The spillover effect of sustainable livelihoods

Today, we have the pleasure of introducing you to Sazzad Hossain, one of our three new Fellows that have been selected within the Dela Programme, a collaboration between Ashoka and IKEA Social Entrepreneurship.
SDI Academy

Sazzad Hossain has been committed to “make the world suck less” since the 9th Grade. It was then, right after an earthquake that took place in Haiti, when Sazzad felt the country he was living in, Singapore, could have contributed with much more than $50,000 in relief funds. At that moment, together with his Student Council team, Sazzad launched a fundraising mission, raising $5000 in just three days. That made him realize how sustainable models to impact populations do not need to rely just on direct impact or donations: “If all the 300 schools in Singapore raised that amount on average, we could have donated three times more than what the government had.

SDI Academy

Sazzad Hossain is the Founder and CEO of SDI Academy, an organization that empowers migrant workers with stronger professional prospects for them to navigate safely and effectively in a foreign environment and access to growth opportunities.

  • Why do you care so much about making change for the good of others?

I believe that despite being born in a working-class family, I have had the privilege to go to a good school, live in a developed country like Singapore and never needed to worry about being hungry or my tuition fees. This is a gift that everyone should have and as someone with that privilege, I should step up to help others who do not have that.

The most substantial aptitudes for anyone to become a social entrepreneur are empathy and optimistic creativity. As social entrepreneurs, we need to see opportunities for impact while others see problems.”
  • The SDI Academy model seems both to enable migrant workers to build their skill sets so that they can exercise more agency over their own lives and to challenge the host community's stereotypes about migrant workers. Why do you think you have been so successful in one or both of these respects?

We believe in empowering people with the right skill set to solve their own problems instead of merely providing a crutch that only solves the issues in the short run. Empowering them with communication skills not only helps to prevent exploitation or navigate day-to-day situations, but also builds bridges with the locals. We are fortunate, that the spillover effect of our approach has also brought massive social equality.

  • Why do you think you've been such an impactful social entrepreneur? What is it about you that makes you successful?

I believe that we are merely getting started and still have a long way to go. However, the impact created so far is the result of our long-term vision, trying to bring innovation into the social sector. We are also fortunate to have an incredible team that is always one step ahead in planning the long-term future.

This paid off well during the pandemic, as we already started building our mobile platform 6 months before the outbreak, in the mission to scale our solution globally. Without that foresight and conviction, we would have had to shut down our operation or scale down our impact significantly. During the pandemic, our mobile app enabled us to impact 5 times more migrants withing the same period and the potential now is limitless with more resources. We need to have the most talented people working on the most pressing issues worldwide, as these problems are also the hardest.

  • What metric do you care about most when assessing your model's impact?

We believe that empowered migrants would be able to create their own pathways to build bridges. We had a migrant worker student Saiful Islam from Bangladesh who dropped out of high school to support his family by working in Singapore. He could not speak English before enrolling in SDI academy. Six months after completing his course at SDI Academy, he delivered a TED talk at TEDxNUS on “Building Bridges with migrants and locals” that left 400+ live audience in awe and has garnered over 10,000 views so far on YouTube. Intentionally, we also try to facilitate the mix of migrants and locals whenever possible. We have brought together 140,000 Migrants and locals throughout the various events we have organized.

  • In the next five years, what do you most want to accomplish? And, why?

We want to provide better career prospects for migrants through Job opportunities and entrepreneurship. This can lift their entire families through upward social mobility and create a sustainable livelihood for themselves and their communities. The multiplier impact of this is extremely large in the long run and the spillover effect (Focus on gender equality for their children, environmental consciousness, creating jobs for others through their ventures, better relationships with locals because of their enhanced communication skills and lowering of stigma) is also very significant.

  • How will the Fellowship stipend support SDI Academy and your community? And, what do you look forward to as part of the Dela Programme?

It will help me continue the work that I do at SDI Academy and channel resources to support the talented team despite the reduction in revenue due to Covid 19. It will also enable us to continue looking for opportunities to expand our impact globally. As part of the Dela programme, I look forward to connecting to other incredible social entrepreneurs, learning from seasoned working professionals, and expanding our impact globally.

  • What was the fact that has surprised you the most since you started your changemaking journey until now?

Throughout this whole changemaking journey, we have always aligned the impact interest with the intrinsic motivation of the beneficiaries. People do not want to pay money to save money. When we launched financial literacy programs to educate migrants on saving their money and educating them with the power of compounding, they thought it was a fantastic idea. However, we had very poor sign-up rate for the course as many thought they did not need to be taught how to save money. Hence, we repackaged it with Entrepreneurship and told them that they needed to work backward to save for their start-up capital, and then it worked really well.

Currently, I am looking forward to building our one-stop portal for migrants around the world so that we can scale globally.