Our Cities, Our Solutions!

5 ‘Urban Innovations’ to watch out for from Bangladesh!

Our everyday thoughts are biased towards multiple narratives; that whisper the tales of why our lives are as they are. One very strong narrative of such is the ‘Victim Narrative’, that convinces us that, in the very story we tell ourselves about our lives, we play the victim. In our mind, it very subconsciously reaffirms our doubts on our capacity to take charge; the actions that can very well bring interesting twist in the plot, even change our character from the victim to the hero.


The city dwellers of Bangladesh are so absorbed in complaining about everything, from the population, pollution, traffic and obviously the rising costs and unemployment, that the conversations that follow in the bus or over tea cups are not dragged till the solutions. Complaining itself offers an entertainment value, especially when it can be carried out in the social spaces we share with our friends and family.


These entertainment values, as well as the victim narrative are two broad characterizing elements of the urban population in our country. While designing any urban intervention, it is extremely important to compete with these two phenomena. Exactly what BRAC did while thinking of mobilizing the citizens to take charge.


BRAC wanted the citizens, the very victim of the problems to take ownership and innovate solutions that are real; simple, scalable and sustainable.


In October 28th, BRAC launched the Urban Innovation Challenge with the slogan “Our Cities, Our Solutions”, calling for business ideas that can solve the three pressing   problems of the cities in Bangladesh: Health, Transport and Informal Sector Employment.


The idea is to empower and incentivise sustainable civic engagement, in a way that provides a complete roadmap for the solution to transform social benefit into social impact. It is undoubtedly the first of its kind challenge in the country, offering seed money worth BDT. 5Lakh as well as mentorship support from BRAC and its UIC partners.


When we think urban, we think of Airbnb, we think of Uber, we think of Zip Car. To give our participants an overview of what is going on in the urban scene in Bangladesh; we have looked at the most happening initiatives that are defining the dynamics of the urban entrepreneurship of the country.



Sheba.xyz is a rising online service marketplace in Bangladesh, working as a one stop platform for city dwellers to find plumbing, repairing, IT, electrical services as well as helping households find chauffeurs, chefs and guards.


Sheba is an excellent solution that merges the gap between informal sector supply of labor and demand for low cost services in the formal sector and household. By 2018 they aim to create 10,000 new jobs in Bangladesh. They also provide trainings for the unskilled and semi-skilled workers allowing their clients to ensure sustain the best quality services. Sheba was founded in 2015 by Adnan Imtiaz Halim and has officially launched in July 2016.


The ‘Sheba’ model is audaciously simple, scalable and creates a genuine social impact in the urban informal sector of the country.



In Dhaka, and most areas of Bangladesh, people often rely on word of mouths when it comes to choosing a doctor, hospital or any medical consultation.

Founded by Abdullah MatinEmon, Doctorola provides a platform for people to find information about doctors and book appointments. The service is completely free for the end users who can benefit from their database of 3,700 doctors from 233 consultation centers in 52 districts. In Dhaka you can find hundreds of rickshaws storming the city carrying Doctorola stickers.



Whether it is you who needs a ride or to send a parcel, Pathao.com is a fast, secured and efficient service based in Dhaka. Given the different logistics companies operating in Dhaka, Pathao simply takes it to the next step by allowing people to travel in their bikes too with their riders. The simple website interface as well as the app is very functional for the customers to place quick orders.

Pathao seems to enter the market in the right time; considering the terrible traffic, the rise in online services and facebook based businesses, there is a huge need in the market for such reliable services.


GO! Traffic:

GO! Traffic is an app that provides updates in real time on the traffic scene of Dhaka and based on both self-generated and crowdsourced data. The app belongs to GObd.co, founded by Farhan Rahman, Qasim Rana and SwagataPrateek. The founders first launched a Facebook group called ‘GO! Traffic updates as a platform for users to both inform and be informed on the latest traffic updates. If you post any question about any route you are thinking of taking within Dhaka, you will be surprised to see the quick response from the people. It was an experiment that was very popular among the users. If you visit their website, you will see how simply just 3 colors: Green, Yellow and Red, are telling you which route to take and which ones to avoid. You will also get to know the time that the updates were provided at.


BRAC Road Safety App:

BRAC in partnership with BDCyclists launched an app called “Road Safety Dhaka” launched in the middle of 2016. The Mobile App has over 3000 users who are actively identifying and cross verifying locations of unmarked speed-breakers and uncovered manholes of the streets in Dhaka.This app is specifically designed to benefit users from user generated and user verified data.


These are indeed some exciting interventions that are so simple that it is often difficult for an average us to comprehend how scalable and sustainable their business models are! Then there are inspiring stories of individuals like Nazma, who break all barriers to make us believe in the power of ‘Change’. Then after everything when our last doubt is on the management, we see UNOs like Tajkir Uz Zaman, who successfully empowered the community members to solve their own medical emergency problems. These ideas, the models and their stories can work as an excellent source of inspiration for the youth willing to apply for the Urban Innovation Challenge in the coming years.

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Masrura Oishi is an over-thinker and procaffeinator. In her free time, she pretends to be a philosopher and does some development work for BRAC Social Innovation Lab. She invests her insulin pumped energy into reading, writing, traveling and living!

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