Innovator Under 35: Q & A With Arif Md. Waliullah Bhuiyan Of Light Of Hope

Innovator Under 35: Q & A With Arif Md. Waliullah Bhuiyan Of Light Of Hope

Arif Md. Waliullah Bhuiyan is the co-founder of Light of Hope, a social enterprise working at the intersection of improving education for children and renewable energy in Bangladesh and beyond. Started in 2013, Light of Hope works with primary level schools to make education engaging, interesting and fun for children through offering innovative services.

It creates educational content, organizes events for children and parents and works with schools to establish libraries and fun environment for learning. It has also developed a low-cost and high-efficient solar-run multimedia classroom solution.

Arif, one of our Innovators Under 35 for 2016, Started ‘Light of Hope’ during his master’s degree in Germany back in 2013, the project became the second runner-up in Dell Education Challenge. An engineer by training, he has a bachelor’s degree in EEE from the Islamic University of Technology, Arif left his job at BRAC to fully dedicate his time to Light of Hope in 2015. Arif has over 6 years of experience working in development sector on various issues including education, climate change, renewable energy, water and sanitation.

Briefly tell us about yourself.

I come from an average middle-class Bangladeshi family. I was raised in a joint family with grandparents, uncles, and other relatives. I had a wonderful childhood in Mymensingh – natural beauty, river, playgrounds, lot of friends, and a lot of books.

My parents wanted me to be an Engineer or an Army officer – since I studied in Mirzapur Cadet College. I wanted to become an artist that obviously was out of the question because of my very good result in SSC and HSC. I had to choose engineering.

I didn’t like it a bit but eventually learned a few skills like analytical and problem-solving skill. These qualities helped me a lot during my employment in BRAC where I went on to solve various social problems for different programs and in the early days of Light of Hope.

Even during my early years in BRAC, I didn’t think of starting my own venture. But it’s those days when I spent countless hours supporting Aila (cyclone that ravaged the country in 2009) victims, traveling around the country to find out solutions for rural women’s employment, water scarcity, sanitation problem etc. made me who I am today.

I’ve found wonderful mentors like Late Dr. Babar Kabir, Asif Saleh in BRAC and learned from the lives and works of Sir Fazle Hasan Abed and Dr. Yunus.

I’m still an avid reader (read at least 3-4 hours a day). I couldn’t give up drawing, designing, and sketching which are serving me very well now for developing creative contents for children. I secretly want to be a children’s book writer and a movie director – making comedy and war movies.

About Light of Hope

Light of Hope is a Dhaka-based social enterprise working at the intersection of improving education for children and renewable energy in Bangladesh and beyond. Started in 2013, Light of Hope works with primary level schools to make education engaging, interesting and fun for children through offering innovative services.

It creates educational content, organizes events for children and parents and works with schools to establish libraries and fun environment for learning. It has also developed a low-cost and high-efficient solar-run multimedia classroom solution.

What is the driving principle of your life?

I firmly believe every human being has a part to play in the overall scheme of things. Most people don’t pursue deeply, don’t push hard enough to find out their reason for existence. People settle down too easily, people get lazy and complacent. Most people never find out where their true talent or potential lies.

I knew that I didn’t want to be an engineer. That’s why I went on a soul-searching journey in BRAC to explore different areas that interest me. I found that environment, climate change, education are some of the areas that I’m passionate about.

I took a 2-year leave from work to complete my masters in Energy and Environmental Management from Europa Universitat Flensburg, Germany.

We were 13 people in the class coming from 11 different countries. That 2-year period was one of the most transformative periods of my life.

I think I was too young and naïve to have a driving principle or philosophy of my own life before that point.

My current driving principle for my life is to do what I love; I’ve got only one life and I don’t have to prove anything to anyone.

I am building something amazing. It’s OK even if I fail or couldn’t reach the full potential. I’ll die happily knowing that at least I tried rather than not trying at all.

Another thing I try to do is to make a ‘better version of myself’ for the next day. I’m far from settling down, I’m still young to settle down. I’m constantly improving myself and looking for new interesting things to do. Maybe someday, I’ll direct my first comedy movie.

Nobody gives a s**t whether you fail or succeed. Don’t be afraid of people’s judgment.

Do you feel like contributing to something bigger than who you are?

Seeing all the children getting access to and opportunity to learn in a fun, interactive and effective way is a personal joy for me. I’ve seen children coming up with their own fictions and poems just after few months of establishing libraries – the same children who couldn’t read Bengali properly.

I’ve seen children coming up with their own versions of science educational toys after setting up science labs in primary schools. The impact I’m seeing every day from all the students from all these different schools gives me the feeling that I’m contributing something bigger than me.

Some of our own contents are being used in more than 100 schools globally – US, UK, South Africa, New Zealand etc. Some parents of children with learning disorder wrote to us how our contents are helping their children learn faster.

We feel proud that the contents we are making in Bangladesh are helping children around the world – making their learning fun, interesting and effective.

Five lessons you have learned from the teacher called ‘Life’.

Number 1: Nobody gives a s**t whether you fail or succeed. Don’t be afraid of people’s judgment.
Number 2: ‘Life’ is a journey, not a race. Enjoy it. You are here for a limited time.
Number 3: Family and health are the most valuable fixed assets. Take care of them.
Number 4: Idea is nothing, execution is the game.
Number 5: Relationships are way more valuable than money. The investment will deplete, but your network and relationship will improve over the time. Invest your time there.

I firmly believe every human being has a part to play in the overall scheme of things. Most people don’t pursue deeply, don’t push hard enough to find out their reason for existence. People settle down too easily, people get lazy and complacent. Most people never find out where their true talent or potential lies.

How do you motivate yourself when you feel really down or come across a difficult challenge?

I stop thinking about the problem or the challenge for a while; maybe do some drawing or read few pages. I often share them with my wife or close friends to lighten up a bit.

I’m a big fan of South Park and Sesame Street – both helps me a lot in my difficult times. After I’m charged up, I beat the hell out of that ‘particular’ problem or challenge.

What do you think about the future of Bangladesh? How can young people contribute to that future?

If you look at the improvements over various development indexes, Bangladesh is doing amazingly well. And it’s only going to get better. Our fathers’ generation took the burden of a war-torn country and turn into a ‘model’ for other under-developed countries in the world.

I’m personally grateful to all the amazing entrepreneurs, businessmen and leaders of our previous generation. It’s our turn now – the youth’s turn to make sure we contribute enough in continuing and even improving the development growth rate of the country.

Our fathers’ generation did it with their two hands and brain. We have the whole world on a finger tip. Our generation has no excuse why we couldn’t do better with such enabling environment and tons of opportunity.

There are a lot of technical skills and potentials among our youth. But they lack basic communication and marketing skills, financial literacy to run a business. To be honest, I’m a bit frustrated to see a lack of professionalism and commitment in many young entrepreneurs. I believe, if we want to make our country’s future great, our generation – the youth needs to be ethical, passionate and professional.

I stop thinking about the problem or the challenge for a while; maybe do some drawing or read few pages. I often share them with my wife or close friends to lighten up a bit. I’m a big fan of South Park and Sesame Street – both helps me a lot in my difficult times. After I’m charged up, I beat the hell out of that ‘particular’ problem or challenge.

This story, part of our Innovators Under 35 for 2016 list, is made possible in part by our friends at Ajkerdeal.com. Ajkerdeal.com is one of the largest online marketplaces in Bangladesh offering a huge collection of products while helping businesses reaching out to new consumers by using its platform. Please click here to know more about Ajkerdeal.com

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