One Man’s Journey From Finding Meaning To Building An Unconventional Startup

One Man’s Journey From Finding Meaning To Building An Unconventional Startup

I met Mohammad Arju few years back when I was trying to find a way for Future Startup as a media startup. Back then he was working on a media platform and a web design business of his own. I knew Arju even before that as a writer. In our short meeting I found him as a critical thinker and passionate rule breaker. Later both of his ventures failed.

Arju studied Law at the University of Dhaka. But he has been passionate about writing from very early days of his university life. As a result he started working as a freelance writer for different newspapers since the day he started his undergrad. After working few years as a part time writer cum journalist Arju joined the Daily Jaijaidin full time once it launched. “I was still a student”, said Arju, “but I loved writing and journalism. There was something I found I could do which was greater than me. But once I completed university and started working as a professional journalist it started to feel like less than a life. I was working whole day and late, late night, almost 07 days a week. It was disorienting. I became impatient soon and tried to find something that I could do for a living and also I would have freedom.”

That’s how Save Our Sea started.

ArjuAt the beginning Arju did not know what it would be rather he started with a very small part of what they are doing now and aspires to do in the future. “Initially, we just wanted to do underwater photography and videography to make documentary films” said Arju “but once we started working we found that there are a lot more to be done in this sector”. Although Bangladesh is a riverine country with a large coastal area having hundreds of thousands of people depending on seas for their livelihood but very little was done to serve this population let alone to exploit this opportunity. Arju thought this is an opportunity to dedicate one’s life.

“We were so excited”, said Arju, “we took an office, started working but we were not clear about how to start, where to start since there were too much to do. We had no navigator”. As it happens with most startups, diversion of focus, Arju and his team faced the same problem.

Uncharted Path

“Once we started our work”, said Arju, “we found that very few works were being done in this field”. Scope of work in this sector is broad. You can work in research, conservation, and education and many more. Arju tried to find people who worked on the area before but could not. There are few government organizations and few international organizations that are working in this field but their work is supremely insufficient. It only makes sense.

“We were so excited”, said Arju, “we took an office, started working but we were not clear about how to start, where to start since there were too much to do. We had no navigator”. As it happens with most startups, diversion of focus, Arju and his team faced the same problem.

For first six months they came to office religiously and discussed everything out every day without making any progress. “We’re working really hard, every day we came to office on time, said Arju, but we’re not moving ahead. I found that after almost six months we were standing still at the same place where we started. It was a huge shock.” That’s when Arju thought they were playing the whole game wrong. They can’t do everything at the same time. They should find something that they can do at this moment and start doing it instead of spending so much time in discussing and dreaming.

Save our SeaSave Our Sea

“That’s when we decided to identify few areas, said Arju, where we can start working right now with the limited resources that we have. Once we started working we thought we should have an organized form and a structure”, said Arju, “that why we registered Save Our Sea (SoS) as a non-profit organization. Our focus is not to make money, even though we could make money, but we would not be able to take that money to our pocket.”

Today Save Our Sea works solely on research, conservation and education. They are gathering as much information as possible and want to contribute heavily to conservation. We have chosen a particular area in Bay of Bengal, said Arju, Saint Martin and adjacent areas, and want to conduct research, document its biodiversity and contribute to marine conservation through eco-system based management.

Started in 2012 Save Our Sea is dedicated to build a Blue Economy for Bangladesh. Save Our Sea currently focused on three areas; Sustainable Fisheries, Protecting Fragile Habitats and Vulnerable Communities, Preventing Marine Debris.

Current Programs of SOS are- Ecosystem Based Management, Dive Against Debris Survey, Underwater Documentation of Marine Ecosystems and Promoting Sustainable Coastal and Marine Tourism in Bangladesh.

Ecosystem Based Management in the Bay of Bengal: To protect the marine ecosystems and coastal communities and to make way for a Blue Economy in the bay SOS is promoting EBM research and implementation. Currently they are working to delineate the boundary of the pilot site for Marine Protected Area around Saint Martin’s Island with Bay of Bengal Large Marine Ecosystem project and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Dive Against Debris Survey: The program has the potential to provide critical information and data about marine debris and to promote approaches against marine pollution. It empowers scuba divers, volunteers and enthusiasts to join effort Survey and research about marine debris around Saint Martin’s Island.

Underwater Documentation of Marine Ecosystems: Save Our Sea does documentary on underwater eco-system with the help of marine biologists and ocean scientists in order to understand what’s happening under the Bay of Bengal since it has a greater influence on overall standard of lives of Bangladeshi people. In last two years Save Our Sea produced two documentary films. One of them titled ‘Killing The Future’ was premiered in Dhaka, and is about to on air on the BTV. Second one was produced for consideration of a international TV Network. Besides, save our sea also produced few Short films and provided those to TV channels to create awareness on sea and ocean life.

Started in 2012 Save Our Sea is dedicated to build a Blue Economy for Bangladesh. Save Our Sea currently focused on three areas; Sustainable Fisheries, Protecting Fragile Habitats and Vulnerable Communities, Preventing Marine Debris.

SOS also works on an exclusively private sector engagement to promote sustainable coastal and marine tourism in Bangladesh.

Drops and Water

Taking initiative is not new for Arju. Previously he started multiple projects and failed as well. In his friends circle he has default reputation: ‘Arju started that; oh it will not be there soon’. “But I think failure comes with the territory,” said Arju, “and it gives you something that you would miss otherwise. For me I learned that I started most of my failed projects either with my friends or family not because that person has something special to contribute to the project but because we get along good. That’s a very damaging mistake you can make while starting something”.

As a result when starting Save Our Sea Arju made sure he does not repeat his old mistakes. He involved people who have real passion for the work he is doing and also expertise to contribute. In first few months Arju spent in making connection with various stakeholders and individuals working in the field. “We kept the platform open, said Arju, so that anyone with interest can come and work with us. Since we are non-profit it works well for us as well.”

For me I learned that I started most of my failed projects either with my friends or family not because that person has something special to contribute to the project but because we get along good. That’s a very damaging mistake you can make while starting something”.

Save Our Sea 01Fuel and the Cash

“Once we started working we had no funding”, said Arju, “we paid our bills from our own pocket. I invested around BDT 7.00 lac of my own money and my three other co-founders founding team members, S M Atiqur Rahman, Sharif Sarwar, Gazi Anower and Golam Mowla, did the same”. Since Save Our Sea is a non-profit there is no chance Arju and his partners could return their money but it shows their commitment for the work they are doing.

Now Save Our Sea has few funded projects and also lined up content and works to be published in media platforms. But it only works once you bet on yourself and believe that you can.

Dark Nights and Roadblocks

We knocked almost every door but problem was since this is a new field there was only so much to draw. Moreover, people are rarely willing to help. There is few government bodies that work in the area once we go to them they often could not give us any information instead ask weird questions. This was a huge problem for us said Arju.

At the same time finding a structure and controlling focus were two major obstacles they faced as well. Now what we are doing is one of ninth things in ratio said Arju. Since there are a lot to do and everything seems important we have to become very careful about what our share of pie is and what not.

Most of the work that Save Our Sea does has a close linkage with government and international organizations. But Bangladesh government and other organs are not aware about the importance of conservation and all as a result it is incredibly hard to convince them to work collaboratively.

However, Save Our Sea team has already managed to work in collaboration with few international organizations including the UN and also building links with regional and global organizations that working in the field.

To make things worse there are naysayers all around us. You can’t do it. You are going to fail. These are common words one is destined to hear when he/she dares to pursue an uncharted path. This is an extremely disorienting experience

Mohammad Arju

Mohammad Arju

Misfit and Crazy

While journey of Save Our Sea as a venture is incredibly hard, Arju’s journey as an individual is equally full of challenges and hardships. One of the challenges Arju faced is societal. In our society the common expectation from a university graduate is that he/she will find a decent job. Doing something one’s own is furthest thing our parents and society expect. It happened with Arju as well. He had to answer hundreds of questions why he does not do a job and what he does.

To make things worse there are naysayers all around us. You can’t do it. You are going to fail. These are common words one is destined to hear when he/she dares to pursue an uncharted path. This is an extremely disorienting experience. Arju went through this.

In life choice is yours, you either make something or you don’t. If you choose former life is pretty straight but once you choose earlier there will be hardships and struggles and the beauty of life lies there: in making something of our own, giving our life to something greater than we are and making a little difference with what we have.

At the same time he had to deal with his own personal frustration and human feelings. He had to leave his family and live in coastal area not meeting his family for months. Although he started his own venture to work less and live more but he found out that it rather takes more time than a job. He works almost all the time. But the mystery is that it does not feel like work.

In life choice is yours, you either make something or you don’t. If you choose former life is pretty straight but once you choose earlier there will be hardships and struggles and the beauty of life lies there: in making something of our own, giving our life to something greater than we are and making a little difference with what we have.

The world is better today because we had misfits and crazy ones before us and it will be better tomorrow because there are people who dare to be crazy and misfits today.

Word of Wisdom

I can’t say about other fields but if you want to work in the Conservation we are working you have to have passion for field work said Arju. There is no easy going. There will be obstacles and hardships but these are only expected ones. As a maker you get to prepare yourself for these trifles.

I particularly learned one thing from Arju: be obsessed. Since he started Save Our Sea Arju I never saw him leaving Saint Martins. That’s a very difficult choice to make for someone who studied and lived in Dhaka. But that’s what you need to make anything happen. Anything brilliant demands worship from its devotee.

The world is better today because we had misfits and crazy ones before us and it will be better tomorrow because there are people who dare to be crazy and misfits today.

Arju divingCredit: Images by Save Our Sea

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