Access to information is what we call luck. Well how do you tip the scales to being lucky often? You “Show up” in a lot of places. That’s one of the secret sauces to success.
I did just that. I found out about this very cool program sponsored by the US State Dept. while talking to a friend/alumnus of this program at a Startup community event in Dhaka.
The US Dept chooses 5 emerging leaders from the business world, in Bangladesh for a 6 weeks intensive fellowships designed to broaden their professional expertise in the US. – To read more about the program click here.
This program brings in 400 professionals that are selected out of 2000 applicants from 77 countries at each round. A total of 1500 participants go through this program in a year from various fields such as Legislative Process & Governance, Economic Empowerment, Women’s Empowerment, Climate Change, Global Health etc. The participants experience individually tailored fellowships in their respective line of businesses, government offices or NGOs.
The objective of the program is for the foreign and American participants to develop everlasting professional ties and partnerships. The CEOs of all the American companies are then taken to the country of the Fellow they hosted to complete the exchange program.
I was simply blown away by everything from the application process to selection which entailed thought provoking questions and began my learning curve from day one.
This was going to be my first trip to the US and going there as a guest of the US State Dept. completely made me feel like royalty. I carried this feeling within, throughout the entire program because of the way we were welcomed at every event, treated, entertained, taken care of and taught. The frank exchange of ideas and the depth of conversation at every meeting, workshop and even at casual hangouts were exemplary given the caliber of all the CEOs and founders chosen to participate at the program.
The speed networking and etiquettes workshops were among my favorite. I loved the tips on how to prepare for a networking event to get the most out of it, how to approach and stand facing the person as opposed to standing on his/her side and what the various body language gestures meant. The crash course of etiquettes was a good refresher on how to dine and how to dress appropriately. This just went to show how well thought out the program was with great attention to detail.
I began to fall in love with Oklahoma city for the way the people made me feel there, what they stood for, their life philosophies and for the vastness of space. I had never seen such bluer skies that soared my spirits every morning, never felt such strong winds that regularly picked my off my feet and never thought I would make such amazing friends from a town like Norman.
One of my biggest preconceived notions of a small town like Norman and of Oklahoma as a rural state was quickly debunked as we visited places like Tulsa and heard stories of George Kaiser whose philanthropic efforts have created a huge impact in Oklahoma. His relentless work stimulated economic growth and fought poverty with investments in early education and health care for people who need it the most.
He is part of the giving pledge where he has promised to give away half his wealth, which is ½ of $9.8 billion. He has always been among the list of the richest people in the world ranked at 43. Owning 61% stake in Oklahoma Bank simply means offering creative ways to give loans and investments to entrepreneurs who want to put in their time and effort to grow businesses in Oklahoma.
After a very warm reception dinner at Joe Foote’s home in Norman, I thought of how one man can make a difference. He is the dean of Journalism at OU and spent a few years in Dhaka University as a visiting professor. Its because of him that OU hosts this exchange program in Bangladesh.
My placement at Liquidfish (www.liquidfish.com) was possibly one of the most eye opening experiences I have had, given the opportunity to shadow a CEO of a US company up close and personal. I was very surprised by the openness to share trade secrets, best practices that he learned from years of working in the IT industry and more. We exchanged tools that helped each of us in streamlining business process, and discussed strategies everyday on how to grow our businesses. One of my most reminisced moments was all the time each of the Liquidfish staff spent with me, to show me how they work, taught me tricks and shortcuts in programming, coding, designing etc. I am most grateful to Cody Blake (CEO of Liquid fish) for taking me to his sales calls and hand holding me through his process of closing 6 digit deals, showing me how the team presented value propositions to prospects and sold added feature. One of my invaluable observations included understanding how being honest of what you can’t deliver was just as important as promising what you can deliver. Both built trust and confidence in the prospect clients.
Cody shared his life stories that left us feeling like brothers and close friends in a very short time. He even took me to an OU basketball game (my first of course),and drove me in his modified jeep (that he worked on himself) with the wind blowing in our faces all through downtown Oklahoma to Lake Heffner where I had one of the best steaks of my life
Cody had his first son while I was there and still managed to give me a lot of time. I realized that Cody and most Oklahomans were very family oriented and lived the true American dream of owning a home, having a nice quaint family and owning 2 dogs. They were mellow by nature and really liked spending a lot of time with their families. Cody managed a life work balance while still being very driven to grow his business.
I began implementing all my learning long before I left the US. I registered Ennovision as a US company with my US partner. This now gave Ennovision the extra edge that would make it smoother for our customers to work with us with ease in banking transactions. It gave them added confidence in dealing with us as a company that now had a sales office in the US.
Meeting the Dean of OU business school was a treat as well. OU was incredibly welcoming for me to consider doing an MBA there. It truly is about “who you know” wherever you go. Elanie Steyn, the program coordinator at OU has been instrumental in making the Bangladesh exchange program such a raving success through her relentless work and passion for helping the entrepreneurs of Bangladesh beyond words. We have all become fast friends with her given her sincerity, selflessness and dedication for this program.
The program’s grand finale was at a 3 day conference in Washington D.C. where we met all the other 400 participants from the other 76 countries. This was a great way to end the exchange program since we got to see the level of impact and the depth of this empowerment program through the stories of the other participants. We continue to stay in touch with each other to nurture the relationships that we developed over the 6 weeks that I was there and am very confident that we will create ample concrete opportunities to work with each other as business partners.
This visit to D.C. obviously an exclusive tour to the US State Dept. I liked what my US partner said when I told her about the visit. She remarked, “NOW I am jealous. I have lived in the US for 23 years and traveled to all 50 states but never gotten to visit the inside of the US State Dept. let alone get a private tour.” Again, honored and felt like royalty!
When I returned home to Dhaka, I was “pumped” about scaling the Ennovision office. My US partner flew in within weeks of my return and we quickly changed office to move into a bigger space to accommodate our expansion plans. We have been working for 15-17 hrs a day to ramp up the rebranding, expansion and creating our own strategic roadmap for the year. We even streamlined our business process further like using quickbooks to keep transparent records for the US and Bangladesh offices. Who would have “thunk” that I would paying taxes in the US after visiting the country just ONCE?
We are gearing up to collaborate with Liquidfish in the next 2 months and we are super excited about Cody Blake visiting Bangladesh early next year. We had identified the excess workload that Liquidfish did not have the bandwidth for and wanted Ennovision to take on for them.
We can’t wait to see how the next few months unfolds for Ennovision with new teams, and my more frequent visits to the US to join my US partner in building the company.
This program has marked several milestones in my life and opened doors that I did not know existed.