An Exclusive Interview With Babu Rahman, Cofounder and Founding President of Agami Inc.
In the April 2017 issue of the Agami News, a newsletter of Agami, an exclusive interview with Dr. Babu Rahman was published by Azmeena Sayeed and Mahir Khan, co-editors of the Agami Newsletter. Dr. Babu Rahman, a co-founder of Agami Inc., founding president President, and current Director of Operations-North America. He reflected on his thoughts on how far Agami has come since his early days in charitable work, as well as where he thinks Agami is headed.
Azmeena Sayeed: What initially interested you to start an organization like Agami?
Babu Rahman: I got my first taste of "doing good" on a global scale when I was in graduate school. In 1989, there had been another cyclone in Bangladesh. This one had been particularly devastating, and had made international headlines. I was at a point in my life where I was particularly motivated to do something, and had the means to do so. Although I had only been to Bangladesh twice before in my life, and couldn't speak Bengali, I was inspired to make a change by the influence of my Amu, who would always look to help others who were less fortunate.
I crafted a few simple flyers, and posted them (yes, paper) around campus. Before I knew it, I had amassed a 'fortune' of close to $1500. At this point, I was uncertain of whom to give the money to. I spoke to a local Bangladeshi organization, and they too were uncertain. However, they referred me to a few national organizations. Given the lack of any other clear alternatives, I hesitantly sent the money to the organization in Washington. Needless to say, I don't know where the money ultimately went. I don't know how much of it went to the affected people, vs going to overhead. However, it was invigorating and rewarding doing something for the helpless, for those ravaged by the cyclone.
My desire to have an accountable and transparent impact with donated money drove me to start my own organization.
AS: How would you describe you journey as a former president of Agami?
BR: The first many years of Agami (before getting 501(c)(3) status) were difficult. It was very hard to find people with interest that wanted to do charity work in Bangladesh. And many people that I spoke to in Bangladesh had no interest serving in a volunteer charity organization. As a result, our impact was very limited. Nonetheless, I worked hard to spread the mission and vision of Agami wherever I went. I visited cities in the US and Canada. I tried to learn more about the relevant issues, and what other organizations were doing. This was truly driven by an ‘unreasonable’ belief and passion in the mission. Eventually, through my Abu, I met Dr. Abu Hassan and Dr. Sabir Majumder. These two gentlemen jumped in wholeheartedly and Agami took off in 2003. The rest is history.
AS: What is your vision for your position as the current director of Operations?
BR: Agami is growing year by year. Our reputation, impact, and scope are all worldwide now. Agami’s infrastructure and operations have to be robust enough to support this growth. There are numerous projects in progress that will help Agami become THE leading provider of quality education solutions in Bangladesh. Agami operations have to be ready to support this growth and sustain it for decades to come.
AS: What specific achievements of Agami are you particularly proud of and why?
BR: Agami has had many accomplishments over the years. Probably the most significant is the introduction of the Khan Academy into our schools, and now non-Agami schools. We have translated over a thousand videos to Bengali, and have our own KA Bangla website. Through all of this work, we are addressing probably biggest issues in education – access and quality thereof.
I’m also very proud that this simple organization that I started 25 years ago is now a thriving international organization. This is the change I wanted to make in the world. Creating change through education.
AS: What excites you most about Agami for the next 2 years? 5 years?
BR: I’m both excited and scared by the amount of growth that Agami has to sustain internally. We are on the cusp of becoming an international force in the education arena. We need a deep commitment to growing the infrastructure of Agami to make it solid. On the other side of 2 years, I’m excited to think and hope that in 5 years, Agami will be an organization with the same impact and credibility as Asha, Acumen, Red Cross, BRAC. I want Agami to be mentioned in the same breath as those organizations.
AS: Why do you believe donors should continue to invest in Agami?
BR: I have always believed that education was the single biggest factor enabling meaningful and lasting socio-economic change in people’s lives. There are many vehicles for the upliftment of the underprivileged. Well-wishers donate money, clothes, food, etc. However, the only donation that one can never lose is education. Once I give you an education, it’s yours. Your live has been changed indelibly. Thus, to me, education is the biggest ‘lever’ we have to help change the lives of the underprivileged. And that’s why Agami’s ONLY focus is education. From a global impact perspective, only education can stop the spread of extremism around the world. Education will bring higher social and economic productivity. So, it is in everybody’s interest that their neighbors around the world are educated. This is why the mission of Agami is so critical and relevant in today’s world. This is why donors should continue to invest in Agami. This is how to change lives and change the world for the better.