Torchbearers of Bangladesh | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 05, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:29 AM, April 05, 2020

Torchbearers of Bangladesh

Raba Khan, Esrat Karim share feelings on making it to Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list

Forbes recently announced its fifth annual 30 Under 30 Asia list, featuring entrepreneurs, leaders and changemakers across Asia under the age of 30.

Two Bangladeshis -- Raba Khan and Esrat Karim Eve -- were inducted in the categories of Media, Marketing & Advertising, and Social Entrepreneurship respectively.

The popular US-based business magazine chose this year's inductees from a list of over 3,500 nominations, surveyed by a group of industry veterans and experts.

Forbes says the inclusion of the young Bangladeshi women is a testament to the way they have disrupted their respective industries and inspired others to do the same.


Raba Khan is best known for her comedic stint in The Jhakanaka Project and influence in the Bangladeshi social media sphere. At only 20 years old, Raba has been involved in over 150 brand campaigns, multiple television and radio shows, as well as being the Youth Advocate for Unicef and an ActionAid ambassador.

The young entertainer's inclusion in the list is further elevated by the fact that she is the featured nominee of her category, which puts her on the cover of the Forbes Asia Magazine.

"Incidentally, Forbes is the only magazine that my father reads, and my family is ecstatic about this," said an elated Raba.

In recent years, the presence of Bangladeshis in the prestigious list has become something of a common occurrence, which has played a role in the induction of the duo. Raba says she was inspired to apply for the list after artist Morshed Mishu's inclusion in last year's edition.

"Morshed Mishu is a tremendous artist, he even did the cover for my book. It made me really happy to see his inclusion last year," she said. "At that point, I wanted to give it [the list] a try."

After the initial selection of her online application, Forbes contacted Raba on February, after which she had to give multiple interviews to them. "Every claim that I had made on my application was researched and verified by them."

"I would be glad to see more Bangladeshi people applying and making the list," she added.

For Raba, most of the hurdles are thrown at her way by critics and naysayers.

She is often a subject of immense scrutiny from some corners of social media, especially since the publication of her book at last year's book fair, which went on to become a best-seller.

However, critics say this had less to do with her talent as a writer than the social capital she accumulated from her media career, undermining her credibility.

"All I can say is that I have worked hard to get where I am. Contrary to what one may think, I have carefully scripted most of my content, and strategised most of my brand campaigns," she said.


Esrat Karim Eve is known for her social work. Established in 2014, her AMAL Foundation has been working rigorously to establish education, empowerment and health for poor and marginalised communities in Bangladesh.

Completing her master's degree in Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Colorado, Esrat returned to the country with the hopes of making a positive change in the lives of those less cared for by society.

AMAL Foundation is currently working with more than 52,000 people living in villages across Bangladesh.

The Foundation has centres across the country, which teach victims of rape and child marriage skills that can help them earn a livelihood.

However, the path to making the list was not smooth. For Esrat, the glory comes after a long journey through not only challenges from her field of work, but also family pressures.

"When I came back home and started doing social work, I faced a lot of hurdles from my communities, and even my own family," Esrat said, "They did not want to accept that I would dedicate my life to being a social reformer."

The validation only arrived after accolades did.

For her endeavours, Esrat has earned the Youth Icon 2018, YSSE Social Impact Award, GITA Global Award and the Jolkona Catalyst Fellowship Award.

However, she considers this the peak of her achievements. "After my inclusion in the Forbes list, they [her family] are stunned," she said in a celebratory mood.  She dedicates this achievement to the over 5,000 volunteers who work for AMAL Foundation.

She doesn't want to stop here. "My goal is to make Bangladesh a healthy and happy place for everyone. I would go on with my work, irrespective of whether I get awarded or not."

Esrat believes social activism should be centred more on empowerment than charity or token donations, something many from her industry still believes. For her work, she prioritises creating more inclusive and enabling environments for women, children, and refugees.

"Empowerment is much more important than charity. We believe in sustainable social reforms when we are helping a marginalised community," she said.

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