Shameema Akhter

Head of Civil Society Engagement, Quay Asia Ltd.

Shameema has 20 years of experience in development work, 18 of which have been with international NGOs operating in Bangladesh. For 8 years, she served as country director of Swiss Interchurch Aid (HEKS).

We had a discussion with Shameema about her career and expert insights. Below are edited excerpts from our conversation.

What was your first paid job?

I joined an apex body to build capacity for HIV and AIDS education. We traveled everywhere and did awareness programs with sex workers, truck drivers, rickshaw pullers, students, religious leaders and journalists.

What has been your greatest professional achievement?

When I was country director of a Swiss NGO, one day I visited some Dalit people. At the end of the day we wanted to eat in a restaurant, but the owner refused to serve the Dalit people. At the time, they were considered untouchable and not allowed in facilities, despite the fact the constitution guarantees everyone certain rights. So for many years we did advocacy work. We were successful in some ways, and now they can eat in the restaurant, enroll in schools and access the health facilities.

In 20 years’ time what single important change would you like to see in Bangladesh?

Good governance to ensure women and girls’ empowerment. Additionally, there should no more gender-based violence towards women or men.

What has been Bangladesh’s greatest achievement in terms of social or economic development in the last five years?

In the last five years many things improved: GDP increased and we achieved some parts of the SDG goals, but at the same time corruption increased. This is unfortunate.

What remarkable innovations have there been in your profession or area of expertise?

With smartphones, now there’s evidence: We can record and take photos; I can use photos for advocacy and to show best practices. But the other side of this is crime. For example, people use these things to threaten and blackmail girls.

What are two of your strengths that have made you effective in your work?

I love to be close to and work for the grassroots people. My goal is not to get a good position, and that makes me a good organizer and leader.

Who do you look to for career inspiration?

There’s no specific person. I understood from my own life struggles as a single parent that maybe I can help other women and children in need.

What advice would give a young professional looking to start a career in your profession or area of work?

Try to understand and learn from local resources (people) as they could have indigenous technology or solutions. To find the problem, work with people, and try to solve it together.

Do you have any other interests?

I have little time for leisure, but I do like to travel because I enjoy cultural exchange; I enjoy talking to people.

Connect with Shameema on Linkedin.