Tanzeel Rashid, an Aspire Leaders Program alumnus from 2022, was born in Chattogram, Bangladesh. His passion for making a positive impact on his community started at a young age. This has now earned him a nomination for the prestigious Global Student Prize by Chegg.org & Varkey Foundation, placing him among the top 10 global student leaders.
Rashid shared the benefits of engaging with like-minded young leaders during the Aspire Leaders Program and his goals for continued global impact.
Envisioning a Better Future at a Young Age
At the age of 14, Rashid founded Ogrograhi, an organization aimed at empowering young minds and breaking down barriers in Bangladesh. The name, derived from “ogro” meaning to move forward and “grahi” meaning to shatter obstacles, embodies the spirit of progress and a commitment to a better future.
While initially designed to give a voice to teenagers, the organization’s focus shifted to pressing issues, including climate change, public health, menstrual health, and youth empowerment.
“Our core work now is that we try to provide emergency food relief and assistance to vulnerable communities across Bangladesh,” Rashid shared. “As you may know, Bangladesh is a climate catastrophic country and we face natural disasters every year.”
Focusing on Pressing Issues
Bangladesh, highly vulnerable to climate change, faces recurring natural disasters. Rashid and Ogrograhi have responded by providing emergency relief to 734 families across many regions. Their efforts are crucial, especially considering that one-third of the agricultural GDP may be lost by 2050 due to climate variability and extreme events, according to a World Bank study.
In addition to addressing climate change, Ogrograhi expanded its mission during the COVID-19 pandemic. They collaborated with government agencies to provide over 20,000 meals, raise awareness of safety protocols, and distribute emergency oxygen cylinders.
Now, in a “post-pandemic” world, the foundation is going back to its focus on three areas: climate change and education, public health and menstrual hygiene, and mental health.
Addressing Menstrual Health
Ogrograhi tackles public health challenges that many do not speak about in Bangladesh. In a country where menstruation remains stigmatized, Rashid’s organization works to raise awareness and provide access to sanitary pads.
According to Rashid, about 60% of young girls had not heard of menstruation before they started menstruating; and access to sanitary pads is sparse. From workshops to distribution packets, the organization does what it can to make a difference in the day to day experiences of women in their communities. They are also working on an eco-friendly, reusable sanitary pad product.
Finding a Path as a First-Generation College Student
Rashid’s journey as a first-generation college student has been self-crafted, emphasizing the significance of extracurricular activities and finding his passions. While his parents initially struggled to grasp his motivation to pursue these initiatives, Rashid believes that making a difference from a young age is vital.
“They just wanted me to study and do well, but I always saw a significance in engaging in other activities with people from lots of different communities,” he said. “It’s how you build yourself as a human and a changemaker for the world — I see that as real education.”
For Rashid, being exposed to the difficult realities of life and working toward making the world a better place at a young age is important.
“We need to start helping the community around us as a child, not when we are older and already have a job,” Rashid said.
He also understands the concerns and fears of his parents. They want the best for them but may not know exactly what this looks like.
“I think this is the struggle of almost every first-generation college student,” he explained.“Everything is new for us, for our family, and there is no clear path and it’s hard for our parents to understand what we are doing and why it matters. But when you start to succeed, they realize.”
Finding a Community in the Aspire Leaders Program
Rashid first heard about the Aspire Leaders Program in 2021 but missed the deadline. Determined to join again, he reapplied the following year.
“I knew this program was made for people like me,” he shared. “We are all trying to make changes and manage projects, and we need community support and learning opportunities. It gave me and others working on grassroots initiatives recognition as a leader; and that has helped me expand my work, my worth, and my credibility.”
The peer discussions and diverse learning opportunities were particularly beneficial, allowing him to connect with like-minded individuals from various backgrounds and cultures focused on creating positive change.
“I’ve connected with so many other people from Bangladesh, and now we get to dream up what we can do and how we can make a bigger impact through networking and collaboration,” Rashid boasted. “The process really challenged me to become a better version of myself because it taught me how to tackle any challenge, no matter what comes my way.”
Charting a Promising Future
Rashid continues his undergraduate degree in Development Studies, with a focus on climate change. His thesis explores the overlooked coastal areas of Bangladesh and aims to develop a Multidimensional Property Index (MPI) to assess livelihood conditions, potentially influencing policy decisions.
“I want to look at how climate change affects development and how people respond to it,” he shared. “And to come up with solutions that capture different perspectives.”
Looking ahead, Rashid envisions a master’s program abroad and aspires to work at the United Nations someday and make a global impact.
When asked for advice for aspiring changemakers, he emphasized the importance of perseverance and authenticity, urging others to aspire to more and apply to the Aspire Leaders Program.
“Never give up, stay true to your vision [and] mission – but most importantly yourself,” he said. ”No matter what happens, keep going; if you believe in change and transformation, apply for the Aspire Leaders Program!”