UoL Alumnus Mohammad Taqi Yasir makes Forbes under 30 list
UoL alumnus Mohammad Taqi Yasir talks about being included in Forbes 30 Under 30 2022 Asia list and how his LLB helped him with his Footsteps initiative.
In 2022, Forbes Asia included the co-founders of the Footsteps Bangladesh in the Social Impact 30 Under 30 list. Footsteps is a social enterprise based in Dhaka, Bangladesh, which develops projects aimed at educating local communities and providing valuable resources, like clean drinking water, to those in need.
One of Footsteps’ co-founders is a University of London alumnus Mohammad Taqi Yasir, who graduated with a first-class LLB degree in 2017. Having observed the suffering and injustice of those struggling in the streets of Bangladesh from an early age, he dedicated his life to improving the living conditions of his local communities. We spoke to him about his work and how his University of London Law degree assisted him in achieving his goals.
You studied LLB through London College of Legal Studies (SOUTH) from 2014 to 2017. Why did you choose this programme?
My father is a businessman who has always looked after the community, helping those who have been exploited, providing them with money or shelter, and even helping with legal disputes. From an early age, I accompanied him when he was out helping people,. And that’s how I was introduced to the concepts of justice, equity and fairness.
I decided that I must study law in order to understand these concepts better and continue my father's legacy of helping people. The legal system in Bangladesh is largely based upon the British one, which is very mature and, in my opinion, the finest there is. I thought that if I had a strong understanding of it, then I'd be able to work towards enhancing the laws in my own country.
You established Footsteps in 2013, before starting the programme. Could you tell us how it started and how your degree helped you to develop it?
Winter hit very hard in Bangladesh that year, and a lot of people were suffering, particularly in the streets. My co-founder, myself and a few other friends from high school decided to launch a winter drive through, collecting donations of used clothes and delivering them to those who needed it. What was supposed to be a 12-person project turned out to be an initiative with 300 volunteers. However, when distributing the clothes, it came to the our realisation that by donating old clothes, we might be giving a temporary solution. This was the turning point for everyone and we decided to start working on projects that seek to provide lasting solutions.
When working on a development project, the most important thing is to understand the beneficiaries and critically analyse their needs,[MTY1] because ultimately they’re the ones being impacted.
This principle is at the core of Footsteps. It is the next generation organisation that provides the community with the skills and knowledge that allow them to overcome social challenges.
Why did you decide to study through distance and flexible learning?
I chose to study a distance learning programme at the University of London because, first of all, these degrees are extremely prestigious. Secondly, I had no intentions to settle abroad – all I wanted was to work for my country, and this programme gave me the flexibility to do so. I would definitely recommend this programme to anyone who wants to stay in their country and build a career there. Most of the connections that I have today were developed while I was still a student. I wouldn't have been able to do that if I had been studying in London.
The support I received was phenomenal: the materials were available 24/7 on a very user-friendly online platform. At times I had to study in the middle of the night because I was working during the day, and I still had access to all of the University’s materials, and I could post questions that would later be answered by the tutor.
Please tell us more about Footsteps’ other projects?
Project Trishna is about empowering communities through access to safe water and sanitation and educating them on the importance of hygiene. Another is the Disaster Resilience programme, where we build capacity of community to address natural and social disasters.
Thirdly, Shushasther Odhikar Shobar is a programme under which we improve public health infrastructure and access to critical health care in “last mile” communities. Our last active project is project WECan, whereby we empower communities with access to green energy technology and improve welfare through environmental advocacy.
We have recently incorporated a subsidiary, a for-profit model called Dream Water Enterprises Ltd. The idea is to provide people with portable drinking water systems at very low prices, which they can use to convert flood water into drinking water across the country.
In terms of future projects, we're currently trying to design a model whereby we set up floating villages. That way when a flood happens, people are not affected as adversely as they are today, and they can comfortably re-site and carry on their lives.
As of today, we are active in 29 out of 64 districts in Bangladesh, and we plan to reach the entire country within the next three to five years. After that, we plan to expand into India, Pakistan and then eventually to the African nations and become the largest non-governmental organisation in the world.
What other initiatives are you involved with?
Apart from Footsteps, I have also co-founded a technology company called Planet X Inc Ltd. We design technological products and services that augments human capabilities and efficiencies. For example, one product, Thersor, was developed during the Covid-19 pandemic and allows the temperature of vaccine cold storage systems to be monitored remotely, so that it can be monitored that vaccines are stored in the right temperature.
One of the biggest problems in Bangladesh is that although a lot of people take the initiative to donate and volunteer after flooding, they are all using different online platforms. That’s why, as part of CSR of Planet X , we launched Shebok, an online platform that connects volunteers and donors to verified organisation, and gives everyone the opportunity to be a part of community service at their own. It also has integrated the Uber model for donations.
What advice would you give to students or recent graduates with similar aspirations? My advice is to understand what problem in society personally troubles you. And secondly, understand your resources and limits, because you cannot do anything alone.
Before anyone wants to work for the community, I think one must do a huge amount of research to understand the problem and then develop a solution. Test it many times and talk to the beneficiaries before going live with it. Understand what the community needs, understand what they think the solution is, incorporate all of those and then design the project.