The Art Of Communication: An Interview with Towheed Feroze, Head of Communications, IFC, Bangladesh

The Art Of Communication: An Interview with Towheed Feroze, Head of Communications, IFC, Bangladesh

Ispahani Black Tea Credit Banner Dhaka-based writer and Head of Communications at International Finance Corporation (IFC), Bangladesh, Towheed Feroze, recalls his experience of growing up in the 70s and 80s Dhaka, his discovery of writing as an act of self-redemption, how he made the leap of faith to become a full-time journalist, illustrates his diverse career in journalism, translation, teaching, and development, shares his thought on designing a communication strategy that works, future of media and journalism in Bangladesh, opens up about what he’s learned from his journey and reflects on why life is an inherently risky affair and why we should always make an active effort to live our life fullest over mere existence.

Future Startup

Where did you grow up? Tell us about yourself and your early life.

Towheed Feroze

I spent my childhood both in Bangladesh and in the UK. I started my schooling at Saint Margaret’s School in the early 70s – just after the Liberation war. If I want to talk about my school days then I must touch on the post-independent Bangladesh because the entire socio-political fabric was radically different than the social-political condition that we are living in today.

It was a time of austerity, a time of hardship and a time of reconstruction- not only the country but also the people who had been affected by the Liberation war. My own maternal uncle, a 2nd-year student of English Department, was a martyr, killed by the collaborators in Comilla. We had to grow up with that tragedy- from our mother’s side.

It was a period of scarcity. Nowadays there is a lot of prosperity and abundance around us but we did not have that when we’re growing up. But I must say we were not unhappy and certainly contentment was aplenty there.

In the early 70s, we had a homogeneous middle class in Bangladesh – millions of families who belonged to the same social and economic dimension. They had similar sorts of income and similar sorts of social pursuits. Consequently, it was easier for us to communicate and interact with people of the same class. Social bonding was very strong.

Our school days were different. We grew up reading books – an essential part of our upbringing and life – which may not be the case for many young students today. We read ambitiously and it has widened our horizon. We were avid readers of thrillers. We read both in Bengali and English. We read Secret Seven, Famous Five, Three investigators and Alistair MacLean in English.

In Bengali, we read Masud Rana secretly. It was banned in the families because of the conservative and rigid nature of the society at that time. As a person, Masud Rana was modeled after James Bond and his ideology was more western than eastern which was not accepted norm in the society. Eventually, Masud Rana was read by many people but it was not the case initially.

We read it secretly. It was an outlet for us to express our inner rebellious self. A way of rebelling against conservative social norms. We did not have many other ways to revolt against conservatism and the rigid social outlook. So the only way we could do that was reading Masud Rana and glamorizing him and fantasizing about his life. Other than that we have read Kuasha, Dossu Bonhur, and Dasyu Panja books’.

Reading was encouraged in almost all middle-class families. It was not only us, it was the case for all the families that we interacted with.

We used school libraries and exchanged books. It was a totally different social situation. In the late afternoon, we played in the fields. By 6:30 or 7 pm masters would come and all of us ready for our tutoring session. We used to study till 8 to 8:30 pm.

After the studies, we used to enjoy television for a brief period, the only source of entertainment. Usually, we used to watch English TV serials such as Six Million Dollar Man, the Bionic woman, The Avengers, The new Avengers among others. By 10 o’clock we were in bed. By 10:30 our lights were out. Kids were not allowed to watch any programs late night that means after 10:30 pm. It was a strict discipline and applied to almost all families. By 12 o’clock the entire city was asleep, young and adult alike. That was the Dhaka I grew up in. It was simple yet rich.

It was a city that had a lot of ideals. We were never discourteous to a senior person. When we secretly smoke we had to make absolutely sure that no one saw us. We were taught that smoking itself is a vice and even if you do smoke you cannot do it in front of a senior. We respected that culture and maintained it. If a senior reprimanded us or scolded us, we did not answer. We would keep our heads down, we would listen even when he/she was wrong. This is quite foreign in our culture today where people are lighting up and smoking in front of anyone and everyone.

It was a period of scarcity. Nowadays there is a lot of prosperity and abundance around us but we did not have that when we’re growing up. But I must say we were not unhappy and certainly contentment was aplenty there.

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Future Startup

You studied History, Sociology, and English at Dhaka University and then went to London School of Journalism. You worked as a journalist for a long time and now working as a Head of Communications at IFC. Tell us about your journey to what you are doing today.

Towheed Feroze

My journey into the world of writing started in the early 90s. I was a student at Dhaka University and one day a news in The Daily Star caught my eyes, if I remember correctly, about a scuffle at the Jahangirnagar University between students and the authorities. It triggered a thought in me. I thought why don’t I write my opinion on this incident. This was back in 1993. I was a 3rd-year student. So I wrote a letter and sent it to the Daily Star which got published the next day. That’s how I started writing.

I have been a voracious reader since my childhood. One could hardly find me without books. In fact, my grandmother used to call me a bookworm. From Harold Robbins to Shomoresh Majumdar, I read all of them. Maybe the process of becoming a writer started when I was a youngster and devouring books of different sorts.

After writing 5-6 letters, I thought of writing a short article. It was the beginning of writing articles that never stopped and hopefully will never stop. Since then I never compromised with writing. I definitely do not write against the organization I’m working for. But I definitely write on films, sports, and social issues because writing gives me a sort of redemption.

I write because there is an urge inside me. By the time I was finishing my university a lot of teachers had read my articles and opinions.

In 1995, I moved to the UK with my mother who was posted to the Commonwealth secretariat. She went there in 1993, I joined her after two years. I stayed in the UK and I wrote from the UK. I traveled a lot at that time. I went to France, USA, and a few other countries but I regularly sent articles to Bangladesh to The Daily Star. At the time, I did not have an email account. I used to send handwritten articles to the Daily Star by post. They used to publish it after 20 days or a month. I kept on writing no matter where I lived.

Afterward, I went to London School of Journalism to study journalism. It was an incredible experience. They applied both practical and theoretical aspects to teaching us journalism. For example, we were sent to cover art exhibitions to learn to report on art, to cover the Parliament we went to the Parliament and see how it works.

The program was nicely balanced between theoretical and practical lessons. We visited the Times newspaper office. It was the middle of 1990 and I saw Robots for the first time in my life carrying large loads of paper. We went to the Sun and saw how Sun operates. I learned how a big newspaper operates. While studying at LSJ, I was also regularly sending articles to The Daily Star and The Independent in Bangladesh. At the time, Independent had more daily circulation than the Daily Star and it was the first color newspaper. They had a colored weekend magazine as well- in fact, they were the first to do it in Bangladesh.

After LSJ, I returned to Bangladesh and I joined the Independent as a feature writer in 1998. This was the beginning of my formal journalism career. My mother, who was in the foreign service at that time, wanted me to appear for BCS, a discussion we still have these days. But I wanted to pursue journalism as a career. So I started at the Independent as a feature writer. Soon I became a senior feature writer. I worked at the Independent for nearly 7 years and on the side, I also worked at Probe News Agency as a translator. Probe was a news distribution agency that sold news service to different high commissions, embassies, and Multinational corporations. While working at Probe helped me with honing my translation skill, it also helped me building connections with people from different professions. I came to understand the value of contacts when I changed my career from full-time journalism to development.

While doing journalism, I wanted to teach. One day I came across an advert in the newspaper for an IELTS instructor at Saifur’s Coaching Center which caught my attention. I thought before applying for the job, I should get an IELTS score. I gave IELTS and got a score of 8.5. I applied and in response, they offered me a post. At Saifur’s, they did not allow one teacher more than one module to teach. But they allowed me to teach all 4 module of IELTS. I had compact batches under my teachership where I handled a lot of students from different backgrounds.

I must say it was a remarkable experience for me and foundation of my teaching career.

In 2004, I joined New Age as a senior feature editor. When I was joining New Age, I had an offer from ADB but I was not ready to leave journalism for good. I worked at New Age for a little more than two years.

In 2006, my daughter was born and I went to Canada to see my wife, who lives in Canada, and my daughter. After returning to Dhaka, I thought that I have enough experience in journalism, let’s try something new. I have been passionate about development sector and decided to pursue a career in the development field. I came across an opportunity at Care International and applied. I got selected and joined Care International in Bangladesh as an External Relations Coordinator. It was my gateway to the development sector which opened up a whole new world to me.

There is something I’d like to mention here is that back in 2007 most of the vacancy or job advertisements were advertised in either Prothom Alo or The Daily Star. If you had applied for a post the chances of getting a call for an interview was very high because you had applied directly to the organization. The applications went directly to the organizations.

Nowadays, you cannot do that because the job advertisements come through different job-related websites and organizations. These websites had separate connections with institutions that primarily give the vacancy announcement. Therefore, as an independent candidate, you do not have that much higher chances of being called for an interview.

While working at Care, I traveled extensively. I went to different parts of Bangladesh to see the works of Care. I worked at Care for almost two years before leaving in 2008.

From Care, I went back to Journalism. I joined BDNews24.com as the News Editor for their English edition where I learned the most important things about journalism. I learned how to do news features and reports, not just opinion pieces and reviews, but news related features. They are different things. For example, news report is a place where you cannot and should not place your own opinion. It is just the reporting of the facts. Your personal opinion or differences should not reflect in your news reports.

My stint at BDnews24.com was relatively short, a little more than half a year. While working at BDnews24.com, I came across an opportunity at British High Commission and DFID for senior press officer. I applied and subsequently got the opportunity. Joining British High Commission was a whole different experience for me. It was a job at the intersection of development work and diplomatic world. We had to deal with the high commission’s diplomatic works as well as with donors and development related works.

British High Commission maintains an influential presence in Bangladesh which had leverage in different social, economic and political situations in Bangladesh. This is because they are one of the major donors in Bangladesh and since USA and UK are dominant forces in the world. Image and importance of a person working in the press section of British High Commission was huge.

I came to experience how the British government was trying to help Bangladesh by alleviating poverty, improving lives of people in char area and then how British government teams are fighting against forced marriages in Sylhet. It was a multifaceted work which I enjoyed thoroughly. I handle 6 British ministers during my time including Ed Miliband (who later became the chief of the labour party in the UK and was climate change secretary at the time) and Sir Douglas Alexander. I also handled Princess Anne’s visit to Bangladesh. I took her to the Acid Survivors Foundation to show the practical impact of support from the British government and how it was helping acid victims to rehabilitate in the society. We had a very thrilling and exciting time at British High Commission handling the media. I had also received DFID communication training in Britain while working for the British High Commission in Bangladesh.

After working at British High Commission for more than two years, I came across an opportunity at IFC through a friend of mine who joined IFC at that time. IFC was looking for a well-connected person for their Communications team in Bangladesh. I applied for the position and got the job. I joined IFC in 2011. Since then I’ve been working with IFC.

While doing all these work, I have never stopped writing. I have been active in writing community and have been writing for different outlets.

Apart from my work at IFC, I teach communication at the Department of International Business at Dhaka University as a Guest Faculty, an opportunity that has its own story. One of my colleagues at British High Commission was a teacher of Dhaka University whose husband is also a teacher at Dhaka University who heads the International Business Department at Faculty of Business Studies. My colleague recommended me to her husband if they need a faculty for communication.

Fortuitously, the Department of International Business was looking for a teacher to teach communications of international trade at that time. They contacted me. I sent them my CV and relevant credentials.

Reviewing my CV and my background in journalism, media, and development, they offered me the position. I just completed my one year at Dhaka University and started teaching my third batch.

This is all about my career. I did journalism and plenty of other works like translation and transcription for my livelihood. I taught students at home and at Saifur’s. I took communications classes at the British Council in a wide variety of formats. I ghostwrote someone else’s autobiography.

Towheed Feroze

Towheed Feroze second from left

Future Startup

If you look back to your several decades long journey, what are the biggest lessons from all those years?

Towheed Feroze

For anyone starting out or pursuing his/her ambition, building connections is critical. Connections often bring you the next opportunity. It is one of the most important things that you will do for your career advancements.

As I have said earlier, in the past you could directly respond to job advertisements and reach out to employers and get a call for an interview but not anymore. Without connections, it is often hard to get a call and in some instances, you wouldn’t be called for an interview ever. Unless you know somebody, it will be very hard for you to move to a different platform or sector.

It happens in Bangladesh, it happens in the UK, it happens all over the world. Somebody has to know you somewhere, somebody has to give a reference or somebody has to make that request to call you for an interview. Invest in building relationships.

Invest in yourself and in improving your skills. Try to take your skills to the next level. Do not be complacent thinking that you already know enough or have done enough. Constantly upgrade yourself. If you are a writer then read 4-5 new things every day. If you think that you can write some reports in correct English and you have done enough then you will be stuck in one place.

I constantly practice French with myself. Because I don’t have anyone else to practice with. I translate situations into French to keep the practice going. If you found something interesting than jotting it down in a diary and after sometime read it. Learn and memorize new words. Then try to use these words in your speech, in your article, and in your presentation. This is my strategy.

I even learn from a coffee seller. For instance, if you buy a medicine you will have a leaflet as a literature inside the box. You can find new words in there. You might read it. Read everything you get.

Never harm anyone. To the best of my knowledge, I never harmed anyone in any way. I will not try to denigrate anyone or conspire against anyone or to sabotage anyone’s success. I urge you not to do that either.

People can only create obstacles in front of you but they cannot steal your destiny. I will never create obstacles in front of you, instead, I will try to help you. Rather than stopping you I will try to use the positives I see in you in my daily life. I will try to emulate your best qualities in me. I will try to follow you. I will try to learn the best things that you have and improve myself. But I will never try to stop you. If you are better than me I will not conspire against you or overthrow you or sabotage your success just to get ahead in the corporate rat race.

I have suffered a lot from this mentality. Many people tried to sabotage my career. Many people tried to put obstacles in front of me and tried to denigrate me. I’ve experienced this in several of my work places. However, as I did not harm anyone, at the end I came out as the winner.

Don’t harm anyone because you will not get far in doing that. As I said, you can only create obstacles but you cannot take away someone’s destiny. My destiny is mine to achieve, no matter what others conspire.

Invest in yourself and in improving your skills. Try to take your skills to the next level. Do not be complacent thinking that you already know enough or have done enough. Constantly upgrade yourself.

Future Startup

Why do you write? You said you feel an inner urge, a calling.

Towheed Feroze

I enjoy it thoroughly. I believe that I am a keen observer of the subtle changes in our society which many people miss. Take my book about Dhaka city of 70’s and 80’s. There are a lot of people who were born in the 70s and 80s but they did not write about it I was the one who wrote about it. I could see the Dhaka of idealism, the Dhaka of simplicity and the Dhaka of principle and values which unfortunately has been lost for forever.

I thought the Dhaka that we are living in today is not same as the Dhaka that we had grown up. We didn’t have most of the luxuries that we have today. We wore second-hand clothes. Buying a pair of new jeans was a landmark event. Today we buy things left and right. We did not have much pocket money. Love and romance had a different definition in that time. The opportunity to simply talking to a girl meant the entire world to us. It had a lot of idealism, a lot of naivety maybe. But we miss those days.

Going to a Chinese restaurant was twice a year event. It was something that we looked forward to. Today we go to Chinese restaurants every now and then but it causes very little excitement. We take things for granted.

We grew up in a Bangladesh where the most abundant thing was hardships. Millions of people didn’t have food or clothes. We grew up in a time when Bangladesh faced a famine. And natural disasters were common. We grew up in a time when 500 Taka was a huge amount of money. In a time when the average income of any family was hardly tk. 15000. A time when people from different parts of the village and city came to see when someone bought a car. It was a different time.

This ability as well as inclination to look at things differently, feeling things differently often inspires me to write. Writing, as I have said, is sort of redemption to me. I feel a kind of urge that calls to my creative-self.

Future Startup

How does your creative process work? For Anne Lamott it is bird by bird, for Stephen King, it is a daily grind, how do you approach the work of writing?

Towheed Feroze

I just look for topics. I read a lot every day. I look at the society through the eyes of a writer. I try to find social events which are out of the ordinary and that deserves attention and scrutiny.

I walk a lot on the streets. When you walk on the streets, you will find countless ideas to write on. You will meet countless interesting people if you go to the old parts of the city or you go to Rayer Bazar, Sabujbag or Sipahi bag or brothels or bars. You will find countless interesting people and topics. I read, I walk and meet a lot of people. My gold mines of ideas.

I meet people from the working class and the rich. I interact with them because there is a story in everyone. I try to find out what is the story of that rich kid or of that poor person. A lot of writers have the tendency to demonize the rich class. But I think they have their share of troubles and tragedies. They have their part of hardships and struggles. Their vices and virtues. It is maybe exaggerated and exorbitant and certainly it is beyond the imagination of common people, nonetheless, it is there. And it is equally intriguing and interesting.

I walk a lot on the streets. When you walk on the streets, you will find countless ideas to write on. You will meet countless interesting people if you go to the old parts of the city or you go to Rayer Bazar, Sabujbag or Sipahi bag or brothels or bars. You will find countless interesting people and topics. I read, I walk and meet a lot of people. My gold mines of ideas.

Future Startup

Do you maintain any routine? Many famous writers used to maintain a daily routine.

Towheed Feroze

By the grace of Almighty, I can write any time I want to. Just give me a laptop or a computer, I can write it for you regardless of circumstance. I can write in the afternoon. I can write at night. I can also write in a busy environment of a newspaper office. I can write while waiting at the airport lounge. I had also written while I was waiting at a hotel. So I’m just grateful to the almighty that I have got this ability to write anywhere.

I seldom wait for the mood or ideas to come. Rather I write whenever I need to or get some time.

Future Startup

You have written a book and write medium length non-fiction commentary and opinion pieces in different media outlets. Do you plan to write for a larger audience?

Towheed Feroze

My plan is to write another book in English and publish it in the UK. Practically speaking, I have my book on Dhaka city published in Bangladesh. However, from a very rational point of view, we have a declining reader base. People seldom read these days. Moreover, if you write in English, you horizon further closes. I’m looking at collaborating with an international publisher who has got a reliable distribution network.

Then I am planning to write in Bengali. Maybe something for Ekushey Book fair. Again there is a thing called book marketing. You can write a book and you can publish it but who is going to market it. Who has the right marketing strategy for it?

I don’t think the book publishing industry in Bangladesh understands marketing. I don’t think they know how to market a book. Our publishing industry is 50 years behind what is happening in other parts of the world. They have no idea about it. It does not seem that they are interested either. They are reluctant to change the status quo and upgrade themselves. And they are complacent.

My plan is to publish my next book from the UK.

That said, having a book published these days is more of vanity rather than making a profit. Because book printing is no longer a profitable endeavor unless of course, you’re striking out like J.K Rowling.

From my experience, if you write a book and want to publish it without spending anything from your pocket then you have to wait for a long time for any publisher to take your book.

It is about vanity nowadays. In the end, if you win some awards and become famous that’s a different story. But how many can do that?

You can be creative in sports. You can come up with new ways or strategies for your game. The nature of creativity is that it is sector agnostic. You can always come up with new and more innovative ways of doing things regardless of your field of work. You just need the willingness and inspiration to work hard.

Future Startup

How do you think about creativity?

Towheed Feroze

Creativity will only develop if you nurture the creative side in you. Unless you read regularly, unless you pursue some creative pursuits regularly your creativity will wear off.

You can be creative in every field that you like. You can be creative in literature, in music and in fact in finance. The thing is you have to apply yourself and constantly think and find new and better ways of doing your work.

You can be creative in sports. You can come up with new ways or strategies for your game. The nature of creativity is that it is sector agnostic. You can always come up with new and more innovative ways of doing things regardless of your field of work. You just need the willingness and inspiration to work hard.

For instance, I don’t use any already available material for teaching my course at Dhaka University. For every batch, I prepare new materials in order to provide unique and better education. I do not follow any published material which is available in the market. I prepared materials based on what I have done as a communications specialist in all these years.

It is more like sharing my skills with my students which I have applied and am applying in the real life daily. It is completely based on practical experiences about how to prepare and send a press release, how to do case studies, how to communicate effectively, what language should be used and the likes.

I constantly think how can I make my writing even better? How can I touch things which people have not touched yet? This has pushed me to write about Dhaka city of 70’s and 80s. It often pushes me to delve into interesting topics.

I don’t think the book publishing industry in Bangladesh understands marketing. I don’t think they know how to market a book. Our publishing industry is 50 years behind what is happening in other parts of the world. They have no idea about it. It does not seem that they are interested either. They are reluctant to change the status quo and upgrade themselves. And they are complacent.

Future Startup

You look after media and communications at IFC. Please tell us a bit about the scope of your work? At the same time, a large number of our readers are entrepreneurs and business and tech professionals who also need to design media communication strategy. From your experience, please tell us how one should approach the work of designing a media communication strategy.

Towheed Feroze

The purpose of any media and communications work is ensuring publicity for the work of your organization so that people know your organization and its activities. There can be a specific object for a particular communication campaign, but this is broadly it.

There are several parts to it. The first things are plans, timing, channels, audience and the type of message you want to send. Next, you need to develop content and materials and you also make sure that your material goes through the right channels. For instance, it can be a press release, it can be stories, and it can be case studies, it can be highlighting about VIP visits and more. This strategy varies depending on the organization as well as your communication goals.

Now when you are talking about communications, media plays a pivotal role. As I have said earlier, you must have contacts. Access to media can be a treacherous job if you do not have contacts. For me, it is relatively easier since I worked in the media for a long time and I write regularly for the media. I have worked with almost all the editors including Late Mahbubul Alam, Late Enayetullah Khan, Mahfuz Anam to today’s Zafar Subhan. Editors and journalists never consider me as an outsider rather they treat me as one of their clan which has made it relatively easier for me.

You will see people take on corporate communications job without any working experience in the media. They face considerable difficulty because they do not have access to the media. The media industry looks at them as outsiders. So if you are interested in media and communications job you better work in the media at least for a short while or find a way to build your network.

Finally, make sure that you communicate clearly in a succinct and simple language. It is not always about dealing with the media. Sometimes you are dealing with clients or with your stakeholders. Regardless of the receiver, you have to deliver the message in simple and clear language.

Future Startup

What do you think about the media landscape in Bangladesh? We have lots of 24/7 news outlets who mostly cover news but there is very little diversity in the industry. There are questions about quality as well. We don’t have a New Yorker or a Paris Review. On the other hand, In the USA and other markets, we have seen publications that look into things deeply and with analytical rigor.

Towheed Feroze

Media financing is a critical problem in Bangladesh, in fact, it is a challenge in entire South Asia. In order to build magazines like The Economist or The New Yorker, you must have the right sources of financing. That is one. Moreover, these outlets, while have been in the market for a very long time, generate a steady flow of revenue that allows them to do things which is not the case for a majority of our media companies in Bangladesh.

A significant number of media outlets in Bangladesh does not make money and depends on the financing of its backers. This makes it doubly difficult to build quality platforms. Moreover, many people and businesses who finance media in our country often seek quick returns whereas you need a significantly long time to build an important media brand that commands attention.

Now things are getting even more complex for print publications given the rapid rise of digital platforms. I don’t see a very bright future for our print mediums.

The other hand, in order to build a platform, say a New Yorker, you need readers in the first place. This is a growing challenge in Bangladesh. We are not interested in reading as a nation. The reading as a habit is declining, particularly among young people.

Prior to Independence the Pakistan Observer had a readership of over 80,000. Now in 2017, into the 46th year of independence, the total print readership of English newspaper is not anywhere near 80,000.

There is an opportunity for the online portals to flourish. Ad budget is growing in the digital space while print is losing ad money. That said, our market has some peculiar problems such as late payment of ad money by the vendors and the likes.

Future Startup

What do you think about the future of journalism in Bangladesh?

Towheed Feroze

I think very few print media will survive in the long run. The reason is that a lot of newspapers will not be able to pay the bills because money is going away from print to digital.

The future of digital news portals looks better because money is going into digital and a growing number of brands are investing in digital space.

Journalism as a career will not be preferred by a lot of young people. The profession is losing its glamor. Of course, journalists are respected in our society, people value their work, people know the importance of their work. But the number of people who want to be a journalist and take the challenges of the profession is going down.

That said, it is hard to predict the future of a profession. There are all the signs that journalism can make a comeback and can become a very interesting profession. Moreover, if you are not willing to take the challenge, you will not do much either.

While I’m not excited about the future of the profession, I am neither over pessimistic. I would rather suggest people be more realistic and if necessary do something on the side while pursuing a career in journalism.

Future Startup

We are seeing a rise of reader supported media companies around the world rather than the advertising supported media companies. A lot of new online portals who are doing it and old media outlets like NYT, Economist, and WSJ are going for subscription as well. Do you think subscription has a future in Bangladesh?

Towheed Feroze

I don’t think this is going to be a case in our culture anytime soon. I do not think people would pay money to get an added intellectual stimulation. We are just not up to that stage yet. Maybe we’ll get to that stage later but not in the current situation and not yet.

It is hard to predict the future of a profession. There are all the signs that journalism can make a comeback and can become a very interesting profession. Moreover, if you are not willing to take the challenge, you will not do much either.

Future Startup

You have written a book on 70’s and 80’s Dhaka. If you look at Dhaka city today, how much has the society changed? How do you see all these changes and how different they are?

Towheed Feroze

It is exceedingly different. We grew up in a very different society. Disposable income was unheard of. We had to survive on whatever there was available. The word rationing was very much part of our life. People used to go to the ration shop to get the ration. There was specified amount of rice and oil as stipulated by the government. We could not buy beyond that.

People used to live on a budget and we certainly did not have these many fast food shops. Wearing and buying second-hand clothes were very common. Most people did not have cars, cycle, and motorcycle at best.

Although we did not have much comfort, we had ideals. We had contentment. People were happier than now. There was less crime, less violence, and less greed.

Today we have a lot of prosperity. People can afford to have holidays abroad which was unheard of. People are going to Bangkok for the weekend and society is not raising any eyebrows. People become accustomed to seeing that. But the thing that happened is that with the level of increasing living standard and income, the level of satisfaction has gone down. The level of contentment has declined. We often take things for granted because we can afford a lot of things. We do not feel thankful anymore. That is a major change.

Future Startup

How do you look at our society today? We have a huge young population, our median age is 26.4, what do you think about our young people?

Towheed Feroze

I have seen both positive and negative traits in our young people. The positive traits are that young people are more competitive, more skilled, and more knowledgeable about the world today. Many of them can now compete on the global stage if they are given the chance and many are already competing.

The downside, however, is more profound. Young people today often are driven by the desire for immediate gain. There is no harm in looking for profit in your endeavors but a lot of young people are trying to make a profit with minimum effort by any means without any moral consideration. There is a creeping moral decay. A large number of people are only interested in success regardless of means applied to achieving that success.

Another thing is that our young people have grown a superficial tendency towards everything. Outlook triumphs character. Shallowness triumphs depth. Likes and shares have become the key metrics. Very few people want and try to go deep into their endeavor. But you should invest in understanding things deeply.

People should read more. They should make an active effort to go deep into things instead of scratching the surface. A lot of young people don’t know the history of the world. They should know what has happened in the past. They should develop an understanding based on that.

Apart from that, we have many talented young boys and girls in the technology sector. We have very attractive young boys and girls in the modeling and fashion sector. With the rise of cricket, I think a lot of young people now consider sports as a source of livelihood.

But our young should maintain a missionary approach over mercenary attitude. It should not always be about money. Instead, learn something first then the income will automatically come. We want results with the least possible effort and it is a wrong approach.

Some of these ideals need to be cultivated in the families. If the family is acting money centric then the children will also be money centric. If the children see the father and mother are exploiting some political connections or any good relationship for their own benefit then they will also learn that and they will start believing that whatever I do is the right way. Gradually, they will lose their moral values. They will not think twice cheating their brothers or deceiving their partners in business.

My suggestion is be practical but don’t be dishonest. We have a lot of young talented skillful people but decaying moral values is a growing problem that we should take seriously.

The downside, however, is more profound. Young people today often are driven by the desire for immediate gain. There is no harm in looking for profit in your endeavors but a lot of young people are trying to make a profit with minimum effort by any means without any moral consideration. There is a creeping moral decay. A large number of people are only interested in success regardless of means applied to achieving that success.

Future Startup

We have a huge young population, our median age is 26.3, which is a huge opportunity as well as a challenge. If we fail, this will be our biggest risk factor. There are questions around quality of our graduates as well as opportunities that are available to our young people. How do you think about this opportunity or challenge for that matter?

Towheed Feroze

There is a cyclical effect here. One thing leads to another. One irregularity begets another irregularity. When the socio-political structure is crumbling down and you see that connections triumphs talent, it will automatically have an adverse impact on social values at large. The problem with the declining quality of our education system is not about education alone, there is more to it.

We have a huge young population which certainly is an opportunity for us but we have to be able to manage it. We have to ensure that these people have access to opportunities to capitalize their potentials.

While this is a challenge we have to be mindful of, I’m not pessimistic at all. Historically, Bangladesh has always found a way. We have political problems, session jams at universities and endless other issues, yet progress is happening. You may call it a miracle or the blessings of a divine power. Regardless we have always managed to be a functional state. Even after the Liberation war, people thought that we would not survive but we have proved them wrong.

For young people, while we need to create more opportunities which demand joint effort from both the public and private sector, I think entrepreneurship is a potent option as well. We are seeing a growing interest in entrepreneurship among young people, we should take initiatives to create a conducive environment so that these people can succeed.

That said, interventions by society or government alone will not be effective. Individuals have to take responsibility. Young people have to realize the importance of personal development, understand the changing world and growing competition in the job market. While I see a responsibility for the government and other stakeholders where they prepare infrastructure and create opportunity, to me, the individual has to take the ultimate responsibility.

Future Startup

Has there been a point in your career when you decided to take a big risk to move forward?

Towheed Feroze

I have taken countless risks throughout my life, including some very naive ones.

There were instances where I left my jobs without a plan. I left the Independent without knowing what I would do. Although I joined New Age later, it was an uncertain move. The same thing happened when I left Care International. However, every time I took a risk I ended up better off.

The nature of life is that it is uncertain regardless of what we do. Life is a risky affair by design. But in order to move forward and achieve progress, we have to take the risk. You either win or lose but you have to take the steps. You have to take assertive and strategic moves to win over the uncertainty.

Future Startup

How do you deal with stress?

Towheed Feroze

I play. I read. I play football on the Dhaka University field. I play squash at Gulshan Club and Navy Club and Badminton at Dhaka University indoor gymnasium.

I played Badminton Nationals in 2010 and 2016 and have been playing all national level squash tournaments since 2002. I represented Dhaka Club in India twice at the South Asian Inter City Sports Carnival and played in Canada and London. I also represent Bangladesh Squash team in the Masters Level. My younger brother, Shahriar Feroze, Deputy Editor for New Nation, is also a national squash player, currently playing for Dhaka Club. Both of us have been members of the Bangladesh Squash Rackets Federation’s Committee in a rotation and, currently, I am the active member.

In the evening you will not find me anywhere other than the fields. Playing is a stress reliever. I listen to music and reminiscence about the past.

The nature of life is that it is uncertain regardless of what we do. Life is a risky affair by design.

Future Startup

Do you feel down? How do you pull yourself up when you feel down?

Towheed Feroze

Yes, of course. I do feel down sometimes. Writing helps, sometimes. It is like meditation.

I think about my students. They actually provide me a lot of motivational force.

I think about the pleasures and better angels of life. I think about good foods. After a stressful day, if you come home and have a solid dinner you should be able to forget about the stress. I watch a film or listen to music and let all other things go.

Future Startup

How do you think about life?

Towheed Feroze

I feel that as a youngster we had a really great time, a lovely time while growing up. I miss those days. I relive some of those moments in my mind. As Oscar Wilde said, “to live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” I try to live the life over a mere existence. I try to overlook the elements that try to hinder my effort to living life.

Eat, listen to music, go run with your friends, watch movies and do whatever you feel like. The main thing is to live your life because you will have plenty of time to be dead.

Future Startup

What advice would you give to people who are just starting out?

Towheed Feroze

As I have said, build connections and invest in your personal development. You should develop your language skills, particularly English.

We have got a lot of computer experts, IT experts but they are not being able to go abroad because of poor communication skills. This is, in fact, a challenge for many local companies.

Never harm others or create hindrance to the progress of others. If you can then help other people to achieve their ambition. The easiest way to success is to help others to succeed.

Develop a hobby or pursue a side project besides your work. It helps you with recharging yourself and developing creativity.

Never harm others or create hindrance to the progress of others. If you can then help other people to achieve their ambition. The easiest way to success is to help others to succeed.

Interview: Ruhul Kader, Transcription: Tashnim Mohammad

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