to network while in Toronto. It would also give me access to the business community and network appropriately in Toronto. That was when I encountered how different EO was from all other chambers of trade bodies and industry associations. I realised EO was similar to a university and focused on the entrepreneurial development of an entrepreneur. This group of people or this organisation had perceived that facilitation, policymaking, policy advocacy is just an integral part of the organic thing to follow for any businesses. It is one of the most significant opportunities and was something new and different that Bangladesh required at the same time.
Having been in both of the chapters, I was able to bring a few like-minded people who thought of the same nature as I did and realized that this was something we should bring into Bangladesh. The way the membership works, you become a member of the global platform and then you get affiliated to a chapter. I started from the Toronto chapter while keeping my global membership, I shifted to the Bangladesh chapter. Transition period takes some time, I started the process in 2015 and it was completed in 2016. At the moment we have 30 plus members, and we are planning on being a very big organization.
We organize a program called the Global Student Entrepreneurship where we take on mentorship roles and gradually teach how to do accounting, create business feasibility reports, or even provide input on the business report generated by them. Amongst all the benefits of EO, the ones I love the most is the learning – there are plenty of professional trainers who are also business people. We also have programs with very big and international academia such as Harvard, MIT, Cornell, London School of Economics and others. They help us go through these programs. There is also a kids university, which is for our kids who are growing up and planning to step up. They go through certain programs as well.
Second biggest benefit or takeaway in EO is the forum. The chapter members are divided into smaller groups who are called forums, usually, the size of a forum is minimum 6 and maximum 10, and optimum size is 8. The forum meetings are extremely structured, so it is just not like an ordinary networking process in a restaurant or a hangout. We sit once a month, it is more like a stock-taking, beginning with a target that I had set for myself at the beginning of the month and how much I have achieved, and reasons why I may not have been able to achieve all the goals, identifying problems and getting help from the forum if needed. Also included are the goals for the next month and how I plan on attaining them, as well as whether any assistance is required or not. You cannot solicit within this group or within EO. This is because when you are in such a small, close-knit community, conflicts may arise because of businesses, best to avoid that completely. Because what we are getting into is much bigger than that small piece of business.
The forum group that I belong to, you will recognize them immediately when I state their names, United Group’s Sanjabi, E Generation’s Shamim Ahsan, Faatin Haque from Trade International, Paragon Fariyan who is also a restaurateur, Faridpur Jute Mill, Jason Pharmaceutical’s Azra Salim, in total there are 8 of us. Amongst the seniors are 3 members and I am one of them. We also have a lot of younger generations who completed their studies from abroad and are finding it challenging to merge into the family business, this is the point of relatability for them with us. That is the second biggest take away from the forum
EO has global networking, global learning programs and several activities. We also have interest groups; based on shared interests, regional interest groups may form, or global interest groups. The knowledge-sharing aspect of EO is endless.
This time will be the third year of my EO Social Impact, a program also organized for the last 2 years. The main aim is that as EO Bangladesh chapter what kind of work we are doing that is making it possible for us to bring a positive impact on the society as a whole. We want to replicate, share the best practices with others and at the same time, we can learn from others too, literally an exchange of ideas and practices. There are also a lot of people interested in funding programs related to education, sanitation, etc. The idea is to mobilize such people.
Last 2 years have been phenomenal. This year, unfortunately, we are facing a bit of a challenge because of CoronaVirus, but still, so far the responses have been really good. We have an upcoming event on March 6th, so let’s see.
Did you face any challenges setting up the chapter? How did you overcome those?
In Bangladesh, the process happened via TTO, which is under the Ministry of Commerce. The challenges were basically the formulation, to have a foreign organization form a Bangladesh chapter, there were a few bureaucratic issues, that is just how the system is. So it took some time but it’s been done now. The biggest problem was that since EO is a member-driven organization and not employee-driven, for other chambers or associations’ tasks were delegated and they got done, but here we had to do it. Getting the time everyone was a bit challenging.
After your presidency you were also the leading chair, how has the experience been?
I think not only during my time but over a period of the last 3 or 4 years we have been able to introduce new learning skills, mechanisms and at the same time we have been able to attract a lot of foreign trainers, for the improvement of various businesses. It was not limited to only business, I had brought someone in from the Toronto chapter, she spoke of mental strength needed to be a female entrepreneur. You realize this is not isolated to Bangladesh, it is a global concern/challenge. So we were able to bring trainers from multi-faceted avenues. So far it has been a phenomenal experience, and honestly the prospective members we were able to include in these kinds of learning programs, we have been able to convert everyone to become a member.
We have also started a new program from last year, it’s called Boardroom. What usually happens in a boardroom is that it is very confidential, no media allowed, basically meeting an entrepreneur in their offices, and me basically doing a one-on-one. They speak of their success, challenges, life history, and then we go into question and answer with them. The purpose of it is to learn from that person. The following day we are going to have a Boardroom session with the MD of Akij Group, SK Bashir Uddin. It is a member-only meeting and no outsiders are allowed. That way they know that it is confidential (we sign a confidential form), we give them the assurance that whatever is discussed within the room remains within that room, our minds and hearts. We take the information for better learning. As entrepreneurs a lot of times even though it is a family business, we are not able to share many things with our family, but you need to vent out and share. These learning sessions help us to become better entrepreneurs, better leaders as well. Because at the end of the day if I am not a good leader, the people in my office who follow me as an example, then bringing about change in any organization would be impossible. The same reasoning applies to my personal life as well in the sense that I have to be a good example for my children. Being a better person is extremely important. Times are changing and very sensitive now. You have to be sensitive towards all your approaches.
Can you shed light on the accomplishments as the founding president?
I think number one the fact that I was able to bring a few like-minded people together on a particular platform who shared the same concerns and who had the same hunger to learn. I think that by itself was a huge achievement. Secondly, I think the fact that I have been able to create succession planning from the very beginning. Thirdly, I think the fact that we have very good members who take responsibility for their tasks. The EO social events that we were able to do in the beginning, globally that was the first time we organized an Award show. The award was open for anyone who was associated with this kind of social work globally, and it was meant to give them recognition. From Bangladesh, I think 10 companies participated, and then globally there were 30 plus members who had participated with their projects. That was the first recognition of our achievement in 2017. As the founding president, because we were going through the process, I served 2 years, but otherwise, our terms were one year. 2018 was Farzanah and then in 2019, it was Tahsin Aman. Our president-elect is Zarin Mahmud, then it would Mike Kazi from Kazi IT. So we have many different kinds of people from different facets of life coming in and taking responsibility for this organization. The social impact awards were definitely one of our biggest achievements. The fact that we were able to organize a global event itself was quite rewarding.
What is your aspiration for EO?
We want to grow organically but at the same time, we need to have a pool of assets, like us being assets in this organization. I may be considered a senior member, but I still have a lot left to learn. Like me, bringing in these kinds of assets together, the more assets you have the more you learn. The more scope of learning that you have, to do that we need to increase our membership, to increase membership we need to be more active. A challenge that arises in Bangladesh is the sponsorships required to organize an event like this. People usually doubt the exposure they get for sponsoring an organization with only 30 plus members. The fact that all 35 people and who they are, that by itself is an asset. Hopefully, by the year 2022, we should be reaching about 50. By 2024 we should reach 100. For an organization like this, to be sustainable we need a minimum of 50 members. We need to reach that target as fast as possible.
In the case of chambers there are so many members, but why is the rate of obtaining new members so slow here?
The thing is because of the fact that it is different from other chambers and associations, people are not used to it. People have not really gone through this. Also, the fact remains, this is an international organization, and fees are high. Sending fees from here is a bit difficult. Though we are trying to streamline this, the biggest challenge that comes up is people may have money, but the investment required for self-development may not be there. The specific awareness for that has not risen yet. It is an expensive organization to be involved in. We may also have to increase our activities and have more member integration programs. When I was the membership chair, that year we had the highest intake of members. The people I was targeting and reaching out to, I knew for sure that 90% of them would say yes. I think if that drive was to be rekindled then membership rates may go up.
Are you planning to get involved in any other big capacity with EO?
This time I will be there as a Forum Chair. Like I said I think I have rolled the ball since we have very good members who are all presidential material, who can all serve this organization as president and contribute. I think I have done my job, and I am eager and excited to see my successors do a much better job than I have so far.