EMK Center, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, Technology, Culture, and The Future: An interview With M.K. Aaref, CEO, EMK Center

EMK Center, Entrepreneurship Ecosystem, Technology, Culture, and The Future: An interview With M.K. Aaref, CEO, EMK Center

Dhaka Bank GO Credit Banner

Since his appointment as CEO of Edward M Kennedy Center for Public Service and the Arts in 2012, M.K. Aaref has positioned EMK Center as the epicenter of activities, events and initiatives around arts, culture, education and entrepreneurship, has established a small grants program that has supported a host of change makers in Dhaka and beyond working in diverse fields starting from startup to arts to music and more, and has significantly grown EMK and its international education related initiatives and most importantly, has successfully established EMK as a brand that stands for community, youth, social change, and “open dialogue, informed action, individual and artistic expression, and personal and professional development.”

We first interviewed Mr. Aaref, as the CEO of EMK, in 2014 (it is a brilliant read, you may find it here) and recently, Future Startup’s Ruhul Kader sits down with, Mr. Aaref, one of the most influential figures in the field of society, arts, culture, and entrepreneurship in Dhaka to pick his brain about the state and future of EMK Center, the state and future of startup ecosystem in the country, the future of arts and cultural movement in Bangladesh, the future of technology and how it is going to change our reality in the context of Bangladesh and the future of our young people in a changing world, and his lessons from 2017 and contemplate what 2018 may bring for our youth and startup ecosystem in Bangladesh.

Future Startup

Thank you for agreeing to do this interview. First off, how much has EMK evolved over the past several years?

M.K. Aaref

When we first spoke in 2014, EMK was just a two years old entity and we are now a five years old entity. We just celebrated our 5th anniversary in September 2017.

The center has matured, meaningfully. In terms of finding support, we don’t struggle anymore. As an entity, we are relatively well-established now.

We have made a good name in the last five years for the works we do. We have been able to build communities around our work. Given the fact that certain institutions have been here for 30/40 years, we have grown pretty fast.

I’m aware of the fact that we have a long to go. At the same time, we are also proud of our achievements, in terms of what we have achieved in education, training, innovation, startup support, entrepreneurship support, culture and art and in many other sectors.

Since our inception five years ago, we have been working hard to make a meaningful contribution to the society and I believe we are leaving good marks in the fields where we work.

A Message From Dhaka Bank Limited
Dhaka Bank Go Contextual Native Ad BannerINTRODUCING DHAKA BANK GO – LET THE BANK MATCH YOUR DAILY SCHEDULE

Dhaka Bank Go gives you secure access to your Dhaka Bank Accounts and Credit Cards and other exciting facilities from your mobile devices anytime, anywhere. Explore and enjoy the infinite opportunities. Learn more here.

The center has matured, meaningfully. In terms of finding support we don’t struggle anymore. As an entity, we are relatively well-established now. We have made good name in the last five years for the works we do. We have been able to build communities around our work. Given the fact that certain institutions have been here for 30/40 years, we have grown pretty fast.

Future Startup

Please give us an overview of 2017, of things that you have done and your major initiatives in entrepreneurship, culture, and arts and so forth.

M.K. Aaref

Let me start by telling you what I didn’t do in entrepreneurship, startup and cultural space last year. I didn’t do any pitching contest and outdoor startup competition. One of the reasons I stayed away from that model was that I could not see any meaningful outcome from similar initiatives in the past. It usually follows a common cycle: we launch and promote an event, we give winners prize money and they walk away. We don’t follow up; I mean the ecosystem, not EMK alone. At the end of the day, it does not produce any good result. We stayed away from doing short-term oriented things.

On the other hand, I have seen a couple of not so fascinating developments in the startup space. For instance, I have been seeing that, particularly in different accelerator programs and other similar instances, the target seems to be creating billion dollar companies that will put Bangladesh on the map regardless of other pertinent considerations such as social impact. I do appreciate the ambition. But the fact is that my ambition is simply different.

I think I should spend my resources to do greater good instead of investing in making somebody else a billionaire. I would rather invest in programs where startups not only make money but also create solutions for the society. I think the startup scene is a little bit off track because of that.

The fact that this quest for the billion dollar company has been eaten very well by the people in the ecosystems they all want to be rich within the next 2-3 years without giving the time, effort and dedication that it takes to build anything meaningful. I don’t know how a billion dollar company will come out of this.

I think we need some course correction in the ecosystem. We need to reflect and self-assess and do things that are going to produce results and stop doing things for the sake of doing it.

In 2017, one of our major works in the space was around developing solid understanding about the ecosystem. We partnered with an organization and commissioned a study on six separate topics that are critical to the development of the startup ecosystem under our EMK small grants program.

We have also done a host of works on promoting women entrepreneurship and women in technology.

On the cultural side, we did some mainstream programs throughout the year. At EMK, we regularly have cultural programs. I have been curious about dance and music all along. We have dance and classical music programs. We have electronics music medium and many other initiatives in dance and music space.

We have helped a lot of young music groups and cultural groups from different parts of the country to find voice and space to prove themselves. There are more works to be done in the space and we are finding ways to contribute more.

FS

We first spoke in August 2014 and had quite a discussion about the startup ecosystem in the country and I want to go back to that. First off, I want to quote from that interview: “I think it’s still confined within a common circle of people who are doing a very good job. But it needs to be robust in Dhaka and also should get outside of Dhaka. Only then it will be an unstoppable force.” How do you see the developments in the space now? How much has the ecosystem evolved over the past couple of years?

MKA

It saddens me to say that the situation hasn’t changed much as we’ve expected. We expected that there’d be an explosion of startups, lots of new companies would spring up, and with that, a venture capital ecosystem would flourish and would have more mentors–all of which would then congeal into a meaningful whole. We have to accept that although a lot of things have happened and are happening every day, it is hard to tell that we have seen anything game changer in the past few years.

In Bangladesh, we need role models in many areas which applies to the startup ecosystem as well. Unfortunately, in the last 4-5 years, I haven’t seen that many role models that people would follow.

For instance, we should have done a lot more in ecommerce. There are a number of successful ones in the space and I subscribe to a few but the number is relatively slim and the service is not widespread yet. It is largely limited to the major cities.

Internet banking remains a cumbersome experience.

We have a long way to go in these areas. Let me give you an example, a couple of months ago, I was in Bangalore which is the IT hub in India. It looks like any other Indian city, unplanned and with many other limitations but what I noticed was that even the local panwala have a Paytm sign on it and everything was cashless. Nobody was carrying the cash. This was a couple of months after the demonetization drive by the Indian Government. The result was nobody can ask bribes on the street, and nobody can do certain things anymore. Even the micro-economy has gone mainstream.

We regularly talk about replicating Silicon Valley which is good but Silicon Valley was created over a period of many years. It has evolved over the time through investment, support, and various initiatives. Another example that we often cite is Israel, being a startup nation. Israel started in the 70s. It has evolved and matured over the years.

These ecosystems have been built over a period of time through a combination of proper planning, investment, and efforts. While talking about all these things, we should also follow through with meaningful interventions including legislative and policy initiatives.

On the other hand, many of the products that I’m seeing currently are copycats and in many instances, lack contextual connection. I’d like to plead with entrepreneurs to check the authenticity of their ideas/products beforehand. Don’t just Google or mine Youtube for new ideas. India, in this regard, has got way ahead of us. We have virtually similar social and cultural conditions, it seems it’s the thought process that makes the difference. Reinventing the wheels will not get us anywhere.

I think we need to have a better contextual understanding of things and build solutions to solve our local problems that can take advantage of our local situations and then grow.

In order to succeed, Bangladeshi startups must stop importing foreign ideas as it is and start paying keen attention to the actual needs of people. Ideas from other countries may be successful in Bangladesh but only when they’re customized in such a way that caters to local needs. A good example is Pathao which is similar to Uber but wisely modified for Bangladesh.

Another significant issue that has been troubling us today, which I have been talking about for a while, is centralization of everything. Dhaka has become the center of everything – from initiatives to opportunities. It is equally true for startups as well. There is a considerably large portion of the population that remains out of the startup radar. This is a disturbing development, to say the least. Because Dhaka is not entire Bangladesh. We need to take this startup movement outside Bangladesh only then we will able to see real benefits of it.

At the same time, while the Government has done a lot of good things over the past several years, we need significant improvements in our investment and doing business ecosystem in order to make starting and doing business easier for people.

On the micro level, there’s a need for proper mentoring. Access to knowledge and guidance remains one of the major challenges for early-stage founders. From my experience in judging a few business idea competitions, I can say that many young people have got real potential but because of the lack of proper grooming and knowledge, their ideas often falter.

I think I should spend my resources to do greater good instead of investing in making somebody else a billionaire. I would rather invest in programs where startups not only make money but also create solutions for the society. I think the startup scene is a little bit off track because of that.

M.K. Aaref of EMK Center Speaking at FSindex launch event

M.K. Aaref of EMK Center Speaking at FSindex launch event | Photo by FS

Future Startup

What do you think about our young generation today? To put it in context, I want to quote from your previous interview: “I would say because of the internet they are exposed to a lot more opportunities now. The internet is not just a source of entertainment. It’s more than that. It’s a whole new world. I would say youth are better informed now than any time before and have more opportunities to do well than any time before. I hope our next generation will take that opportunity. I encourage young people to think beyond the books and to be active. Nobody is going to give you a job just because you have good grades. You have to have the ability to lead, to execute.” After three years, what do you think about our young people now, given the fact that we have a huge young population that we consider as a demographic dividend, 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?

M. K. Aaref

In terms of internet, I think somebody needs to tell our young people that Facebook is not the internet. That they can do much more using the power of internet than merely surfing Facebook. You can search anything and everything on the internet and that there are many things you can do that will improve your life. That you can learn new skills, make new connections, and explore new opportunities. What I am hearing is that there is a lot of not so good use of these technologies. For the majority of the users, it has turned into an outlet for escaping the reality and then many are getting into the dark side of the medium.

The internet offers a whole new world of opportunities that you can take advantage of to improve your life and move forward. Now it depends on you whether you would take that advantage or not.

Even though I was more optimistic three years ago, I’m not that optimistic anymore. Somehow we have failed to make our young people see the opportunities in front of them and inspire and enable them to pursue a better life. Similarly, I think we have also failed, in many instances, to ensure that our young people have access to equal opportunities regardless of their background and social status.

I don’t think we are getting it right. Youth unemployment rate and many other similar signals don’t look good.

Then what’s happening to our education system is absolutely horrible. Many fathers are paying money to buy questions for their kids. To many of us, it is an innocent act. But it is not and it has a far-reaching impact. For instance, they buy a leaked question paper for fifty thousand taka, stay up whole night solving the questionnaire and the kid gets a good grade. Now when the kid goes to secondary level, he asks for more money to buy question paper and he does not see it as something immoral. What can you expect from that kid when he grows up and becomes decision-maker himself. This is a dangerous precedence.

A huge erosion of moral orders has happened and it continues. It seems that the word conflict of interest does not matter anymore in Bangladesh. Certain things that were not accepted before in the society are being made normal.

The standard of communication is very poor, particularly among young people. This lack of art of articulation among young people is going to be a challenge in the future – communication skills in terms of articulating exactly what you want and presenting that in a positive light which is not offensive to the other end. I think we need to pay attention to improving these things. In many instances, the situation is such that everybody assumes that the other person knows what they want. Because there is an unmet expectation, everybody is sort of disappointed.

These things seem isolated but they are not. They are very inter-connected with each other.

I am not a pessimist or an optimist, I’m a realist. We can claim certain things emotionally but things don’t happen because we want it to happen. Things happen because the environment supports it.
The population is a dividend provided that we enable them to be productive and then we give them opportunities to deliver at their full potential. The huge young population that we have will only turn into a demographic dividend if we can take advantage of their ability. If we can’t, it is no longer a dividend.

So, how do we use them? We are certainly enjoying the advantage of having a large population in the form of remittance from the Middle East and other parts of the world. However, I think many Middle Eastern countries are going through their own challenges and it will intensify over the next couple of years which is likely to affect our foreign remittance earning. There is a risk there which I don’t think we are prepared to handle properly.

There is garments industry; people should watch programs like CNN Africa where they highlight how countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, and many other countries are diversifying into Garments and other industries. Ethiopia is investing billions of dollars in garment cities. Are we paying attention to these developments?

When I travel to countries like Myanmar, Cambodia, I see a lot of garments have already moved there because of a better business environment and better work ethics of people. It is not only about the government supports alone. Our garments industry is going through a rough patch. Because of Rana Plaza and other similar incidents, many international stakeholders are cautious about Bangladesh and there is an image issue in the market.

At the same time, technological threats are slowly becoming apparent. What is going to happen next? We are very gung-ho about the automation, robot-tech, AI and all that. Technology will certainly increase productivity and make millionaires billionaires but how many people will be replaced and how are we going to deal with that replacements?

America lost 80,000 retail jobs to these new technologies in 2017, what happened to those people who were being replaced? Amazon, at the same time, ordered seventy-five thousand robots daily throughout that period of time.

Even though I was more optimistic three years ago, I’m not that optimistic anymore. Somehow we have failed to make our young people see the opportunities in front of them and inspire and enable them to pursue a better life. Similarly, I think we have also failed, in many instances, to ensure that our young people have access to equal opportunities regardless of their background and social status. I don’t think we are getting it right. Youth unemployment rate and many other similar signals don’t look good.

We can see a correlation there. What I am trying to say is that automation is another development and it is here to stay. It will certainly have both positive and negative impacts. We can’t stop it. But we probably can reduce negative impacts if we use it mindfully. My question is do we embrace automation because it makes me richer or because it improves efficiency?

Even though the garment industry has played a huge role in empowering a large number of women and incorporating them into the workforce, there are issues around payment and working environment. Many of these workers are semi-skilled and unskilled. The real challenge will be once robots and other automation technologies take over these jobs, how are we going to find these people alternative job opportunities?

I see a huge risk there and I don’t think we are ready for that. For instance, recently one of the banks introduced AI enabled bot for their customer service which will eventually replace human customer service workers; I think we are not thinking about these challenges.

We are talking about fourth industrial revolution but do we realize how these changes are going to affect us as a nation? We are excited as if we will be riding on the wave and will come out as a winner on the other end. I don’t think we are ready for it.

If you go outside Dhaka, it is a different Bangladesh. Many of these internet-enabled services that we enjoy here in Dhaka are not available even in many district-level towns. Chittagong is catching up but a huge percentage of our population still don’t have access to these services.

Dhaka is one-tenth of the country. Even in Dhaka, only a certain class of people uses these technology services. That’s what I’m trying to say that tech is not permeated to the level where everybody is benefited from these developments.

What should we do? I don’t have an answer yet. One thing I feel is that all these accelerator programs should encourage people to solve local problems as well while seeking to find next billion dollar company. It is not that some of these ideas can’t be beneficial to a good number of people, but the problem is the focus is not in doing good for the society, rather making money. It is about valuation. I think that is the wrong way to go.

The demographic dividend is there only if we can use our population, give them opportunities and capitalize their potentials. Otherwise, it will end up as a liability and if that happens it will likely create a lot of social challenges that we can’t even fathom now.

In order to succeed, Bangladeshi startups must stop importing foreign ideas as it is and start paying keen attention to the actual needs of people. Ideas from other countries may be successful in Bangladesh but only when they’re customized in such a way that caters to local needs. A good example is Pathao which is similar to Uber but wisely modified for Bangladesh.

Future Startup

That is a brilliant sum up. Taking all these things into consideration, what are some of the interventions that we can initiate to make things better and to avoid a potential catastrophe?

M.K. Aaref

The first thing we need to do is decentralization, in every sense of the word and in as many areas as possible. One likely impact of decentralization will be on the distribution of opportunities – a huge number of people will have access to opportunities who don’t have it now.

First thing I would say is that we need to get things out of the capital. Then, people won’t feel compelled to come to Dhaka. Take our neighboring country India, for instance. You don’t need to go to Delhi for each and everything which, unfortunately, is the case for Dhaka. There are many cities in the US where you will find everything needed to spend a lifetime and don’t have to go anywhere else. This is the boon of decentralization.

There is an even more interesting way to look at the decentralization. It is not only physical decentralization; it is far more than that. When you decentralize Dhaka, you also decentralize the power structure, you also decentralize the opportunities, you also decentralize the corruption and the way people do corruption and eventually it reduces the corruption because power is no more centralized. The benefits of decentralization are many. So, decentralization can be one intervention that makes a lot of difference.

Dhaka is already teeming with people from every corner of the country. There is a tremendous amount of competition. High competitive pressure also implies that some people will find ways to outsmart the system in ways that are not always honest or ethical. As I said, upon decentralizing, competition will spread outside Dhaka and corruption will decrease.

Similarly, it will improve efficiency and improve access to opportunities for people and should eventually enable us to design customized intervention mechanism for improvements in areas that we already have discussed. I think decentralization can be the starting point.

Future Startup

Over the past several years, EMK has played a pivotal role in empowering cultural movements in Bangladesh in the form of supporting new artists and cultural initiatives. Culture, in many ways, is the reflection of the society. Even the things like entrepreneurship and social progress also depend on cultural representation for growth and widespread acceptance. But a quick look at our own cultural scene tells us that the overall situation is quite depressing. It is not that good things are not happening at all; it is that the number of good works is slim and rather sporadic. What is your take on the overall cultural scene in Bangladesh?

MKA

Being a middle-aged man myself, I’ve seen several generations and experienced different tastes throughout my life. When I was a kid, the social setting was such that it was almost mandatory for families to teach their kids artistic qualities, like music or painting or acting, and writing other than their regular studies. The expectation was not that you have to be Runa Laila or a master of painting, rather the pursuit of artistic qualities was highly valued in the society. Those days are gone.

On the entertainment side, BTV was the only source of entertainment. We used to look forward to daily programming every day after 6:00 pm. And the programmings were of excellent quality. I still remember some of the dramas from those days.

There were a lot of national cultural platforms and programs for kids. For instance, Notun Kuri was an extremely popular program and kids used to look forward to that program. The program was later shuttered. When later administration decided to stop the program, kids became the sufferer, they lost a platform.

There was Wall publication competition in schools and colleges where kids could participate and pursue their artistic inclination. Those outlets are no more there. It seems we also don’t care much.

Things have changed rapidly. People have become extremely success-oriented over the past several decades. Quality stopped being a priority while securing a GPA 5.00 became of utmost importance. Parents now only want their children to become a doctor or an engineer or a BBA graduate. Liberal arts have stumbled. As a result, we see a growing unrest in the society, young people are getting involved in things that are not essentially good for them or the society and we are also seeing that many young people are falling prey of fundamentalism.

There is an even more interesting way to look at the decentralization. It is not only physical decentralization; it is far more than that. When you decentralize Dhaka, you also decentralize the power structure, you also decentralize the opportunities, you also decentralize the corruption and the way people do corruption and eventually it reduces the corruption because power is no more centralized. The benefits of decentralization are many. So, decentralization can be one intervention that makes a lot of difference.

FS

This also creates a kind of mental thus social inhibition. You can’t essentially think broadly if you lack a diverse experience. The experience of cultural activities does help our mental faculties to develop. I think this very linear way of education is proving expensive for us in other areas such as creativity and innovation. Knowledge is essentially combinatorial in nature. When we pursue art, music, or painting, we can also apply those lessons into our work and deliver better results by drawing inferences from diverse fields and working at the intersection of ideas.

MKA

Liberal art is suffering in Bangladesh. Kids don’t want to study liberal arts. Parents don’t want their kids to pursue a liberal arts degree.

Everyone is into engineering, BBA, computer science, medicine and other sure-fire ways to success. This is a rather sad development. A country not only needs technological development, it also needs arts.

There was a time when everyone wanted to be a poet and all that. Certain value erosion has happened. In fact, there is a correlation between arts and innovation that we often overlook.

In terms of cinemas, we are seeing a growing number of good films being made in the recent years which is, of course, a wonderful development. We have a long way to go, but the film industry is reviving. There was a time when we were embarrassed by it.

While I do think that we have a long way to go, I don’t think we are doing any less good than Calcutta. There is an inferiority complex that we suffer from when it comes to West Bengal. I think the quality of our dramas is way better than those of from West Bengal. Many of our women do love Star Jalsha but the way it depicts women as evil being is simply disgusting and quite medieval in nature.

On the other hand, we have a lot of TV channels which is one of the reasons why our programming quality is in the declining mode. The competition is simply too high to look at the competition.

It is hard to find communal gathering spaces in Dhaka and beyond. The playground has long become an old idea, but we at least should have community centers and similar places that can be used as our mental playground.

Another thing that we seldom acknowledge about Bangladeshi culture is that there is a lot of regional richness within the country. Our local folk traditions are very rich. In Sylhet they have their own folk cultures; Chittagong has too, Mymensingh Geetika that I listened, there are only two places in the entire Indian subcontinent with this rich folklore. We don’t value these things.

We talk a lot about our rich history as Bengalis but we don’t do anything about it. I think we need to work hard to find and understand our roots and only then we will able to move forward.

People have become extremely success-oriented over the past several decades. Quality stopped being a priority while securing a GPA 5.00 became of utmost importance. Parents now only want their children to become a doctor or an engineer or a BBA graduate. Liberal arts have stumbled. As a result, we see a growing unrest in the society, young people are getting involved in things that are not essentially good for them or the society and we are also seeing that many young people are falling prey of fundamentalism.

M.K. Aaref

M.K. Aaref | Photo credit: This video by Ennovision

FS

Growing inequality has become one of the major concerns globally in the recent years. In Bangladesh, I think our story of development is not inclusive either. Despite all the fuss with GDP growth, inequality is on the rise. According to BBS data, in 2005, the average household income of the poorest 5 percent families was Tk 1,109 per month but dropped to Tk 733 in 2016 while the 5 percent richest families’ average household income more than doubled from Tk 38,795 to Tk 88,941 in this period. At the same time, upward mobility is quite difficult in Bangladesh. How do you think about upward mobility and social change in the context of our society?

MKA

While I believe in the trickle-down effect, it should be facilitated by right policies. It is not a popular theory, but when a huge wealth is amassed by a small portion of the population it does trickle down to the hands of the less wealthy if you can design policies and laws that don’t stifle individual spirit or innovation and at the same time, ensures that inequality does not become a huge problem.

Access to opportunities should be made available to everyone regardless of their background which is not the case now. If you look at the access to quality education, the reality is stacked against a huge number of our population.

Most of our development initiatives are city-centric and we are very much centralized which deprives a huge population of having access to opportunities.

Moreover, we need to take care of our young population more effectively. You were talking about the demographic dividend, but does it remain a dividend should we fail to utilize it? Inability to utilize a dividend makes it a liability. That’s what’s been happening with our youth.

We need to give them proper education. We need to develop a deeper understanding of reality in the market and then design strategy to develop our youth. I think more than engineers, we need technicians in our country. Bangladesh has vast opportunities for technical education. But, sadly, this particular stream is considered less respectable by many people, which does not make sense.

So, we need to design better policies and laws to curb inequalities, we need to ensure access to quality education and opportunities for everyone, and we need to train our young people better so that they can meet the challenges of a changing world.

Access to opportunities should be made available to everyone regardless of their background which is not the case now. If you look at the access to quality education, the reality is stacked against a huge number of our population.

FS

What are your plans for 2018?

MKA

We will continue to run our existing programs.

Apart from our regular programs, we plan to focus exclusively on patronizing entrepreneurship this year.

Entrepreneurship was part of our overall program before. This year we have turned it into an independent department within the EMK. Our aim is to create a resource pool and work closely with the ecosystem stakeholders to build a robust support system for startups and entrepreneurs. At the same time, we will work really hard to take our entrepreneurship related works beyond Dhaka.

FS

What are some of your biggest lessons from 2017?

MKA

Never take anything for granted, no matter how well things may be going.

The second lesson would be, it is unwise to think yourself as indispensable because nobody ever is.

FS

What is your relationship with technology, particularly social media and mobile phones many of which, according to experts, are designed to take advantage of our cognitive weaknesses and are quite addictive in nature? How do you approach technology and social media?

MKA

I’m quite active on social media, but for purely professional reasons. I consider platforms like Facebook to be unnecessarily time-consuming.

Having said that, these platforms aren’t going anywhere, they are here to stay. So, instead of preaching rejection, we should teach our future generations and ourselves alike how to use it wisely.

FS

What does it take to live a good life?

MKA

The key to a good life, I believe, is contentment, not wealth. I know a lot of wealthy people who aren’t satisfied with their lives. To be a happy, content person, one needs to embrace what s/he has.

Goodness in life also means that you give back to the society at whatever capacity you can.

Another point I’d like to make here, which also goes along with the increasing use of social media, especially Facebook and people’s obsession with showing off, is our relentless need for social approval.

This is something that will destroy your sanity and would not allow you to pursue meaningful work.

You don’t need to show every little achievement of yours to the world. Enjoy the experience with yourselves and with your loved ones. That’s central to self-fulfillment.

We have turned ourselves into zombies and instead of enjoying the moment and savoring the experience, we are busy documenting and sharing it with the hope that it would make it more worthwhile. But when we seek external approval and recognition, it often feels empty inside. Rather a good life is inward looking and it is healthy inside.

Young people nowadays are focused on accumulating things and external validation. I think experience is more precious than any kind of material gains because experience remains with us. Similarly, as I mentioned earlier, the meaning of life lies in giving. Young people should serve more.

FS

What are your resolutions for 2018?

MKA

I plan to read more this year.

Modern life is supremely distracting which is detrimental to living a good life. My goal is to find focus and live a focused life.

FS

Social media obsession, a culture of constant external validation, and moral erosion, as you just mentioned, are some of the characteristics of our time and the impact of these characteristics are particularly apparent among our youth. It makes them restless and robs them of mental peace. How do you think young people should approach life in this rather perplexing time?

MKA

Young people nowadays are focused on accumulating things and external validation. I think experience is more precious than any kind of material gains because experience remains with us.
Similarly, as I mentioned earlier, the meaning of life lies in giving. Young people should serve more.

FS

What are some of your favorite books from 2017?

MKA

I began reading a book called World History last year and haven’t finished it yet. Although written by Henry Kissinger, someone I don’t particularly bear any liking for, it’s quite a fascinating read. It documents the history of the modern world that is Eurocentric. There’re also bits about Asian history. It really sheds light on how European ideas and concepts remain domineering in the Asiatic region.

I’ve also read a book called The Advent of Islam in Bengal. I was always curious to know how Islam as a religion became so widespread and popular in a region which was predominantly inhabited by Hindus. The author has illustrated a detailed history of that period. Besides narratives, the book also contains an analysis of historical events.

I have recently grown a fondness for history. I wouldn’t deny that my reading list is not as eclectic as I want it to be.

Another point I’d like to make here, which also goes along with the increasing use of social media, especially Facebook and people’s obsession with showing off, is our relentless need for social approval. This is something that will destroy your sanity and would not allow you to pursue meaningful work. You don’t need to show every little achievement of yours to the world. Enjoy the experience with yourselves and with your loved ones. That’s central to self-fulfillment.

This story is made possible in part by our friends at Dhaka Bank, whose generosity enables us to publish premium stories online at no cost to our readers. Dhaka Bank has introduced an excellent mobile banking app, Dhaka Bank Go. Dhaka Bank Go gives you secure access to your Dhaka Bank Accounts and Credit Cards and other exciting facilities from your mobile devices anytime, anywhere. Explore and enjoy the infinite opportunities. Learn more here.



Notes:

1. Further reading: read our first long-form interview with Mr. Aaref from August 2014 here.

2. Interview by Ruhul Kader, Transcription by Sheikh Rahatil Ashekan

3. Cover photo credit: EMK Center

We Recommend

Type to Search

See all results
Shares
No Subscription? You are Missing Out!

No Subscription? You are Missing Out!

Join the tech and business leaders of Bangladesh who rely on Future Startup’s original reporting and in-depth analysis on business and tech industry of the country. 

Please Confirm Your Email Address By Clicking The Link We Sent To Your Inbox.