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Friday, November 27, 2009

Reflections on self-branding on Eid

You like it or leave it, the moment you step out of the country, you unknowingly become the accidental spokesperson on behalf of your country, religion, customs etc. Although you might not ever have taken (or cleared) the BCS (Bangladesh Civil Services) examinations and thus never was placed as the Bangladeshi High Commissioner through the Foreign Services to represent the Red and Green on foreign territories.
Nevertheless, the way you look, your name, gestures and ofcourse the green passport oblige (or burden?) you with this unavoidable job of being the brand ambassador of Bangladesh (and sometimes that of Islam, incase you have an Islamic name). I have countered questions on issues such as sharing of natural gas between India and Bangladesh and how it could escalate in case of the latter’s refusal and what are MY views on this, why many Bangladeshis still support a particular country’s teams in cricket (even when playing on Bangladeshi soil) with whom we had a bitter past history and what do I think about it? Also questions if I know or not much about micro-credit or Dr. Yunus, especially after he brought Bangladesh to some positive global limelight, refreshing change from the typical branding of the land of floods, famines and fundamentalists. Say today I came wearing a Panjabi Payjama on Eid at work much to the bemusement of my colleagues who were enlightened by my short speech on the essence of this day, why Muslims do what they do on this day etc. etc. etc. However, the key question that came from the audience: Why are Eids not as visible and as more like a social festival (like Christmas, Diwali etc.) rather than strictly a religious one? Stay tuned for my next post on 'Branding politics and religion'.

So even if I liked it or not, I have discovered myself unknowingly in situations over the last 10 years, where I had to be equipped with the basic knowledge of a spokesperson to counter questions on culture, politics, religion concerning Bangladesh. Which again reconfirms the fact that all my identities exist (Bangladeshi, Bengali, Muslim) and they are NOT mutually exclusive, but exist in that order of identity preference.

So inspite of your personal qualifications and earnest efforts to naturalize (or hide, deny etc.) yourself to host country environments, chances are that you might encounter situations where you happen to be the only spokesperson for the Bangla brand around, so pretending not to exist, saying ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ are expensive opportunities lost to convey a positive message about the country brand. As foreigners think of you as the face of the stories (mostly negative) they read about Bangladesh, about Muslims in general in newspapers, TV, online etc. So whether you would add garbage to the already distorted image or would promote it with a mix of your personality and knowledge, is entirely your decision, but albeit an important one. Just keep in mind that whatever you say, does have an effect on your fellow community member. And since the digital media, social networks are bringing down physical borders and allowing the globalisation Tsunami, you are no more just an ordinary individual sitting at the comfort of your lounge at home or abroad and trying to be everybody everytime. Even though you are not a BCS cadre of foreign services, you are in a good position to do the job those civil servants-turned-bureaucrats-turned-airheads were supposed to do any ways, but they never did.

Moral of the story: If you have a strong country brand, you are benefitted personally and professionally too on global stage, especially abroad. If it’s the opposite, your personal accomplishments are prone to be generalized and stereotyped. Solution: Brand yourself, don’t forget the country too. Speak and carry yourself like a brand ambassador, not like a politician or a religious guru. EID Mubarak!!

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