Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference in the world. Today I’m in Dhaka, Bangladesh to talk with Shazeeb M Khairul Islam. Shazeeb is the managing director of YY Ventures and is hard at work to make UN SDG 11: Sustainable Cities & Communities, a reality. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Shazeeb! It’s wonderful to meet you! Can you start by telling us what challenge you’re addressing?
Shazeeb: Hi Spiffy, I am delighted to speak with you. I am building an ecosystem to empower social business entrepreneurs with world-class training, mentoring, community, co-working space, and access to investors. This will enable them to navigate their way towards launching a minimum viable product and raising the needed seed capital. Right now, I am on a mission to build a social business fund that aims to finance 100 social businesses over the next nine years to improve the lives of two million people by investing in social enterprises in emerging countries.
Spiffy: Wow, Shazeeb, that is significant work! Can you talk about what motivated you to do this?
Shazeeb: Growing up in a small village in Chandpur, I witnessed the impact of social issues like the scarcity of electricity, low prices of crops, and lack of access to safe drinking water. I am committed to addressing these issues today through my own work. Living amidst these challenges, I realized how difficult social mobility was for many Bangladeshis, including my friends, who often struggled. I have translated such experiences into an ardent sense of responsibility and passion for social change. I am super happy trying my utmost to harness the power of social business.
Spiffy: How would you say YY Ventures is working to make the world more equitable?
Shazeeb: YY Ventures helps family foundations, impact funds, corporations, development agencies, and government agencies to use the powerful model of social business to take their innovation and social impact agenda forward. We believe in a world where socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs are empowered and equipped to combat the challenges of creating a world of three zeros: zero net carbon emission, zero wealth concentration for ending poverty and zero unemployment by unleashing entrepreneurship in all to work towards a more equitable world.
Spiffy: Have you reached any milestones that you’re particularly proud of? What kind of impact do anticipate it will have?
Shazeeb: YY Ventures partnered with Aqua for All, Bopinc, and GSMA for the first time to launch the WASH Innovation Challenge in Bangladesh. This program was launched with a collective mission to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6: Clean Water and Sanitation for All, empowering the most promising WASH entrepreneurs and innovators in Bangladesh. The 12 participating teams had the opportunity to attend a three-day boot camp and received tailored mentoring from seasoned WASH business experts. One winning team will get a cash prize at the end of the program, and top participants will gain the opportunity to apply for further funding.
Shazeeb M Khairul Islam, founder and managing director of YY Ventures, taking a session on the theory of change. (Image courtesy of YY Ventures)
Spiffy: That’s really exciting! Can you talk about a time when you experienced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn?
Shazeeb: Well, Spiffy, when I was 22 years old, I opened up an education social business, along with my friends, to offer learning journeys to university students in Bangladesh. However, it didn't work out because our target customers were not willing to pay for the service, and we were unable to find an alternative revenue model. I have also seen many of my friends fail due to a lack of access to funding, customer base, or network. These experiences were important in the design and launch of YY Goshthi to equip and empower young people to shape their entrepreneurial ideas into viable social business ventures to uphold innovation, entrepreneurship, and social change. Somehow, it worked!
Spiffy: I’m curious if you’ve learned anything unexpected that you could share with us.
Shazeeb: I’ve been reflecting on how the pandemic has changed my way of life. At some point, it was impossible for me to stay at home and do all my work online. We run an incubation program, but everything took place virtually, and it was really frustrating at certain points, especially when I couldn’t go out and do my day-to-day work. But I have come to appreciate what I received in return: spending more time with my family. I think we should always seek to understand the positive aspect of things. It’s okay to accept uncertainty about the future, about what we plan, and we should be ready for whatever comes our way and appreciate life as it happens.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Shazeeb: We are a ‘globally connected’ locally rooted ecosystem in Bangladesh that is driven by social and environmental consciousness. We believe in a world where socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs are empowered and equipped to combat the challenges of creating a world of three zeros: zero net carbon emission, zero wealth concentration for ending poverty, and zero unemployment by unleashing entrepreneurship in all. We invest in socially and environmentally conscious entrepreneurs who are solving crucial issues of our times benefitting the underserved communities. I have a passion for social change and I am super happy to try and do something by harnessing the power of social business.
Spiffy: I’m excited to see the results of all your hard work. Thanks so much for talking to me today, Shazeeb, it’s been an honor.
Shazeeb M Khairul Islam is an Obama Scholar at Columbia University in New York City (class of 2020-21) and the founder of YY Ventures, a social business company that invests in social businesses. Before founding YY Ventures, Shazeeb led the establishment of Bangladesh’s first independent social business incubator, YY Goshthi, which has backed 64 social entrepreneurs since 2016 who have impacted the lives of more than 120,000 people. (Nominated by Safewheel. First published on the Ladderworks website on August 23, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.