The Story Of Udvash: 6000 Taka And An Ambition To Provide Life-Changing Education

The Story Of Udvash: 6000 Taka And An Ambition To Provide Life-Changing Education

Udvash was born out of a passion. A passion for making a difference. Creating a movement of onnoRokom manush (different humans) and bringing about a change. When it started in the latter part of 2000, its founders had no idea that it would take on a life of its own. After about 18 years it has albeit taken a life of its own and turned into an educational institution like no other, pretty much uncomfortably without a definition for itself. A category of its own.

The beginning was no extravagant affair. Udvash started with an investment of BDT 6,000. “We started Udvash with a mere 6,000 taka investment. We rented a small room at 800 taka rent per month. That’s how our journey began. It was quite difficult in the early days since we didn’t have adequate resources at our disposal. But we were passionate about teaching that helped us survive trials and tribulations of those difficult days.” That’s Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, Co-founder of Udvash and Co-founder and Chairman of OnnoRokom Group.

Throughout its journey, Udvash has been a purpose-driven organization. It has put the benefits of its students ahead of its own business or any other interest for that matter.

In the first eight years of its journey, Udvash did not turn a profit. It took Udvash eight long years to reach break-even. In those days, Udvash founders and team worked hard day and night and in most months did not get paid in full. What kept Udvash alive was love. Love for teaching. Love for students. And a strong sense of purpose.

“We would work almost all the time, says Faruk Bhai, an early employee of Udvash who now looks after infrastructural development of new and existing branches at Udvash. Our only priority was (and has always been) students – ensuring that our students get the best education and service. There was no difference between owners – founders of Udvash, and its employees. We have always been treated well and there has always been a sense of ownership in the team. There were nights when after wall painting most of the night we would come to BUET hall and Sohag bhai and Liton bhai would leave their beds for us to sleep and they would go and sleep on the floor. Sohag bhai and Liton bhai would serve students and parents of students and then spent many many hours in teaching classes every day. We could see their dedication and the sacrifices they were making and it was contagious.”

Throughout its journey, Udvash has been a purpose-driven organization. It has put the benefits of its students ahead of its own business or any other interest for that matter.

“We would spend countless hours in serving our students, says Mohammad Asaduzzaman, one of the earlier team members of Udvash, who now looks after Udvash’s marketing efforts. We not only helped our students with academic affairs, but we would also help them in their personal problems. Udvash provided them academic help, mentorship, advisory support, counseling, and everything in between. It was a time consuming and effortful matter. We had to work extra hard whereas our return was neither great nor immediate from that effort. But it made a huge difference in the lives of our students. It helped us to build a meaningful and lasting relationship with our students and their parents. We were happy with that return. We were small and scrappy but we were sincere in our effort to serve our students. It made all the difference.”

Today, Udvash has 42 branches. It teaches thousands of students every year. Creates opportunities for hundreds more in the form of part-time and full-time employment.

Udvash has created a new paradigm in shadow education sector in Bangladesh. A paradigm that proposes a new and better approach to learning and teaching. That promotes understanding over rote memorization. Collaboration over mere competition. That promotes values like humility and honesty and helpfulness. A paradigm that says the purpose of education is much larger than achieving good grades. Education is about teaching how to live a good life and become onnoRokom (different and better) manus (human being).

It took Udvash 18 years to come where it is today. The journey was not smooth. Every node of those 18 years has crucial information and moving stories of struggles, sacrifices, trials, and triumphs. This is a story about that journey, what inspired it and much more.

In the first eight years of its journey, Udvash did not turn a profit. It took Udvash eight long years to reach break-even. In those days, Udvash founders and team worked hard day and night and in most months did not get paid in full. What kept Udvash alive was love. Love for teaching. Love for students. And a strong sense of purpose.

A snapshot from a program at Udvash in 2015

A snapshot from a program at Udvash in 2015

This story is part of a two-part series on the origin of Udvash covering how Udavsh was created and the inspiration, motivation, and ambition behind the creation of Udvash.

What follows is part one of an interview we did with Udvash co-founder and Chairman of OnnoRokom Group Mahmudul Hasan Sohag on the ambition behind the creation of Udvash. Please return early next for a second installment of the interview.

Future Startup

How did you come up with the idea of establishing Udvash? What was the motivation behind?

Mahmudul Hasan Sohag

I was born in Sarishabari, Jamalpur and studied there till my SSC. When at School, I was deeply inquisitive in nature and used to ask a lot of questions. I had a strong passion for learning and understanding things at their core.

While it was not a usual practice in a suburban school to encourage students to ask questions and fuel their inquisitiveness, my school was different. My teachers, especially the headmaster of my school, Babu Jyotish Chandra Saha, and another teacher from whom I received private tuition, late Chandra Nath, always encouraged me to ask questions. They were dedicated to the extent that they allotted extra time for satisfying my unending inquiries. Our headmaster Jyotish sir had even arranged special sessions for me with each teacher every week after school.

My teachers always had high hopes for my SSC result. They wanted me to be the first student from my school to achieve board STAND in SSC. I eventually made it primarily because of the pressure of the expectations of my parents and teachers – I did not want to let them down. And that experience changed my life forever.

After getting into college, I was excited when I came to know that I was going to attend lectures of the teachers whose book I used to study at school. I would be able to ask them questions directly and get answers. But little did I know that the environment of college is nothing like my school.

I used to attend private batches after classes where time was limited and asking questions in that limited time was nothing but a nuisance for the teachers. I came across some teachers who discouraged questions from students in general. Asking a lot of questions used to be taken negatively. I was too young to understand that. A lot of times, I used to get scolded or mocked for asking questions. I realized that the relationship we had with our teachers was strictly realized. Probably, there were reasons for teachers to be like that. Probably, there were time limitations and other predicaments that did not allow them to encourage students inquiries. But it was a demoralizing experience for me. Consequently, I gradually became inattentive to my studies.  In fact, it took a toll on my first-year studies and results.

Anyways, the next year I turned around and focused on my studies. I was also inspired by others’ expectations of me, especially that of people in my hometown who thought of me highly. Often positive external expectation works as a motivation. I soon overcame my deficiencies and as I mentioned earlier, vowed to myself to build an organization someday where pupils would be encouraged to ask questions because an inquirer is also a thinker. One who doesn’t question doesn’t know how to think and thinking is one of the most important skills you need to learn in life.

I worked hard throughout the rest of the year. I particularly remember the month of Ramadan of that year when I literally utilized every waking moment. I can’t believe now that I was the one who worked that hard once.  I studied almost all the time.

My labor paid off satisfactorily. I came in fourth in the HSC examination in Dhaka Board which was better than my SSC result. Soon after that, I sat for the admission test for BUET. Although everyone expected that I would top the merit list, I didn’t do very well, but not very poor either. I secured the 141st position in BUET admission test and learned that you have to work equally hard every day regardless of what was your result yesterday.

While college was a challenging experience for me, it was also where I got the inspiration for the first time, I assume, to build an educational institution where we would encourage students to pursue their intellectual curiosity without any bound which later became Udvash.

 

We started Udvash with a mere 6,000 taka investment. We rented a small room at 800 taka rent per month. That’s how our journey began. It was quite difficult in the early days since we didn’t have adequate resources at our disposal. But we were passionate about teaching that helped us survive trials and tribulations of those difficult days – Mahmudul Hasan Sohag, Co-founder of Udvash and Co-founder and Chairman of OnnoRokom Group

Mahmudul Hasan Sohag

I always had an interest in making people understand things. While at College, I used to help a lot of my classmates and friends with their studies. They used to love it and I also enjoyed it. So early on I realized that I love teaching. So subconsciously, the motivation for starting Udvash was always there.

Today, education is one of our core areas of focus at Onnorokom Group. In that respect, Udvash is among our earliest ventures which later extended to Unmesh. We consider them as parallel schools or shadow education centers.

Debate Festival at Udvash

Debate Festival at Udvash

Some might say that we are running a coaching center here. From a conventional perspective, that’s very much understandable. However, Udvash and Unmesh, both of these institutions are very different from what you might call a coaching center in our local context.

For instance, coaching centers are synonymous with shortcuts. Many students attend coaching centers for notes and suggestions. At Udvash, we do not distribute hand-notes or suggestions to our students. We teach them. We encourage genuine learning and understanding. The major distinction between learning and coaching, which many people fail to grasp, is that while the former creates capacity the later harnesses it.

Udvash, in that sense, is a learning center. We began our journey with a simple motto: whatever you learn, you must understand. Seek to understand over root memorization. We have maintained it in all our academic programs. You’ll see the truth of it if you look at our main academic program that extends from class eight to college.

We have also introduced a lot of programs to help our students. We have our own scholarship program which is an unlikely thing for a coaching center to do. We offer this scholarship on the condition that the recipient of these scholarships would make a similar contribution once they become capable of doing so.

“While college was a challenging experience for me, it was also where I got the inspiration for the first time, I assume, to build an educational institution where we would encourage students to pursue their intellectual curiosity without any bound which later became Udvash” – Mahmudul Hasan Sohag

We do many interesting things. For instance, we conduct an open-book exam, which has become a thing over the past few years. People used to laugh at it when we started 10 years ago. But they soon realized that it isn’t so ludicrous as it seems, you must have a clear understanding if you really want to ace the test.

Our commitment is to help our students become better at what they are studying, understand their subject matters and then become a capable and better human being.

If you take a look at the Udvash logo, where we have put four strings of flame, you see the representation of this commitment. These flames symbolize the four main purposes of education, albeit this is how we see the purpose of education.

We believe that education works to create refined individuals who have the ability to think critically, perseverance, confidence, and most importantly morality.

Udvash file photo from 2010

Udvash file photo from 2010

Mahmudul Hasan Sohag

We want to help our students think about what they are studying and not just memorize it. We want them to persevere and don’t just look for instant gratification. If they persevere and their determination is appreciated, they will gain confidence in themselves. We believe that an educated person is also a person of high moral standard, an Onnorokom Manush. S/he holds such values that not only help him/her but advances the society as a whole. That’s the ambition of Udvash and our educational initiatives.

In fact, we consider morality to be the most important aspect of education. Everything else is just part of that. The key responsibility of education is to help build a moral human being.

But how do we teach morals, you might ask. Are we going to introduce a curriculum? Write a few books on religious studies? No, that’s not going to be fruitful. People imitate. We learn by seeing. We follow. So we need good examples that our students would follow. For that to happen, we need teachers, teachers whom the students will consider as role-models. Teachers of high moral standards.

In line with the conviction that we need role-model teachers, Udvash maintains a rigorous recruitment process for teachers. New instructors need to go through a series of tests including conceptual and psychological ones. And definitely, we compensate them well enough for their efforts.

Fortunately, we have been able to find and train a group of teachers here who are full of enthusiasm and passion. Many of them came here to earn and left with a passionate heart. While we have come a long way, I believe we are just getting started.

Students making a radio in one of Udvash's branches in Dhaka

Students making radio in one of Udvash’s branches in Dhaka

Our commitment is to help our students become better at what they are studying, understand their subject matters and then become a capable and better human being.

 

We want to help our students think about what they are studying and not just memorize it. We want them to persevere and don’t just look for instant gratification. If they persevere and their determination is appreciated, they will gain confidence in themselves. We believe that an educated person is also a person of high moral standard, an Onnorokom Manush. S/he holds such values that not only help him/her but advances the society as a whole. That’s the ambition of Udvash and our educational initiatives.

 

(This is part one of an interview we did with Udvash co-founder and Chairman of OnnoRokom Group Mahmudul Hasan Sohag on the ambition behind the creation of Udvash. Please return early next for a second installment of the interview.)

(Disclosure: This is a branded content prepared in collaboration with Udvash Communication team.)

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