In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Kohinur Khyum Tithila, US Ambassador to Bangladesh Earl R Miller shared his views on young Bangladeshi entrepreneurs, Edward M Kennedy (EMK) Centre's role in helping Bangladeshi students study in the US, and ensuring inclusiveness and diversity.
How many programs does EMK Centre run each year with the assistance of the US Embassy? What does the programs comprise of? How many guests visit the centre each year?
Miller: The EMK Centre runs more than 700 programs each year with assistance from the US Embassy. There is a wide array of different topics that these programs cover. They range from entrepreneurship, business skills, basic computing skills, high-tech training to mental health awareness, as well as hip-hop classes. But the primary focus here is engaging with young people. Each year around 57,000 guests visit the centre.
How many Bangladeshi students are currently studying in the US? How does the embassy and centre help these students through the selection and application process?
Miller: The number of Bangladeshi students studying in the US has almost doubled over the past five years. Last year nearly 7,500 Bangladeshi students studied there, making Bangladesh one of the top 25 countries in the world sending students to the US. Bangladesh is in the list of top 10 countries that send students who attend graduate schools in our country. Some of the most popular areas of study, now surprisingly from Bangladesh, are STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) topics.
And what the EMK Centre does, like we do in other American Centres' across Bangladesh, we have a program called EducationUSA where students can come in, and get information about how to study in the US.
The number of Bangladeshi students in US in 2019 has increased by 5% compared to last year. Is there any specific reason you think why Bangladeshi youths are so drawn to American educational institutes?
Miller: One of the advantages I think the US has as far as attracting Bangladeshi students is concerned, first of all, the quality of education, and also the quantity. There are literally thousands of universities and colleges in the US which offer a potential student this incredible variety of opportunities... I think the other reason that education in the US is so popular among Bangladeshi youth is because of the close ties between the two countries. Bangladeshi students are welcomed when they arrive to the US, because there are so many alumni, and so many others who have already made that journey. Bangladeshi students are absolute superstars on American college campuses. They appreciate the opportunity, and approach their studies with a sense of self-discipline, and a sense of purpose. They bring those skills back to Bangladesh, and move on to become national, and global leaders.
How does the US Embassy support young entrepreneurs in Bangladesh? What services does the EMK Centre provide to female entrepreneurs?
Miller: US Embassy holds a variety of entrepreneurship-focused programs in the centres across Bangladesh, including EMK Centre. We tend to focus its entrepreneurship programs on three categories -- capacity, investment, and partnership facilitation. For capacity development we provide a master class series for training entrepreneurs on practical business operations. For investment, we offer learning-sharing session between fresh and successful entrepreneurs. On the partnership front, we focus on direct young entrepreneurs to develop successful partnerships with the business community.
Since its start in 2012, the EMK Centre has provided grants to 100 entrepreneurs totalling more than $680,000. Each grant ranges from $500 to $10,000 to support initiatives focused on public service, supporting the arts, civic education, women empowerment, and a whole lot of different topics. Everything we do at the US Embassy, including the EMK Centre, we try to keep our focus, as much as we can, on the youth and women empowerment. I am always encouraged as I see more and more women in our classes and programs, and moving into the private sector, taking up the mantle of becoming leaders in the business world.
What does the US Embassy and EMK Centre do to ensure inclusiveness and diversity in their programs?
Miller: We want to achieve not just gender-balance but we want to make sure that we are being inclusive with different faith communities. The great thing is, the people that participate in our programs, will let us know if we are not doing that. We try really hard to not be Dhaka-centric. Earlier this year EMK Centre helped 200 female entrepreneurs in digital marketing strategy through a number of different classes. We make sure that we are being inclusive with all the segments of Bangladeshi society.
According to a report published by Brac, about half of Bangladeshi youths (57% female; 42% male) see government jobs as the most viable career option. Have you found Bangladeshi youths interested in entrepreneurship?
Miller: I have spent much of my career as a public servant working for the US government. That is certainly a fine career. But there are also wonderful opportunities in the private sector, and people are interested in pursuing that. We have this wonderful program here at the centre where we can engage with private sectors with partnership. We have this wonderful MakerLab here at the EMK Center, and we have this YouTube studio.
What do you think is the best quality of Bangladeshi youths?
Miller: As I travel around Bangladesh, I see a wonderful lack of cynicism about education, and the future. This youth demographic can push this country into the future. Bangladesh plays this increasingly more prominent role on the regional, and global stage. That is going to be driven by the power, energy, and initiative of the this country's youth.