Tania Hossain participated in the First Edition Active Citizens Social Enterprise (ACSE) programme in early 2017 and was 1 of 15 young leaders of ACSE who presented their social enterprise projects at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. Having lived in South Asia & the Middle East for over a decade, Tania witnessed poverty and marginalization firsthand. From that experience, her hope is to inspire philanthropic spirits in Canadians to see beyond their immediate wants and needs, & be involved with organizations & causes that have positive social impact on a local, national and global level. Her social enterprise Think Jackfruit seeks to reduce this food waste by manufacturing and packaging jackfruit as a meat replacement product in Bangladesh and introducing it here as a healthy nutritious food to our Canadian market.
Q: What drives you to push against all of the challenges you’re facing with Think Jackfruit?
My project is not for the faint of heart - and I’m realising it more the deeper I go into it. A few days ago, when I was presenting to a crowd of 30+ people, I was talking about the Rana Plaza incident where well over 1,000 people died in a sweat shop labour factory in Bangladesh. I’ve talked about how that has been one of the great motivators for me to start a project where I want to help people, where I want to spread supportable income in Bangladesh. I also want to bring something here, to Canada, that addresses climate change, where consumers need to be more conscious with what they purchase and with what they consume on a day to day basis. So as I was talking about the Rana Plaza incident yesterday, it got me a little emotional because even though it happened a little over 4 years ago, to this day makes me feel in some ways frustrated, in some ways very, very driven. A lot of work needs to be done in terms of changing labour laws and in terms of the ecological injustices that are happening around the world. That has been the ‘why’ in my life, the biggest motivator and every time I talk about it, it’s a great reminder not just for the people that are listening to me, but for me as well, why I’m doing what I’m doing .
Q: What have you been doing since the day of the First Annual ACSE Youth Innovation Summit to keep this social enterprise moving?
The Summit has been a blessing for me because I have been connecting with a lot of institutions in Bangladesh and non-profit organisations. Building these relationships with reputable, non-profit organisations in Bangladesh is really important to me because they will help me navigate the chaotic system there. At the same time, here in Canada, a big portion of the project involves market research – collecting data on what the consumer demand is and on what the current vegan and vegetarian food selection looks like. I’ve gotten involved with the Toronto Vegetarian Association which is quite large and with tons of resources, tons of people and tons of community events. I’ve also been surveying vegans, vegetarians, restaurant owners, and chefs to get feedback on what they think about a product like Think Jackfruit, and how they see it used in their kitchens. These are very important questions that will not only help me when I go travel to Bangladesh and design the product, but also with how I brand the Think Jackfruit project seeing some people here may just be interested in the product as a health product, but others may be more interested in the ecological issues that this product addresses.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit more about your next steps and what you’re hoping to get out of your trip to Bangladesh?
Right now I am in conversation with a few non-profit organizations, so that when I’m in Bangladesh the time is being used in the most effective way possible - I can meet with those individuals in person, and just continue the conversation where we left off. I also want to document the stories of people who have been affected by the Rana Plaza incident because I think that they are a key portion of this project. I want to collect their stories, their lived experiences about how this incident affect them, but also what they see as dignified work. I want to be very conscious and when I’m building this start up in Bangladesh, this space for them to get employed, I want to be able to not just give my own understanding of what dignified work looks like, but I also want them to have ownership and say what dignified work looks like. So I will be collecting and documenting a lot of their stories, and of course connecting with the food manufacturers in Bangladesh.
Q: Can you briefly summarize what your experience from the beginning of the ACSE training to now has been?
Prior to going through the training program and being a participant of ACSE, I’ve been researching and developing this idea for little over a year but I didn’t share that information with anybody. Going through the ACSE program and actually speaking about the idea to a group of individuals helped me feel validated and it helped me realise that what I’m thinking about and what I want to do is not something minor but can actually transform the way we look at our food, our environment, and our global community. It was a very surreal, transformational experience in the sense that I not only made a lot of meaningful connections but I also realised that my project can make a huge difference in the lives of people - that’s one thing that I’m very much indebted to UNA-C and British Council.Interviewers: ACSE team