'I had a computer and an internet connection back then. So I decided to do something by using these tools to make a change in the society'
Two and a half years ago, Iftekhar, now 17, planned to do something incredible in the field of entrepreneurship that may shape people's lives by addressing their problems.
As he puts up efforts to dig deep into his ambitious plans, he discovered a trend that entrepreneurship was flourishing in Bangladesh; however, those were for the most part focused on maximizing profits and or generating increased revenues, as opposed to the social entrepreneurship, a normative value driven efforts, that can help people with their lives and livelihood.
With a strong resolve, Iftekhar, then a 10th grader at the Ideal School and College in Dhaka, started to study computer programming knowhow and relevant skills to come up with something innovative.
“I had a computer and an internet connection back then. So I decided to do something by using these tools to make a change in the society,” said Iftekhar Ahmed Tonoy, with slight vision impairment.
Tonoy's limitation has led him to observe from a very young age, how everyday essential things are inaccessible and expensive for the blind.
Within seven months, he learned programming languages and developed a website; Software for Blind. The software helps people with visual impairment to get answers, if questions are made in English.
The app will automatically open when the computer is turned on. Users can order for work or different tasks including weather forecast, sending signals to close ones, sending messages from contact lists, reading books and newspapers, searching words in dictionary and Wikipedia, setting alarms, etc using the app.
But shortly after, Iftekhar realized the fact that computer and an internet connection are not always readily accessible to all. At this stage, he decided to develop a mobile application called 'Blind Eye'.
The app offers similar facilities to users - when posed a question to the app in English.
The app also has an option, where people with disabilities can have access to 999 or emergency services if they encounter any problems.
The app brought home the champions award in the school project category in BASIS National ICT Award in 2017.
But the app is also not accessible for all. This is when he decided to create a technology that could provide a sustainable solution for the education of blind children worldwide, especially the poor ones.
So, Iftekhar created a program that can help the blind people with their education. He assembled different pieces of hardware to create an easy to operate and cheap device. A Braille Board costs $70 and a Braille Board Lite version costs $40.
The Braille Board contains over 10,000 books which help the blind to read and learn.
Iftekhar was also selected as a finalist and the only Bangladeshi in the shortlist at the International Children's Peace Prize 2019 held recently. The annual prize is awarded to a child who fights for childrens' rights.
“But making it accessible to all the people with vision loss needs funding. I have approached investors, but they are more preoccupied for revenue generation than on social impacts,” said Iftekhar, now a student at Birshreshtha Noor Mohammad Public College.
Currently, he is working to develop his own business in an effort to generate funds and utilize some of those resources for the advancement of the social development apps that can help provide more services to the physically disadvantaged groups.
“I hope the device can be provided to all blind students of Bangladesh someday, so that it will surely help them access to learning and education,” said Iftekhar.