Program Backs Start-up Competition at Dhaka University

by |September 29, 2015
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Sustainable development students at Columbia are helping to sponsor a start-up competition for students at Dhaka University in Bangladesh.

By Yassamin Issapour

The Sustainable Development program at the Earth Institute is helping to sponsor a start-up competition at Dhaka University in Bangladesh. The competition, created by sustainable development students who participated in a Capstone workshop trip to Bangladesh in the spring of 2015, is aimed at providing mentorship and funding to Dhaka University students.

The goal is to provide the next generation of Bangladeshi leaders with the tools to contribute to sustainable development. Each participant will be assigned a mentor, and the top two winners will receive a small stipend to help fund their project. The first place prize is 200,000 taka ($2,569) and the second place prize is 75,000 taka ($964).

The competition began in September, when over 100 individuals submitted their ideas for startups in various industries, from healthcare to finance to architecture. The final round is an in-person presentation that will take place in November at Dhaka University.

The population in Bangladesh suffers from endemic poverty, illiteracy, poor governance and income inequality. However, over the past 10 years, Bangladesh has advanced socially, economically and environmentally by utilizing a sustainable development framework.

With a rapidly growing population of 180 million and a per capita gross domestic product of US $848, Bangladesh is moving toward becoming a middle-income country. Despite the global financial crisis from 2007-2011 and the ongoing Euro zone crisis, Bangladesh’s GDP growth rate was approximately 7 percent annually from 2009-2012.

Bangladesh's population is growing rapidly, and is very young: 60 percent of the people are under 30 years old. Photo: D. Funkhouser

Bangladesh’s population is growing rapidly, and is very young: 60 percent of the people are under 30 years old. Photo: D. Funkhouser

The country is an active member of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change and adopted the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan in July 2009. Women’s rights have progressed as access to education and social status have improved significantly, though the situation is still far from ideal; there is poor participation of women in the workforce, the country has the highest rates of child marriage in the world (65 percent of girls get married before age 18), and as of 2010, maternal mortality rates averaged around 240 deaths per 100,000 live births.

The population, though growing rapidly, is very young, with 60 percent of people under 30 years old. Social entrepreneurship has been extremely popular as a means of catalyzing social change and addressing social needs. As one example, the number of internet users grew from 100,000 to 33 million from 2000-2013.

The competition at Dhaka University will provide mentoring to the rising generation, as well as a network to connect them to entrepreneurs around the world. Investing funds to empower young innovators will help them to solve the largest problems facing the country.

For more information see: harmonyvcap.com

Yassamin Issapour is a student in the Sustainable Development department at Columbia University.

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