Shomy: "Find your passion in what bothers you. We often relate our passion with something that gives us joy. But in my opinion, we can also derive our passion from something that bugs us and keeps us up at night. So much that we do not just rant but take action no matter how small it is."
Issue XI Cover Feature Empower
Interviewed by Aditri Sen and Bhagyashree Prabhutendolkar
30th October, 2021
Shomy Hasan Chowdhury is an award-winning Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) activist from Bangladesh. Shomy is the Co-Founder of Awareness 360, Forbes 30 Under 30 Lister & Featured Honoree, Schwarzman Scholar, US State Department CEE Specialist, Global Citizen Youth Advocate, Asia Pacific's first Samsung Global-UNDP Generation17 Ambassador, Asia Representative of Commonwealth Students’ Association, Royal Commonwealth Society Fellow, International Election Observer and sits on leadership & advisory positions of multiple international organizations. Her notable recognitions include the President’s Volunteer Service Award (Gold) from President Barack Obama, and The Diana Legacy Award. Most recently, she became the first Bangladeshi to sit on The Diana Legacy Award 2021 Judging Panel alongside Princess Diana’s brother Lord Spencer and many esteemed figures.
Can you tell us what WASH stands for? What prompted you to start your work for Clean Water and Sanitation?
Shomy: WASH stands for Water, Sanitation and Hygiene. My passion for WASH stemmed from the tragic loss of my mother in 2014, who died from diarrhea after being sick for only one day. Her death made me realize the critical role WASH can play in saving lives from preventable diseases like diarrhea. Despite coming from an educated background, I was unaware of the global WASH crisis. I did not want anybody else to go through the same, so I was driven to transform my pain into passion. Four days after my mother's death I did my first WASH Talk at an isolated sewerage workers' community. I realized the immense power of storytelling in connecting people & delivering my message across. I saw the potential impact I could bring, and hence I continued my WASH activism ever since.
Your father was a social worker as well, so how does it feel to be continuing his legacy?
Shomy: Having sought my initial inspiration from him, my father has greatly shaped my values of empathy and kindness. In our family album there are photos of me accompanying my father to events he organized, most of which I do not even remember. He continues to engage himself in social work which not only inspires me but also helps me realize that everyone,regardless of age, has a responsibility to give back to society and nature in some way; and you are neither too young nor too old to be a changemaker.
Watch our interview with Shomy Hasan Chowdhury, Cover Feature of Issue XI
How did you build your personal brand? How important is it for Gen Zers to develop Networking skills to step up their ventures ?
Shomy: I did not take any intentional steps to build my personal brand but I have always believed in authenticity. I think when someone works with integrity toward a clear vision, people will notice, appreciate and join forces. It is important to make people realise the clear need for the work you are doing, which will help generate support. Networking skills definitely can play an integral role to seek such support in terms of acquiring team mates, traction, resources, and ultimately impact. Through networking we can also get access to the right mentors who can help us scale up our projects further.
You are the founder of “Awareness 360.” Can you tell us about your founding story and what you do at Awareness 360?
Shomy: In college I met my best friend Rijve Arefin who also is very passionate about bringing positive change to society. We both had different areas of interest, and picked up skills to do development work through our involvement with different organizations. We were having a friendly conversation at a burger joint one day, and it suddenly struck us that there must be many other youths out there who also have different causes they care about but maybe need a little guidance to take that first step of action. Our values, thoughts and purpose resonated and hence we decided to co-create Awareness 360 to provide a platform for young people to thrive and be empowered as community builders.
One of our focus areas is WASH. We raise awareness about clean water and sanitation, menstruation, sexual and reproductive health, mental health & well-being, neglected tropical diseases etc. among vulnerable and marginalized communities such as the sewerage workers, sex-workers, under-resourced school children, slum dwellers, refugees, etc. ; fostering behavioral change adopting healthy habits by helping them realize its long term impact in reducing extreme poverty. We now empower young people in 25+ countries by giving them the skills, resources, tools, mentorship and inspiration to identify community issues and conduct their own social action projects supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).