One Degree Initiative
Creating Changemakers

One Degree Initiative Foundation (1° Initiative) is a non-profit youth organisation that empowers diverse groups through mentorship and social innovation to become changemakers. It is registered, internationally recognised and addresses issues concerning education, civic engagement and leadership. 1° Initiative was founded in 2006 by a group of teenagers who took small initiatives to craft social changes in their community. The organisation's mission is to provide the youth from all socioeconomic backgrounds with a platform to make their voices heard and help fulfill their vision for a better and fairer world. In Bangladesh, where over 70% of the population is below 40, such a platform is vital to motivate and empower the next generation of leaders to become active citizens and community change-makers.

1° Initiative specialises in creating community changemakers by providing mentorship to translate the ideas of young people into sustainable actions, thus empowering them to take ownership of their vision and inspiring social innovations. It addresses empowerment in two ways. One, it unites youth and children from all backgrounds through a distinctive pairing system to serve the community. It catalyzes mutual respect and allows everyone to be equally engaged. Two, members are motivated to take initiatives based upon ownership of their ideas. It prepares them for future ventures and builds rapport between the younger generations so they work together to build more tolerant and peaceful communities.

The 1° Initiative model is designed as such so that it is not only the members or the communities involved that benefit from the work, but rather everyone at every level possible. The organisation is run by young people who were once members and the term changes every two years to make room for newer generations. This model has been successfully replicated in many parts of the world, and 1° Initiative has international branches in Nepal, Canada, the Middle East and Australia.

1° Initiative does this by engaging its members in unique social innovations that aim to develop existing infrastructures in the community as well as the members themselves. Projects such as Haate Khori, Shorey Aw and 1° of Learning provides both the direct and indirect beneficiaries (the children and members involved) with a rich experience and insight into the current condition of the education sector in Bangladesh, while campaigns like Degrees on Wheels and Training on Wheels empowers young people to take charge of problems like health, traffic and pollution themselves. To date, it has implemented over 60 projects globally, engaged, 1500 volunteers in its activities and reached out to over 25,000 children.

Compiled by Star Correspondent

Anita Aparna Muyeed
Founder of Streetwise


Driven by passion and her love for art, Anita Aparna Muyeed stumbled upon the idea of helping street children while assisting a friend on a documentary, and from what began as a simple get-together with street kids once a week in the garage of a school, some art work, shopping for Eid gifts and lots of care, slowly rolled into what we now know as "Streetwise" and a boarding school for 23 street children stationed in Baada. She calls this process of many years a slow yet organic development. Never a conscious decision and always one where the objectives are re-visited, this expedition has always been guided by family, friends and determined and hard working volunteers.

"It was really about them choosing us and not us choosing them," says Anita, while asked how she targeted these kids. They started with informal education, English, Bangla and maths and with time, have realised that while having guided them with human assets -- values, awareness about health, savings money and school-based activities -- she felt it was time to prep them for social assets. So the roles now are not only limited to containing a class 1- 5 academic setting, but to also provide skill training and job placements once these children are a little older.

"Health, discipline, school, sports -- those are external elements guiding them physically but as they grow, they start asking 'who am I?' and so we are venturing into their social reality and asking questions like 'who are their idols?' We teach them but are they really interested? Who is successful in their eyes and why?"

A former art teacher at International School of Dhaka, Anita always found herself teaching and as she connected the dots of her passion for art and teaching, she felt it should reach those who don't usually get the chance. "I merged all my passions and interests together," she recalls.

The main obstacle has been communicating with the parents, since they are at a vulnerable position and are often not willing to provide the whole picture of their background. Finding a place to set up the school for 23 kids and dealing with landlords have also been very stressful. "If we could just build a place and never deal with another landlord ever again," she contemplates.

Trust and assurance are key matters when dealing with street children and mainly their families. "Sometimes they would want help in their crisis but would bend reality in order to get the immediate solution. But then I should have done my homework first before jumping into anything, so now I actually look for documents and proof before going any further." And as for the kids, she claims, they are "streetwise" after all, but creating a bond of trust has always been easier with children.

This "holistic" approach to helping the children and their families has expanded through their connection with Aarong and Jatra who sells products (namely cards) made by these kids. For 2012, Anita, however, envisions a more structural team with more employees undergoing training, with a concrete management system of money and a strategy to market themselves for more funding. Where supplement for health care, trainings and skills to prep children for public school enrolment and other jobs are already in process, this year she hopes to fine-tune the existing materials and bring a more focused team as a whole, she says. "After all, the kids are growing up so fast."

Compiled by Star Correspondent