Yidan Prize 2021 nominations now open until 31 March 2021

Follow this link for details of the nomination process.

Mr Kamal Ahmad

Founder, Asian University for Women (AUW)

Expertise

Equality in education

Focus by region

Asia

Empowering a brand-new network of rising women leaders

“Education is the best defense against oppression and inequality.  It can help narrow the great asymmetries between some states and other states and one group of people and another.   When thoughtfully conducted, it stands to liberate minds from the cycle of inherited practices  and open new vistas for acquiring freedom.  A big part of the predicament of the world springs from a denial of the right to education and learning.  We need a new renaissance in promoting learning — not only through schools, colleges and universities but also by opening our societies more widely to collective and individual effort and reflection.  Too often education is only viewed in instrumental terms.  No doubt certain education will enhance one’s capacity to become more economically productive; however, any education that does not enhance a person’s ability to search for truth ruefully fails in its most cardinal mission.

In the coming years, I hope to begin work on creating a new school of education at the Asian University for Women that will support and equip groups of young women to establish their own secondary schools for girls.  I think of secondary education as the next great challenge facing the Global South.  I am also hoping that we can bring the experience of the Asian University for Women in creating a new African University for Women.  I am excited to be a part of the Yidan initiative and look forward to learning from and collaborating with partners from all over the world.  ”

Mr Kamal Ahmad

Mr Kamal Ahmad is the Founder of the Asian University for Women (AUW).  Located in Chittagong, Bangladesh, AUW is the first of its kind—a regional liberal arts university dedicated to the education and leadership development of women drawn from diverse socio-economic backgrounds from across Asia and the Middle East. 

In founding AUW, Mr Ahmad pioneered a number of unconventional approaches to education, including targeted recruitment of women from some of the region’s most oppressed and underserved communities. Kamal developed the triad of “Courage, Outrage at Injustice, and Empathy” as key indicators of leadership potential, which has informed the University’s search for talent among incoming students. As of 2020, AUW draws students from 18 countries and has spurred a new network of almost one thousand rising women leaders from across the region in its alumnae.

In his young teenage years growing up in Dhaka, Mr Ahmad started a series of informal schools for underprivileged children working as domestic help. The Juvenile Literacy Programme that he started with international funding was possibly the first non-governmental initiative in the area of informal education for children in Bangladesh.  

As a freshman at Harvard College, Mr Ahmad founded a nationwide consortium of campus organizations aimed at engaging students in international development, for which he received a Time Magazine college achievement award. He was also chosen by the World Economic Forum as a Global Leader for Tomorrow in 2002. Phillips Exeter Academy, his alma mater, gave him the John Phillips Award, the highest honor accorded by the Academy to an alumnus.

Achievements

Revolutionizing the academic governance system in Bangladesh

Founded in 2008, AUW revolutionizes the academic governance system in Bangladesh where the government serves as an enabler but at the same time, sustaining full institutional autonomy and academic freedom – a higher education framework for cultivating female leaders and changemakers in developing countries. 

In addition to open admissions, AUW reaches women from the most neglected communities and identifies the most talented through admission tests in remote areas, such as refugee camps. Students are evaluated for their capacity for courage, empathy & outrage at injustice; successful applicants are supported with a full scholarship.

AUW has instituted a financial model that the tuition paid by students with more resources will cross-subsidize the tuition of those without. 85% of current students receive scholarship support.

Contrasting the vocational education provided mainly in the region, AUW employs a liberal arts & sciences program to cultivate the future social, political & business leaders of the world.

AUW has produced over 1,000 graduates so far.

Kamal is currently exploring options for creating an African University for Women based on the experience and lessons learnt from the Asian University for Women.