Empowering migrant workers through English lessons, computer literacy and financial planning education

Mr Sazzad Hossain started SDI Academy in 2013 to empower migrant workers through education.
Mr Sazzad Hossain started SDI Academy in 2013 to empower migrant workers through education.PHOTO: CALVIN RAMELAN

SINGAPORE - When he was 18, Mr Sazzad Hossain started hanging out with migrant workers, spending his weekends teaching them English as he understood the challenges they faced due to a language barrier.

Having moved to Singapore with his family from Bangladesh at the age of 11, Mr Sazzad, now 27, had to drop two grades in school because he could not speak English.

"It gave me a bit of perspective on how a language barrier could actually be an obstacle for someone to get opportunities," said Mr Sazzad, who is now a Singaporean citizen.

Some of the common challenges that migrant workers face include difficulty asking for directions and even understanding safety instructions, he said.

A year after teaching migrant workers English informally, he started SDI Academy in 2013. This social enterprise aims to empower migrant workers through education, while simultaneously creating communities.


Mr Sazzad Hossain (in brown sweater and white shirt) during a class in 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

"Our alumni from five or six years ago are still in touch with us. They still help one another and they come back as mentors," said Mr Sazzad.

Currently, SDI Academy offers courses such as English, computer literacy and financial planning, but Mr Sazzad envisions evolving it into a platform where migrant workers can access all kinds of services that they might need, such as remittance and mobile top-ups.

The pandemic last year has led SDI Academy to introduce a mobile application to substitute physical classes, which has also brought down costs significantly.

Before, it used to be $299 per person for a four-month, classroom-based course, but with the mobile application, the cost has been cut to just $15. Some 10,000 migrant workers took the course during the pandemic - outstripping the 8,500 trained physically at the academy since its inception.

"We are working with partners such as dormitories, the Ministry of Manpower and Migrant Workers' Centre to scale this up quickly and reach as many people as possible," said Mr Sazzad.

As an honouree in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list released on Tuesday (April 20), Mr Sazzad hopes that the recognition will bring visibility and credibility to his cause.

"I hope that we can utilise and leverage on this to make more impact - that's our goal," he said.