Sumaya Kazi: An online world for young, ethnic professionals

“In my culture you can be a doctor, lawyer or engineer,” Sumaya Kazi said. “It is the Holy Trinity of what you need to do to be successful.”

Kazi, a 24-year-old Bangladeshi-American who has just been named one of BusinessWeek’s Top 25 Young Entrepreneurs Under 25, is none of these things.

By day Kazi is the youngest marketing manager in the Global Communications division at Sun Microsystems Inc. (SUNW). By morning, night and weekend, she is one of the founders of The CulturalConnect, an online media company targeting young ethnic professionals.

With a circulation of 42,000 in 100 countries, The CulturalConnect includes four online magazines: The DesiConnect (for the South Asian diaspora), The MidEast Connect, The AsiaConnect and The LatinConnect, and will launch a fifth, The AfricanaConnect, in January.

Each magazine is published once a week and profiles a young professional and a nonprofit organization. In addition to biographical and professional details, the magazines include contact information for the individuals and nonprofits, and an invitation to send an e-mail. The CulturalConnect Web site even goes so far as to provide a form e-mail that readers can personalize if they don’t want to write their own.

“The crux of our site is connecting people,” Kazi said. “We are not a social networking site and we are not traditional media. We are a combination of the two.”

According to Kazi there were more than 130 of these e-mails sent from The CulturalConnect Web site last month, including a Christian pastor who contacted a woman trying to correct stereotypes about Islam and who invited her to be a guest on his talk radio show.

On average, most readers subscribe to 2.5 of the online magazines. To Kazi, this means that the profiles have a broad enough perspective to engage people from other ethnic communities. Building on this success, Kazi would like The CulturalConnect to have a greater international presence and start a nonprofit.

Everyone involved, including the founders of The CulturalConnect, works aseparate, full-time job or is a full-time student. All employees at The CulturalConnect work virtually and all 30 are under 30.

Employees work an average of 10 hours a week, while the three founders — Kazi; Raymond Rouf, 25, of Illinois; and Kaiser Shahid, 26, of Maryland — average more than 30 hours a week.

Kazi, who graduated in 2004 from the University of California at Berkeley, is also a mentor for Businesses United in Investing, Lending and Development and the World Affairs Council Young Professionals International Network.

The CulturalConnect is available online at www.theculturalconnect.com.

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