The social entrepreneur conundrum | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 01, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 04:59 PM, February 12, 2019

The social entrepreneur conundrum

Think you have what it takes to be one?

Figuring out the perfect time to become a social entrepreneur is quite simple. You should only become a social entrepreneur when you have identified a concrete problem around you that you passionately want to solve. Problem identification and drive should come first, followed by your decision to become a social entrepreneur.

With the recent rise in glamour associated with being a social entrepreneur and the hype around startup culture in Bangladesh, the desire to become the next big change-maker is now more than ever. Over 90% of startups fail according to research by the Startup Genome Project, yet everyone wants to become an entrepreneur.

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Among entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs face one additional problem- burnouts. According to research by Creators for Good, social entrepreneurs are two times more likely to burnout than a normal entrepreneur. According to research conducted from Harvard Business School, stress is their biggest challenge. Being a social entrepreneur means thousands of thankless hours of relentlessly working behind the scenes. Even if we disregard the extremely high possibility of a business failure, there still remains the overarching possibility of a mental breakdown, and that doesn't sound fun.

So, what is the solution? Only become a social entrepreneur when you are ready. And when do you know you are ready? Let us take a look at what Ayman Sadiq, founder of 10 Minute School has to say about this. In just a few years, he has developed the organization into the largest educational platform in Bangladesh that teaches over 250,000 students daily for free. How does he do it? How does he work 24/7 without burning out? The answer is simple. First, he identified the problem and found a purpose. Then, he decided to open 10 Minute School. This chat I had with him will paint a better picture.

This winter, Ayman Sadiq invited me over to his house to chat about a project where I wanted to collaborate with him. When I was about to enter the building, a guard greeted me. It was just one of the hundred fleeting interactions people have over the span of a day, and I quickly forgot all about it when I stepped inside the elevator. As I started chatting with Ayman about the project, he randomly asked me, “Do you know the story of the guard you met downstairs?”. I didn't. Ayman did, and that is why he does what he does.

The guard grew up in a small village in Kurigram. His father was too sick to work. His mother begged on the streets for a living only because it paid more than working as a house maid. His elder brother lives separately with his family and never drops by to say hello. So, the massive responsibility of taking care of the family falls on the little guy, our guard. Before he gave his SSC exams, he studied full time and worked as a wood carpenter to support his family. Saying that life is hard for him is a massive understatement. After his SSC exams, he moved to Dhaka for his HSC exams. Now he works as a security guard, making BDT 8120 (roughly $100) per month which he sends back home to support his family. There is a small space in the roof of the building where he works. He uses that space to study for his HSC exams. Education can be the only way to make it in Bangladesh sometimes. Education fuels the dreams of the working-class and that's why this little guy studies. Readers, recall what you were doing during grade 10 or 12 and compare that with what our protagonist here is doing.

Ayman Sadiq was shocked when he heard the story of the guard. He asked him, “What happens if you don't understand something while studying?” The guard replied, “That happens all the time. A  kind teacher in Ibrahimpur teaches me for free. I will always remain grateful to him”. Ayman then looked at the guard and asked, “Have you heard of 10 Minute School?” End of story.

"Can you imagine what the guard would do if that generous teacher wasn't around? Who would help him then? There are 42 million students like him all across Bangladesh. Who helps them? Don't you feel that someone has to?”, Ayman asked me that day.

This is why Ayman Sadiq does what he does. The infamous burnout of the social entrepreneur doesn't deem his motivation or passion. So before you decide to become a social entrepreneur, make sure you have a concrete purpose and a problem that you passionately want to solve. It has to be a problem that you see in the community around you and absolutely cannot stand. Can you think of something that pops right up? That's where you start.


Seeam Shahid Noor is a 2nd year student studying Applied Mathematics at Harvard. He is passionate about learning and teaching strategies that inspire business development for organisations and professional development for individuals. You can reach him at:

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