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Alumni from Bangladesh assist vulnerable groups with innovative initiatives

Posted: 9 December 2021

Bangladesh, Alumni, COVID-19, Experience, Grants, Impact,

Australia Awards alumni in Bangladesh have been instrumental in addressing the many challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. These alumni are currently implementing innovative interventions to assist vulnerable groups, through an ‘Alumni Support Grant’. The grant activities are aligned with priorities identified in the Australian Government’s Partnerships for Recovery: Australia’s COVID-19 Development Response.

Grants were awarded to 14 projects, implemented by 20 alumni. All projects address the priority areas of digital upskilling, inclusive development, health promotion, women’s economic empowerment, income generation and mental health. Three of these alumni initiatives are profiled below.

Syed Sadhli Ahmed Roomy (featured above) is the co-founder of Acme AI Ltd., which provides image annotation services to artificial intelligence (AI) developers. He is currently using his grant to provide training in image annotation to COVID-19-vulnerable populations in Bangladesh and unlock a new gig economy for them in the digital employment space.

Amid the global COVID-19 crises in March 2020, Sadhli established Acme AI Ltd. and provided 13 youths with basic computer training. The program was a resounding success, with all the participants ending up earning around AUD150 per month from annotation jobs. The grant, paired with resources from Acme AI Ltd., has helped Sadhli run a medium-scale pilot of this training and open gig economy opportunities for 50 young people, who were financially affected by COVID-19, with basic computer literacy.

“During the peak of COVID-19, we experienced a  widespread loss of jobs. Considering the demographic dividend of youths in Bangladesh and the global AI boom, even during the pandemic, data annotation as a livelihood option could be the catalyst for a new gig economy,” Sadhli says. “This would enable COVID-19-affected youths and their families to access and thrive from an alternative income stream.”

To date, Sadhli has trained and certified 46 annotators using the grant funding. In just two months, these newly qualified annotators have collectively earned an amount equivalent to AUD1677. This translates to more than a third of the total grant investment. By January 2022, Sadhli expects the trainees to have earned an amount equal to, or potentially exceeding the total grant, demonstrating a significant and rapid return on investment. He also hopes to increase the number of certified annotators by joining forces with another grantee’s activity.

Sadhli completed a Master of Digital Communication and Culture from University of Sydney in 2020.

Dr Md Shahadat Hossain Khan (PhD in Education, University of Sydney, 2015) and Selina Akhter (Master of Public Policy, Australian National University, 2015) are conducting a skills-focused training program to support women and people with disability to learn computer graphics design skills. This activity aligns with Selina’s role as a Research Officer at the Directorate of Secondary and Higher Education and Shahadat’s position as a professor at the Islamic University of Technology in Bangladesh.

The activity is being implemented in partnership with the Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) department at Shahadat’s university. To date, 50 unemployed people—34 young women and 16 people with disability—from Bangladesh have been trained through this initiative. The training program consists of 33 skills-focused content units conducted via an online learning management system platform.

Australia Awards alumni Dr Md Shahadat Hossain Khan and Selina Akhter

Speaking on behalf of the group, Shahadat says, “To reduce the adverse social and economic impact in the time of COVID-19, we must ensure the inclusion of young people with disability and females in TVET and other skills development programs. By the end of this program, the participants are expected to secure the required level of skills necessary for their employment or will be able to start up their own business from their own homes.”

To further promote participant employability, Selina and Shahadat have established a collaborative network with Sadhli’s company Acme AI Ltd., which will provide further on-the-job training.

Another activity grant went to a group comprising of Dr Prama Dewan (Master of Public Health, Flinders University, 2018), a medical practitioner; Dr Sanjay Tanchangya (Master of Public Health, University of Adelaide, 2020), also a medical practitioner; Pallab Chakma (Master of Mediation and Conflict Resolution, University of South Australia, 2012), the Executive Director of Kapaeeng Foundation; and Jui Chakma (Master of Development Studies, University of Melbourne, 2015), a Programme Manager at the European Union Delegation to Bangladesh. The activity grant supported the pilot of a project called ‘Conducting Free Medical Camps’ to create health awareness and provide services among the indigenous communities of the Rangamati Hill District.

Alumni Dr Prema Dewan (second from left), Pallab Chakma (fifth from left), Jui Chakma (seventh from left) and Dr Sanjay Tanchangya (far right) with other doctors at the medical camps

The project aims to run four health camps in remote areas of Bilaichari, an upazila (sub-district) of Rangamati Hill District where healthcare facilities are not easily available. To date, the team has conducted two medical camps and provided medical services, including treatment, medicines, and advice on health and nutrition, to 300 villagers in the upazila. In total, the grant team has facilitated 12 doctors, including Dr Prama and Dr Sanjay, to participate in the health camps, providing on-the-spot medical services.

Dr Prama says, “The mentoring support we received as part of the grant has helped us to share ideas, discuss our work and solve current challenges to effectively execute health campaigns for indigenous people living in hard-to-reach areas, which will improve their physical and mental wellbeing.”