Runa Khan
Bangladesh
Runa Khan
  • Founder and Executive Director, Friendship (NGO; Development)
Born Dhaka, Bangladesh, 1958. Lady Brabourne College (B.A); Eden College (B.A); Strategic Perspectives in Nonprofit Management, Harvard Executive Education Program (2013); Leadership for System Change: Delivering Social Impact at Scale, Harvard Executive Education Program (2018)
“You need to have a very clear vision. The tools to reach that vision can change. Of course, today you have technology. Tomorrow you don't. You have areas that are poor. You have areas that are rich. But that singularity of vision needs to be very clear.”

Summary

Runa Khan is Founder and Executive Director of Friendship, an NGO founded in 2002 that supports remote communities in Bangladesh. Friendship pioneered floating hospitals, provides integrated services for climate-impacted communities, and delivers educational services. Friendship has also been active in the Rohingya crisis when Myanmar military persecuted and forced large numbers of Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. It became the second largest healthcare service in refugee camps.

This interview begins with Khan describing the privilege she had growing up as a descendent of Jamindars (rich landowners) and tells the story of what prompted her to step outside of her privileged elite lifestyle to address rural poverty. She describes visiting a village on a char (a vegetated island) on the River Brahmputra. In 1988, Khan started Mearee, a boutique that provided work the Bihari community and indigenous Bangladeshis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In 1994, after writing a series of textbooks for children in an effort to break away from rote learning, Khan received an Ashoka Fellowship. In 1995, Khan also began to work with UNICEF, and other former Ashoka Fellows in a scheme to train government schoolteachers in rural Bangladesh based on a novel pedagogy she had developed. In this interview, Khan describes this pedagogy in detail: how she came up with the pedagogy, and how she was able to implement it, as she was not a formally trained teacher. She argues that the success of Friendship rested on listening to the people, understanding what they needed, and creating a solution, instead of coming with a pre-planned project.

In this interview, Khan explains that the priority of Friendship is to bring services to char dwellers, who are among the poorest people in Bangladesh. Khan has launched 79 primary schools and 74 adult schools by 2018. These schools were specifically designed for these communities with prefabricated buildings that can easily be dismantled and moved, portable libraries, and curriculums formatted specifically for these communities. Another example Khan describes in the interview was the introduction of a hospital ship for the chars, and how she was able to meet community needs with health clinics. To conclude the interview, Khan explains how she has taken Friendship international for fundraising purposes, and the groundwork she has done in other countries including Pakistan.

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Runa Khan is Founder and Executive Director of Friendship, an NGO founded in 2002 that supports remote communities in Bangladesh. Friendship pioneered floating hospitals, provides integrated services for climate-impacted communities, and delivers educational services. Friendship has also been active in the Rohingya crisis when Myanmar military persecuted and forced large numbers of Muslims to flee to Bangladesh. It became the second largest healthcare service in refugee camps.

This interview begins with Khan describing the privilege she had growing up as a descendent of Jamindars (rich landowners) and tells the story of what prompted her to step outside of her privileged elite lifestyle to address rural poverty. She describes visiting a village on a char (a vegetated island) on the River Brahmputra. In 1988, Khan started Mearee, a boutique that provided work the Bihari community and indigenous Bangladeshis in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. In 1994, after writing a series of textbooks for children in an effort to break away from rote learning, Khan received an Ashoka Fellowship. In 1995, Khan also began to work with UNICEF, and other former Ashoka Fellows in a scheme to train government schoolteachers in rural Bangladesh based on a novel pedagogy she had developed. In this interview, Khan describes this pedagogy in detail: how she came up with the pedagogy, and how she was able to implement it, as she was not a formally trained teacher. She argues that the success of Friendship rested on listening to the people, understanding what they needed, and creating a solution, instead of coming with a pre-planned project.

In this interview, Khan explains that the priority of Friendship is to bring services to char dwellers, who are among the poorest people in Bangladesh. Khan has launched 79 primary schools and 74 adult schools by 2018. These schools were specifically designed for these communities with prefabricated buildings that can easily be dismantled and moved, portable libraries, and curriculums formatted specifically for these communities. Another example Khan describes in the interview was the introduction of a hospital ship for the chars, and how she was able to meet community needs with health clinics. To conclude the interview, Khan explains how she has taken Friendship international for fundraising purposes, and the groundwork she has done in other countries including Pakistan.
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Education

Runa Khan, the Bangladeshi social entrepreneur who founded the Friendship NGO in 2002, discusses the innovative strategy for creating schools and training teachers in remote and rural areas, and stresses the importance of teaching ethics alongside formal academic subjects. 



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Additional Resources

Interview Citation Format

Interview with Runa Khan, interviewed by Prithwiraj Choudhury, Dhaka, Bangladesh, December 17, 2019, Creating Emerging Markets Oral History Collection, Baker Library Special Collections, Harvard Business School.