Rashedun Nabi is an experienced executive when it comes to the social enterprise vertical. His knowledge covers not just Bangladesh but also other countries such as Ethiopia, Singapore, and Thailand. Recently we had a conversation about his adventure at Next Billion, a social enterprise organisation that creates scalable technology and data tools, platforms & services that enable companies to engage and understand emerging market consumers.
Hi Rashed. It’s not easy to get hold of you for a quick interview and I am glad to finally be able to do this with you. As you know, social enterprise is the ‘in’ thing at the moment. It has become an industry by itself. I want to know more about the industry and Next Billion and why it is making you so excited. First things first though, who is Rashed as a person and professional?
At-first, thank you for taking the time to take this interview. I am really excited to have this opportunity to share my experience and more about what we are doing in Next Billion.
I was born and broad-up in Chittagong, the port city of Bangladesh. I have completed my graduation from BRAC University and post graduation from University of Dhaka. My schooling was in Government Schools which I believe helped me to develop my people skills. I can easily mix up with any socio-economic background people. Also as I got the opportunities to work with many nationalities and be exposed to different cultures, I believe this is the prime factor which inspired my creativity to drive innovation and adapt different leadership styles according to the situation.
I am an impactor who loves learning, taking action, tackling new projects, and solving problems. I am someone who is also committed to his own personal development, progression, and mentoring young professionals. I also love reading, and traveling. Whenever I get a chance, I just escape from my usual surroundings with my wife. She is an online-entrepreneur, and loves to travel like me.
Tell us more about your professional journey, to where you are now. Is it planned?
After graduation, when almost all of my friends joined Banks or Telco, I joined CARE Bangladesh because I wanted to do some work that will have a sustainable impact on the underprivileged people of the society. After working in the development sector for almost 5 and a half years, I moved to the social business sector because I found that the impact I want to create for the people underprivileged society would be more sustainable in the social business sector than the development sector. Because I found out in those 5 years that, even all the organisations have good intentions of sustainable development but after the end of a project, sometimes it’s not possible to continue that.
In the last 8 years, working for social enterprises in the last-mile distribution and activation, health-tech and data platform industry, and working with companies and hundreds of rural entrepreneurs, I figured out I am really good not only in building a network but also utilising that network for good. Throughout my career, I have worked in projects, which need innovation, building the team and go for quick action, tackling social stigma, and need quick wins. I helped those companies to build the operations and marketing from grounds up.
When I switched my jobs, honestly sometimes I just changed based on my gut feelings. But now when I look back at my career, I figured out that each and every one of the moves actually had a positive impact in my next move and ultimately in my career. For example, as I started my career in the development sector, so understand the language and requirements of the development sectors clients. That’s why whenever any development sector potential client wants to talk, all my previous and current employers used to give me those projects.
Now, let’s get into the story of social enterprise. Can you share with me why you are so pumped up about this industry?
As I said, I have started my career in CARE Bangladesh because I wanted to do some work that will have a sustainable impact on the underprivileged people of the society. So when I have planned to pivot my career from the development world, I was thinking which might be the next best job sector where I can have both, growth of my career and also helping underprivileged people of the society. Back in 2013, the concept of Social Business was evolving. I have done some secondary research and talked to my mentors and figured out that the social business sector should be my next destination as I don’t have to start from scratch. I joined JITA Social Business as Manager-Projects and M&E and within a year promoted to Head of Business Development. And at that time, the biggest inner peace I had in my mind was that I am not doing good only for myself or my company, but also I am helping to create employment opportunities for rural underprivileged women, not in Bangladesh, but also in Ethiopia (yes, at that time the same model was replicated in Ethiopia by CARE Ethiopia).
The main thing that motivated me in this industry is not only the dedication to achieve a social goal but also sustainability of the initiatives. For example, in JITA, we were working towards creating employment opportunities for rural underprivileged women, and in Jeeon, we were working to make well-being universal by taking quality primary healthcare to underserved rural communities. We had a revenue plan too but also have the same importance in the social goals.
What is Next Billion actually and what does it do?
Next Billion is a social enterprise that creates scalable technology and data tools, platforms & services that enable companies to engage and understand emerging market consumers. We started our journey in 2013 as a last mile FMCG marketing services agency. We provided audio visual equipment to rural opinion leaders and transformed them to brand ambassadors who organized 10,000+ campaign events in 6 countries.
During the implementation of these campaigns, we have noticed that now companies want to build up marketing relationships companies are now investing more in customer relationships such as-provide sample products, communicate with customers & ask for feedback, customer support etc. Providing samples is a part of increasing brand value and promoting the product in the market which will boost the sales. But after distributing the samples to potential customers, there was no smarter way to track the samples and later get the feedback from the customers about the products.
When we have identified that need, we have developed a survey platform which will help the companies not only to collect the personal identifiable information but also a tool to track product samples. Now we are upgrading our platform to a Survey Engine, which will give our clients the ability to make powerful surveys to collect whatever information they need in a more secure manner. For example, one of our clients arranged a campaign with NEXT BILLION for free product sampling and the timeline of the campaign was 12 months. In this campaign, NEXT BILLON made 3 different platforms which were visual flyer advertising platform, web based PII platform and chatbot platform to collect users personal information with their consent. In this campaign after submitting the PII information, the users get either a free sample product or free sms and 100mb for facebook browsing for a day.
I am happy to inform you that our platform is GDPR and HIPPA compliant and secured by design.
So far we have worked with renowned brands like Lifebuoy, Knorr, Wall’s, Vaseline, Liptop, Domestos, DSM, Frieslandcampina, Modalez. The Ministry of Public Health, Thailand also used our solution. They had a goal to identify aspects of public sanitation that needed immediate improvement. Microsoft and Next Billion equipped governments and individuals to jointly address public issues with the help of AI technologies, such as machine learning and computer visualization. These technologies enable government agencies to get a predictive edge in identifying public health risks and potential disease hotspots.
Can you share with us some pictures of your social adventures? Please describe these pictures into a single story. I’m going to have these pictures into a gallery here for everyone to see.
I have got many opportunities to represent my employer organization to different international events and bootcamp. Some of them are given below
Receiving Award Certificate from Mr. Ibrahim Thiaw, UNEP Deputy Executive Director and Assistant-Secretary-General of the United Nations
ICCO Cooperation has hosted a MDF Market Café Discussion themed on “Building a Rural Distribution Channel for Nutritional Products” where I have presented “JITA’s experience on rural distribution of nutritional products in Bangladesh”
So what Next Billion is up to right now?
Now we are working on developing a SAAS platform which will help our clients to use our solution more conveniently and efficiently. We have already launched a beta version with one of our existing clients and they love it. The platform is so user friendly that literally there are almost no onboarding activities.
On the other hand, the in-field marketing and consumer data collection is at present hampered due to social distancing and lockdown measures. Right now, given the pandemic, it is still difficult to predict from when any in-field activities will start at scale. As a result we are seeing an opportunity to further the digital transformation of in-field type activities and the engagement with consumers.
With mobile devices readily on-hand for most consumers, live streaming is extremely accessible, easy to use, and a great tool for real-time engagement. We see that this is a great opportunity for brands to use Live Streaming to demonstrate the features of the product and collect PII information incentivised by offering instant rewards.
Now we are planning to launch a POC with our clients. We have partnered with 2 Live Commerce platforms in India and Bangladesh.
Now you may want to know why Next Billion is incorporating Live Streaming in their strategy. Live Streaming is accelerating at a faster pace because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It offers a brilliant opportunity to share the features and benefits of a product through demonstration and storytelling. According to WYZOWL, 82% of digital audiences prefer LIVE video content over other types of content and 84% of people say that they’ve been convinced to buy a product or service by watching a brand’s video
With ongoing social distancing and lockdown measures restricting in-field marketing and data collection activities, we believe Live Streaming provides a new and effective avenue to collect PII data and help brands build strong relationships with their consumers.
What was the biggest challenge you and team faced in 2020 especially during the pandemic and what do you see coming in 2021?
As I said, the in-field marketing and consumer data collection is at present hampered due to social distancing and lockdown measures. Even some of our clients minimize the digital campaigns activities to collect PII and sample tracking too. That’s the biggest challenge we have faced in 2020. Although during that time, we focused on building our new SAAS platform.
Before the pandemic, around 40% of our projects depended on in-field marketing activities. Now we are observing that our clients are moving more on digital campaigns. That’s why, in 2021 our focus is on developing regor solutions that will help our clients to achieve their objectives in building relationships with customers and sample tracking.
I know that you’ve been very active on social media especially on LinkedIn. It’s a great strategy to build your personal branding and for Next Billion too. What would you be expecting out of this gig?
I believe with a smart LinkedIn profile and a well-honed strategy, this social site for business people can become your powerful partner in long-term personal branding and relationship-building with industry peers, customers and prospects.
Many people still think of LinkedIn as a job search site but I believe that it is far more than that. Did you know that there are 9 billion+ content impressions per week and that people engage with content 15x more than job searches on LinkedIn? It is a content hub and a personal branding powerhouse!
LinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network with over 760+ million members worldwide and growing everyday. People come to stay connected, stay informed, identify prospects and also get hired. It offers you the capacity to know what’s happening in the world, stay ahead of the game for yourself (by personal branding) and for your clients and to find your next opportunity.
Anything else you wish to share Rashedun?
I have been working in the Startup arena for the last 8 years. I worked for a pre-seed startup to Series A type. I have experience in working in South Asia, South East Asia and also in Africa. Eventually I want to help more startups with the experience I got in the last 8 years. I have seen a lot of great ideas don’t flourish due to various reasons, from poor execution to incapability of the management team/founders. Some of the startups don’t understand their focus areas should be different for each growth stage. I want to help more startups with the understanding of the growth stage and in which stage what should be their priorities. In near future, I want to involve myself more actively in helping startups in operations, business development, BOP marketing and raising funds.