Bangladesh Society, Inc: What next?

Out of numerous associations (or samity) created by the Bangladeshi community in New York, the Bangladesh Society, Inc is the largest. Founded in 1975 by a few individuals, the association now has more than 18,000 members. Considering the size of the Bangladeshi immigrant community in New York, the number may seem small, but it is large compared to other Bangladeshi organizations’ membership.

Regardless of past activities and achievements of Bangladesh Society, Inc. and its effectiveness in the lives of New York’s Bangladeshi community, there have been steady efforts to make the organization more dynamic, relevant, and visible, offer events and programs, increase membership, run democratically, held regular peaceful elections.

Bangladesh Society, Inc. holds an election every two years for 19 posts: one each for President, Senior Vice President, Vice President, General Secretary, Vice General Secretary, Treasurer, Organizing Secretary, Cultural Secretary, Social Welfare Secretary, Literature Secretary, Sports & Recreation Secretary, School & Education Secretary, Public Relation Secretary, and six members.

This year, the Bangladeshi Society Election Commission arranged an election on October 26th. The Commission prepared five voting centers in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Jamaica, Ozone Park, and Woodside. Voting centers were open from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. The Election Commission employed 63 security personnel, 55 polling officers, 101 polling agents, 52 voting machines, 32 voting machine operators, and 6 machine technicians. The expected expenditure calculated more than $70,000 to run the election. The Commission also implemented a ‘No ID, No Vote’ policy, voter marking with invisible ink, ZIP code-based voting, special arrangement for voters with disabilities, elderly and small children to ensure safe, secure, peaceful, and maximum voter participation.

Over the years, the election has become the most exciting event of the association among all the activities and programs initiated by the Bangladesh Society. As the Bangladeshi community has grown manifold, the energy, excitement, and passion surrounding the election campaign were high among the participants. This year 39 candidates competed for 19 posts – they were divided into two panels, plus there was one independent candidate without any panel. The hopefuls spent months busy soliciting votes from the members of the association. Bangladeshi community newspapers were full of advertisements every week. Candidates and their supporters carried out the campaign with posters, postcards, banners, flyers, calls, handshakes, hugs, meetings, slogans, free food in Brooklyn, Bronx, and Queens – three boroughs where Bangladeshis are mostly concentrated.

The Bangladesh Society candidates promised to implement things that are important to the Bangladeshi community as their agenda. For example,

  • lobby for Bangladesh Day Parade in New York City;
  • establish Bangladesh Community Center;
  • build a permanent Shaheed Minar in NYC;
  • observe Bangladesh Independence Day in City Halls; 
  • involve Bangladeshi community with mainstream American politics and civic process;
  • build Bangla school for the new generation of Bangladeshi kids;
  • organize computer training for Bangladeshi kids and adults;
  • arrange English education for Bangladeshi adults;
  • offer scholarships to talented Bangladeshi kids;
  • establish better communication with all Bangladeshi associations and media outlets;
  • lobby with the Bangladesh government to preserve the interests of Non-Resident Bangladeshis;
  • reduce Bangladesh Society membership fee;
  • emphasis on elderly health and immigration-related assistance;
  • provide information about City, State, and Federal job opportunities;
  • create Bangladeshi immigrant welfare and legal fund;
  • demand reopening of Bangladesh airline’s NY-Dhaka-NY route;
  • lobby and coordinate with the United Nations and US government regarding Bangladesh’s environmental problems;
  • facilitate online membership of the Society;
  • build a welcome center for newly arriving Bangladeshis and help them find jobs;
  • stop hate crime and demand justice and compensations;
  • create Bangladesh community database and make the Society’s website informative;
  • involve previous society officials in various aspects of the organization; so on.

Candidates for the Bangladesh Society election involved in various kinds of work – most of them are self-employed, successful, and connected with the community. Candidates are involved with businesses like insurance, real estate, mortgage, paralegal, taxi training, construction, grocery, printing, news media, medical, import-export, community organization, etc. Most of the candidates have experience in association with Bangladeshi regional associations, mosques, and not-for-profit organizations. Some were previously working with Bangladesh Society, Inc.

The election was not cheap. To attend, each candidate of the Bangladesh Society paid $300 for the nomination package first. Then position-wise, they paid the following amounts:

President 1 $4,500
Senior Vice-President 1 $3,500
Vice-President 1 $3,000
General Secretary 1 $3,500
Asst General Secretary 1 $2,000
Treasurer 1 $1,500
Organizing Secretary 1 $1,500
Departmental Secretary 6 $1,250
Executive Member 6 $1,000

Then there are expenses for the campaign activities. According to one estimate, the cost of the election may have been exceeded one million US dollars! The estimate includes election payment, multiple meetings in neighborhoods where Bangladeshis live, candidate’s introduction party, venue renting, food, advertisement on Bangladeshi ethnic newspapers and TV, mailing materials, print advertisement material, car service, opportunity cost, etc. For the election of a not-for-profit organization like Bangladesh Society and a relatively new immigrant community in the New York City scene, anticipation about voting was very elevated and highly noticeable among the Bangladeshi community.

In the end, the Bangladesh Society Election Commission declared the outcome after midnight. The defeated team conceded their loss and congratulated the winning group. The election ended in a very non-Bangladeshi way – without violence, free and fair, peaceful, with some festive environment and less commotion.

What’s next for Bangladesh Society, Inc.?

Bangladesh Society’s activities, programs, achievements, and successes are minimal considering its age. What’s next for this organization depends on the ability, quality, strategy, and vision of its leadership. Since its inception, Bangladesh Society Inc. has mostly celebrated Ekushey February, Bangladesh Independence, and Victory Day, arranged picnics and Iftar parties, organized several tax filing and legal aid events, offered discussion meetings, gave receptions, bought cemetery plots, distributed awards, carried banners, offered statements, etc. But it has never become an important organization for the Bangladeshi community living in New York.

So what’s next for the association is difficult to tell. Perhaps, the newly elected leadership will try again to fulfill the campaign promises – many of them are repeated past election campaigns, and even some campaign promises (building Bangladesh Center, establishing Bangla School, liaison with mainstream politics and other organizations, etc.) are listed in the original constitution of Bangladesh Society of New York, but they were never realized!

The winning panel eagers to increase the members of Bangladesh Society by reducing the membership fee from $10 to $5. The winning team wants to implement it within 90 days. It is fun to have more members during election time, regardless of organizational effectiveness. Bangladesh Society is a not-for-profit social community organization, but its election felt like a full-fledged political campaign. As politics is one of the top recreational activities for Bangladeshi people, more membership will add more excitement to the fun.

Bangladesh Society, Inc and Bangladesh Society Election Commission, however, both have missed the first and best opportunity to make the organization more visible online. Both entities could have promoted their websites during this election by posting all information – candidate’s bio, campaign promises, mandates, election results, etc.). Even after three weeks of the election, no result has been available online (yet)!

Bangladesh Society, Inc wants to provide English language classes, offer computer training, make a useful website for the Bangladeshi community in New York. Great, but what about some training for elected officials themselves! Participating in some short management courses/seminars offered by American Management Association or NYC Small Business Services, or other organizations may increase the effectiveness and understanding of elected officials.

Bangladesh Society, Inc has attracted one class of Bangladeshis, but not most. As long as Bangladeshis are attracted and attached more to their tiny mini little local level regional organizations, Bangladesh Society will carry merely a sense of the aurora of ‘Bangladesh’ in its name. To appeal to the wider Bangladeshi community, the organization needs to think radically, establish instances, break the norms, follow other successful organizations, create a new path, and perhaps, forget being Bangladeshi for some time.

“You take the blue pill, the story ends. You wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.” What pill Bangladesh Society will take depends on the capacity and desire of the newly elected leadership.

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