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'People can live with poverty, but they cannot live without dignity and hope'

  • Published at 02:20 pm June 21st, 2018
  • Last updated at 06:04 pm June 25th, 2018
Yann Arthus-Bertrands

Meet the founder of Friendship NGO

Many know of Runa Khan, the founder of the innovative NGO Friendship, who first put into practice the concept of a floating hospital providing free healthcare to people in remote districts where none was available. That model has now become a success story amongst the models of  healthcare provision for the underprivileged in Bangladesh.

But who is Runa Khan, really? Where does her motivation and activism come from? Here is a glimpse into her personal story.

Family background

The first of three children, Runa was born on the November 17, 1958. Her father is Alimur Rahman Khan and her mother was Saleha Banu Panni. Descended from families of renown, Runa has a brother Farid ur Rahman Khan and a sister Ayesha Taasin Khan who is a barrister and is working with Friendship as director and head of Inclusive Citizenship. Runa is the granddaughter of Mehedi Ali Khan Panni, patriarch of an ancient and notable Muslim zamindaar family in Bengal. Her desire to give whatever she can to the underprivileged is partly born of her desire to give back to the people of Bangladesh.


Spending her early childhood in Dhaka, she was enrolled in Dhaka Preparatory School and later in Farmview International School. Runa studied Geography at the Lady Brabourne College, Calcutta and later completed her BA in Humanities from the Eden Mohila College in Dhaka.

Professional accomplishments

As early as 1988, Runa opened a boutique for indigenous artisans and craftsmen in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. She was in her mid-20s at the time. The boutique, based in Dhaka was called Mearee, and provided work for the migrant Bihari communities. 

In 1992 she joined her family’s business of printing and publication and became the in-charge of management and administration of the oldest printing house in Bangladesh, Eden Press.

In 1995 she served on the board of teachers assigned by UNICEF to train Governmental School Teachers in rural areas of Bangladesh.

In 1995 Runa founded Technologies and Realtors Limited (TRL), a security and service company, as the only woman at the time to be managing 140 guards including ex-army cadres, and more 50 workers. 

In the mid 90s, she co-founded Contic Cruises, a tourism company, much accredited due to its work with restoring wooden boats for river cruises on authentic boats of Bengal.

Currently Runa Khan is the Founder and Executive Director of Friendship (NGO) operating in Bangladesh, and the Chairperson of Friendship International, based out of Luxembourg. 

Since 2012 she is also the Country Chair for Global Dignity. 


“People can live with poverty,” says Runa. “But they cannot live without dignity and hope.” When she first thought of the idea of making a floating hospital, most people told her outright that it was not possible. She was told they were dreams of a privileged woman, she says. But she was motivated to persevere because of a strong sense of compassion for the people around her.

“Touched by the enormous poverty and the total hopelessness and helplessness of those around me, I gathered my own strength to give them theirs.”

This compassion, which is often seen as a weakness or vulnerability, was a principle that made Friendship stronger, says Runa. It is the bedrock of her success.