Training Bangladesh’s next generation of advocates, through the pandemic

Bangladesh has no shortage of bright young people keen to boost the country’s development. But many lack the research and specific presentation skills to match their motivation. Now in its fifth year, the Economy of Tomorrow fellowship, supported by FES Bangladesh, trains a select few on how to make the best impact for social justice, as future advocates and thought leaders.

Omor Ahmed Dhali was already involved with community capacity building when he joined the fellowship in 2019. “In my capacity as co-manager in the Google Developer Group Sonargaon, I have worked with 1.5k+ students and young professionals to empower them with ICT skill development.”

But he wanted more specific skills to push for effective, evidence-based policies in the private and public sectors, he said. “I believe this fellowship will be a great benefit for me in my ambition to pursue a career in policy advocacy in an emerging sector like ICT.”

This year’s training examined the challenges around automation, work and women, all topical issues for the economy and workplace of tomorrow. The six successful applicants each selected a focus area to research, and present their policy recommendations for concrete, life-changing improvements.


Bringing their voice to tomorrow’s challenges

In Dhali’s case, the sector of business-process outsourcing seemed like a golden opportunity to create more and better jobs for women in Bangladesh, where many carry a disproportionate burden of unpaid work, and where women are overrepresented on the factory floors of the dominant garment industry.

Other participants also leaned into the topics, drawing on their own experience to conceive and propose solutions. Syeda Tanzia Sultana and Shah Muhammad Salahuddin recommended realistic policies to include women in the modern tech-driven agricultural sector. Salma Akter pushed for louder female voices to improve equity in the garment sector. Md Rafiqul Islam explored how to overcome obstacles to women's participation in ICT jobs, while Shuvro Sen suggested strategies to use digitalization to improve women’s work in the garment factories.


A platform for youth to find their voice

In collaboration with the University of Dhaka, FES created the platform in 2015 to build youth capacity, teach them how to write policy papers, and help generate fresh ideas on current development issues. The fellows are mentored by a senior group of experts that help them give voice to their stories. 

By learning how to organize their research and campaigns, fellows improve their capacity to bargain for their rights at a policy-making level. A new theme is set every year. The theme of the fourth round in 2019-2020 was innovation, employment and gender.


A rigorous application process, a difficult choice

Of the 32 solid applications, FES was only able to accept six, based on the submitted concept notes, methodologies and previous research experience. The selection panel included senior academic Dr Amena Mohsin as well as emerging academic Dr Niloy Ranjan Biswas, to avoid any generation bias.

In early December 2019, the new fellows started their journey with FES Bangladesh and its team. On the first day, they shared their concept notes, exploring how digitalization impacts employment and youths. The introduction exercise included taking feedback from advisers and FES, and debating to defend their positions.   

Over the following months the fellows interacted among themselves, communicated with advisors and FES for new data, and gained new contacts as well as new tools to shape their raw ideas into a concrete policy proposal.   

The fellows had some experience of research but had never prepared policy papers before. Advisors helped them to sharpen their questions and make their policy recommendations more concrete and actionable.


Adapting to the pandemic

The sudden COVID-19 pandemic forced fellows to change their methodologies but did not dampen their spirits. Most switched from the planned field data collection to desk research and telephone interviews.

The guidance and mentoring continued for 10 months. In June last year, another feedback session was held online, and in October, an online exchange was held on how to present study findings and communicate with policy makers.


Bold voices and well-articulated paper presentation

The fellows presented their papers at an FES webinar titled Economy of Tomorrow: Innovation, Employment & Gender in Bangladesh in October 2020. The input of the upcoming generation on the topical issues of automation and gender in the workplace was welcomed by Rokeya Afzal Rahman, former advisor to the Bangladesh Caretaker Government, and Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director of Research Initiatives Bangladesh.


Looking forward to seeing more youths in policy-making

The fellowship has changed the lives of the fellows and sharpened their innovative ideas. They have become confident and policy-focused in their ideas on automation, gender and employment. This has set them on career paths that follow their fellow alumni into academia, think tanks, and civil society organizations.


Shadhan Kumar Das is a programme coordinator at FES Bangladesh Office. He coordinates the Economy of Tomorrow Fellowship programme and alumni network.

For more information on the work by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in Bangladesh and how to apply for the 2021 batch of Economy of Tomorrow Fellows, visit their website or follow their official Facebook page for regular updates.

FES Asia

Bringing together the work of our offices in the region, we provide you with the latest news on current debates, insightful research and innovative visual outputs on the future of work, geopolitics, gender justice, and social-ecological transformation.