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Alumnus developing entrepreneurial literacy and skills of schoolchildren in Bangladesh

Posted: 5 September 2022

Bangladesh, Alumni, Impact, Innovation,

With unemployment on the rise globally—exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, inflation and resource shortages—there is an urgent need for entrepreneurs and start-ups to create jobs. With this in mind, Australia Awards alumnus Dr Rafiuddin Ahmed has created a program to equip young students to become future entrepreneurs. This program, named ‘Innokids’, teaches children between the ages of 10 and 16 literacy in life skills, soft skills, technology skills and business skills, while also engaging parents on the journeys of these young entrepreneurs.

Rafi is an Associate Professor at the Department of Marketing, Faculty of Business Studies, University of Dhaka, Bangladesh, a role he has held for more than 15 years. He completed a Master of International Business from the University of Melbourne and a PhD from La Trobe University, Australia, studying entrepreneurship.

As a digital transformation strategist, academic practitioner, edupreneur and healthcare entrepreneur, he is one of the pioneers of the e-learning movement in Bangladesh. He is the Chief Executive Officer and founder of Innokids, which was born of his passion for boosting entrepreneurship in Bangladesh by developing and guiding the country’s youth.

Rafi initially developed Innokids in collaboration with his PhD supervisor Professor Dr Gillian Sullivan Mort, as part of his doctoral study. The pair launched the skills program at Bundoora Primary School in Melbourne, Australia in 2016, training students in Years 5 and 6 for one hour each week. By applying Innokids’ training, the primary school students generated profits of AUD2500 from designing and selling birdfeeders, Father’s Day gift cards and Christmas gift items. They sold these products at local markets, on school premises and at La Trobe University weekend markets. Rafi donated 50 per cent of the profits to an Indonesian primary school in Bali, which used the money to buy wheelchairs for students with disability.

“The journey of the Australia Awards Scholarship has contributed immensely to me pursuing a career in my passion of developing a ‘kidspreneurship’ platform,” Rafi says, using a portmanteau that is his preferred term when talking about young entrepreneurs.

“My doctoral outcome on Innokids has encouraged me to work further on cultivating an innovation mindset among schoolchildren. As the world moves towards a gig economy, kidspreneurship is a crucial platform to develop entrepreneurial thinking for students to boost educational attainment and performance.”

In 2018, Rafi launched the Bangladesh version of Innokids to nurture, build and develop an entrepreneurial spirit in the country’s schoolchildren. As unemployment is high in Bangladesh, he believes Bangladeshi children need these types of hands-on training programs in addition to their academic studies.

The Innokids curriculum emphasises the core life skills needed for a child to become an entrepreneur. In the initial courses, children were taught how to think like a professional and how to be more efficient and successful, as well as how to stay healthy. They also learnt digital literacy: how to use Google calendar, download and install software, use Canva for graphic design and Prezi for presentations, and master the basics of G-Suite and Microsoft Office applications such as Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook. They were familiarised with Google products and services and were also trained to organise their tasks in Google Cloud.

In 2021, Rafi received an Australia Awards alumni support grant to further advance his project. Though the grant, he designed a six-month virtual learning curriculum for children aged 12 to 16, named Innokids Presents ‘Kidspreneur 1.0’. The project helped develop students’ soft skills and commercial abilities. Thanks to the grant, 50 students received fellowships to master fundamental entrepreneurial skills.

Students graduating from the ‘Kidspreneur 1.0’ program*

The course additionally offered a two-month boot camp and a one-month pitch class, after which the students were asked to develop and pitch solutions to certain social problems. The Innokids facilitators assisted the youngsters with their learning after the classes and monitored their professional growth, including via interactive modules on social media, such as Facebook Live tips. In these modules, children reflected and offered their views, gaining a new perspective on the future. After completing the course, the children were awarded certificates.

“Innokids believes everyone has a story to tell and that kids can also solve problems such as unemployment and global warming. Innokids offers kids knowledge, training and help to be their own boss before they become adults,” Rafi says. “Where everyone is busy with conventional education, Innokids actually starts ‘kidspreneurship’ programs built upon real-world concepts that schools will not teach. Our schools are failing to provide skills and mostly raise kids to a single direction, i.e. a job-seeking mindset. If we can instil the ideas of life, soft, tech and business skills at an early age alongside the school curriculum, we can have a group of children who will find early employment and create jobs for the rest of the world. We believe and practice this at Innokids.”

*Australia Awards has received parent/guardian consent for students to be featured in the story.