Our ‘Meet the Coordinator’ series provides a glimpse into what inspires, motivates and challenges our SBN country coordinators. Our coordinators are at the heart of the SBN, as they engage business, government and other stakeholders within their SUN Country to provide support to SMEs to act, invest and innovate in improved nutrition.
Syed Muntasir Ridwan is the coordinator of SBN Bangladesh.
What inspired you to work with the SUN Business Network?
I come from a place in Bangladesh called old Dhaka that is famous for its Biriyani (aromatic rice with clarified butter, spices and meat) and kebabs. Being an old Dhakaite, it’s in my genes to love oily snacks and avoid greens. I was never very concerned about health or nutrition until in 2012 I lost one of my closest uncles to heart disease, and my father had a heart attack that same year. I made a conscious effort to change my family’s diets but I failed – there’s too much emotional attachment to junk food, and it’s often more affordable than the healthy alternatives.
I went to study in Norway in 2013 and among many things that I found unique and fascinating about the country, it was their physical fitness that stood out to me. They have a diet that consists mainly of fish, vegetables, legumes and potatoes. Norway’s government and businesses have systematically promoted this diet through marketing campaigns and targets government incentives and promotion. Even though I’m not a nutritionist, just by living the ‘Norwegian’ diet, I was felt much better and fitter.
Fast forward to returning to Bangladesh, the SUN Business Network provided me the opportunity to work to replicate the systemic environment of Norway, where consumer choices are automatically steered towards a healthier diet, as a collaborative effort between government, business and civil society.
I just hope my work will one day convince my niece and nephews to stop drooling over doughnuts and start loving bowls of salads!
What are the most rewarding aspects of your work?
It has been a truly rewarding experience to recognise and support enthusiastic, innovative and hardworking entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs have the ambitions to make big changes to the food system in Bangladesh through their business models. It is really fulfilling to be part of their story and journey towards becoming a valued brand and a sustainable business.
What are the main challenges you face in your job?
The level of trust and shared common ground between government and business in Norway is not present in Bangladesh – in fact, there is a lot of mistrust and sensitivity around working with business. Even our role as the SUN Business Network comes under intense scrutiny from different sectors, hence why we need to tread carefully and work to build trust among different stakeholders’ brick by brick. We then need to keep the energy and motivation of the private sector to act and invest in nutrition.
What is your greatest achievement in this role?
I don’t think I’ve reached my greatest achievement yet. But, if I were to mention two of my proudest moments they would be:
- Our agreement with the Ministry of Industries to chair the multi-stakeholder SBN Committee. This is the beginning of something great so that we can mobilise support from different Ministries, UN agencies and development partners to strengthen private sector actions on nutrition.
- Our cooperation agreement with the National Association of Small and Cottage Industries Bangladesh (NASCIB), which has the potential to build capacity and strengthen linkages for technical and financial assistance among a large of SMEs through a strong and sustainable sub-national business platform led by NASCIB, GAIN and WFP.
Which partners and stakeholders are you looking to engage with the achieve SBN Bangladesh’s objectives this year?
To achieve the N4G commitments for SMEs we are looking to engage with more national and sub-national technical service providers such as the Department of Agriculture Extension (DAE), Department of Livestock Services (DLS) and Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (DAE). Moreover, in order to create a better enabling environment to reach workforce nutrition commitments among our members, we are looking to work with the International Buyer Forum of Ready-Made Garments (RMG) Industries and other Chambers of Commerce.
Nominate a local business within your network that has showcased great commitment to addressing malnutrition, empowering women and/or environmental sustainability.
Prakriti Farming trains women homemakers in urban areas on rooftop gardening, providing them with the necessary inputs and guidance on how to grow their own fruits and vegetables. They also have their own outlets to sell their produce. This is creating income opportunities for urban women homemakers, building a market for safe and organic fruits and vegetables, and creating more green space within the concrete jungle of Dhaka.