When Runa was 15, she moved to India to attend university. She studied geography in Calcutta and after graduating returned to Bangladesh. In Dhaka, in her early twenties, she began teaching children with learning disabilities; a practice she understood well and had a natural talent for. Runa went on to successfully publish a series of educational children books on geography and history. In 1992, she embarked on an entrepreneurial path during which she administered her family’s business, worked for UNICEF, and set up a security service company supervising 140 guards. Runa’s life and career took a major unexpected shift when in 1994 she met a French sailor named Yves Marre who had sailed a retired oil barge all the way from France to Bangladesh. The Frenchman wished to see the vessel used for humanitarian purposes, and eventually met Runa’s father who suggested transforming the ship into a floating hospital that would provide healthcare to the poor. Believing in the concept, Runa took it upon herself to turn her father’s idea into a reality and subsequently founded an organization named Friendship in 1998. She spearheaded the building of an innovative and successful healthcare system that aimed to help the hard-to-reach communities of Bangladesh by serving them through hospital ships. “We are dealing with the poorest of the poor, those who are below the documented poverty line; those who earn $0.25 a day.” At Friendship, Runa created a framework that provides healthcare and education, builds schools, and trains community medics and micro-entrepreneurs. In the last 15 years, she and the people at her organization have served more than six million individuals and provided medical care to 1.7 million people – over one percent of Bangladesh’s population.
Today, Runa travels extensively giving talks on female entrepreneurship and on sustainable development. She continues to passionately lead Friendship with the mission of uplifting the quality of life of the ultra poor and empower the unprivileged to build their future on their own.