Blog: Keeping it simple

In keeping with the title of this blog, check out these ward profiles I put together at work.

Previously, these were 20-page documents (for each ward) “summarising” the key facts.

I’m not trained in infographics so this is the best I could do using a combination of Microsoft Powerpoint, Excel and infogr.am.

Let me know what you think! It’s meant some other departments are now asking me to help them summarise some of their key information (finance and complaints in particular!)

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Blog: My interview for The Careers Group, University of London

In my capacity as Fellow of the UpRising programme, I have recently been interviewed by the University of London Careers Group. I’m an alumnus of the University of London (undergrad and Masters both from there) an I jumped at the chance to speak about UpRising – a programme that I am incredibly proud to be associated with.

The full transcript is here: http://www.careers.lon.ac.uk/blog/development/index.php/2013/02/06/the-uprising-leadership-programme/

The UpRising Leadership Programme is enabling 19-25 year olds to change their communities for the better as well as giving their CVs an edge. We spoke to Queen Mary and UpRising alumnus and Fellow, Eshaan Akbar about the impact UpRising made on him.

How did you hear about UpRising? I came across their leaflet during a brief internship for MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, Rushanara Ali. The internship was part of a process for me moving from the banking career I had gone into after my Queen Mary degree in economics,finance and management, into a more public policy oriented role. What impressed me about the programme – which Rushanara had helped create as part of The Young Foundation – was the way it combined a curriculum of support with a practical project which made a real difference in the communities participants wanted to engage with. I was particularly interested in the political context in which community change can happen and I was impressed by the fact that all three party leaders are patrons of the UpRising programme.

So what are the main elements of the programme? Well the web site gives the best summary but there are learning sessions, mentoring and networking events and a community project. The learning sessions include ‘inside view’ visits to key organisations such as parliament and the BBC, a leadership retreat (this was two days in Roffey Park – fantastic fun and transformational). The programme really helps you create far reaching networks of in myriad industries you simply aren’t aware of normally. In my banking career I had a network of high net worth celebrities who were my clients, but what I developed through UpRising was a network of purposeful and powerful individuals – powerful in the sense that they were people who were able to get things done.

What were the highlights of the programme for you? Well I was sufficiently impressed by the programme as a whole to continue to be involved as one of the selected ‘Fellows’. The programme had a really big impact. Firstly in introducing me to the whole arena of journalism. This came about from a visit to the offices of The Guardian. We were introduced to the ‘Comment Is Free’ editor who agreed to consider a piece I wrote. They then printed it which gave me the confidence to shape my UpRising project around the written word but also to develop a portfolio of articles published in newspapers like The Times, The Observer as well as The Guardian on issues like racism, economics and social issues. I’m due to do a placement at Sky News shortly and ITV news after that.

Other highlights of the programme included getting a talk on effective public speaking by Tony Blair’s speechwriter and having a roundtable discussion in The Cabinet Meeting Room with Nick Clegg The ‘Retreat’ at Roffey Park was brilliant. This centre normally charges corporate clients thousands of pounds for the weekend retreat and we got it for free. What it gave us was a brilliant developmental weekend that was both great fun and a foundation to our practical programmes – a key part of the UpRising experience. In my case I and a team of UpRisers had a project that was founded on using the power of the written word to help young people communicate issues of concern to them. The project had a strong after life and developed into the You Press initiative http://weareyoupress.blogspot.co.uk/, taken on by other members of the programme.

Is the programme hard to get on? Well, it is competitive but, on the other hand it is expanding to other cities in the UK. What they principally look for is passion and a commitment to making a difference in local communities. Just as they provide the networks for participants, it is up to participants to use these networks to better their own communities.

Blog: Twenty Thirteen

After that “Summer of Sport”, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and those fireworks over London (11 minutes!), 2013 is finally upon us. And before you can say “damn, that went quick”, 1 January is coming to an end.

It’s clichéd to make New Year’s Resolutions. This time, I’m going for something a little different. A friend recently reminded me how we are all creatures of habit. We exist by pretty much doing the same thing over and over again – ordering the same food, waking up at the same time during the week, having the same routine etc. So my aim is to change at least 1 habit a month (12 habits of the year). The idea being that, over time, what were “bad” habits will be come “good” habits. And eventually, they’d be subject to review too!

One of the habits I definitely want to change is to write more – particularly as my stint at Sky News is now only 4 weeks away. I need to get into the habit of finding something interesting to write about and writing about it. We’ll see how that goes – I had intended to write my first article today about how Britain owes it to itself to be more honest about its limitations in today’s world if it is to stand any chance of “success” in 2013 – but, believe it or not, Ribena came in the way.

Yes you read correctly. Ribena. A Ribena spillage on my Mac meant I spent the whole of today backing everything up on an external hard drive (this takes a long time if you don’t do it regularly). The £600+ repair cost moved me to take decisive action but, since then, the Mac seems to be running ok, save for the random crash here and there and a very slow shutdown time. I may well be in the market for a new laptop in a couple of days pending the outcome of a diagnostic test from one of those local “telecommunications” shops run by Pakistanis. He’s pretty confident he can do a decent job for a fraction of the price…! Gotta love their entrepreneurial spirit – so we’ll see how that works out.

I’m gonna head off and watch Match of the Day now (ManYoo put 4 past Wigan and we’re still top..come on you Reds!) but that GB piece I mentioned earlier is definitely in the pipeline.

Happy New Year and here’s to a fun year of me writing and you reading!

Thanks 🙂

Blog: 10 things I learned…from Istanbul

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I went to Istanbul recently for a bit of a break.  What a great city it is.  I stayed in an area called Sultanahmet where the main Istanbul sights are – the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and the Grand Bazaar – as well as the Cemberlitas Hamami (Turkish Bath).  I wrote a review of the excellent Sultans Royal Hotel I stayed at on TripAdvisor.

I could tell you about all the wonderful things I did, saw and ate during my 4-day, 5-night stay in Istanbul but I thought I’d do something a little different.  Here are 10 things I learned from my time in Istanbul – read and make use of it as you please!

Stray cats are much more pleasant than stray dogs

Everywhere I walked, I saw cats.  Regardless of whether they were rummaging through a bin or sitting on the altar at Hagia Sofia (there was one!) they were pristine and spotless.  Even if you walked up to them, they wouldn’t flinch.  As far as stray anythings go, cats are definitely my favourite.

Fresh fish sandwiches are the future of food

Eminonu is the main port area where the Bosphorus Cruise sets off and is just opposite the Egyptian Spice Market.  Just before setting off on the cruise, I noticed crowds of people in front of 2 boats.  I decided to have a look and realised the crowd were munching away on fresh fish sandwiches at 5TL (about £1.70) a piece.  When I say fresh, I mean fresh.  The fish are caught, simply grilled, very quickly de-boned and stuffed into turkish bread with some salad.  You can buy pickles separately and there are people walking around with drink cans in their hand for you to buy.  I stuck with the sandwich and it was, simply, excellent.  The Eminonu Fish Sandwich boat was definitely a culinary highlight of my stay.

British kebabs are tastier than Turkish ones

Foodies amongst you are probably crying in your soup at this one but it’s true.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown accustomed to the taste of Anglo-Turkish food, but the kebabs in Turkey just…aren’t that great.  Best Kebab House on Chadwell Heath Lane is still the best (or for a Bangladeshi take on it, go to Spice Hut opposite Stepney Green station..amazing!) for a doner.  In Turkey, you won’t even get garlic sauce!

Don’t buy anything from the Grand Bazaar

Now, this might be a controversial one.  The Grand Bazaar has over 4,000 shops in it but here’s the thing – there are 1,000 ceramic shops, 1,000 jewellery shops, 1,000 fake handbag shops and another 1,000 general souvenir shops (with turkish delights, tea sets etc.).  Those aren’t specific numbers of course, but that’s pretty much what it felt like.  Despite going in at 11am, I was invariably “the first customer of the day, so good price to bring good luck” according to the shopkeepers.  As it is a major tourist attraction, there’s a 20-25% premium on the prices and the quality isn’t always that great as each shopkeeper is clamouring over the other for business.  Of course, there’s no substitute for being in the hustle ‘n’ bustle and history of the place but, given that I found most of the gifts I bought at a fraction of the price on Isteklal Caddesi (see next point), the Grand Bazaar was a lot of style with little substance…!

Isteklal Caddesi is the best shopping street…ever

Istanbul’s answer to Oxford Street can be found after a hell of a steep walk past the Galata tower.  There’s a single train that runs through the street from one end of it to the other.  It had all the designer shops you’d expect as well as normal tourist shops and a selection of lovely restaurants.  I went there on an early evening with some light rain and the buzz of the place was just fantastic.  Definitely worth a visit – and in the rain – for a taste of metropolitan Istanbul.

Turkish Baths are NOT for the faint-hearted

Don’t do it if you’re body-conscious/don’t want someone to knead your torso like it’s dough/don’t fancy being dragged all over hot marble stone/prefer drinking alcohol to feel tipsy instead of having bones and muscles you didn’t know existed giving you pins ‘n’ needles.

Never tell a shopkeeper you’ll be back later…

As my hotel was right next to the main “Old Istanbul” sights, I had the pleasure of walking through the Arasta Bazaar every day.  It really is the cutest little bazaar and at the end of it, when the evening sets in, you’ll hear the sounds of live Turkish music and smells from exotic shisha pipes at the main cafe there.  There are also loads of shops (not just here, but everywhere in Istanbul).  So, naturally, as a shopper you want to look around and, as shopkeepers, they want you to buy from their shop.  So when I told one particular shopkeeper “I’ll be back” knowing I’d pass the shop on my way back to the hotel, he wagged his finger at me, vein popping out of his neck and said through clenched teeth, “I KNOW WHAT YOU ARRRREEEE”.  Not doing that again.

London definitely needs a tram service

I could pretty much walk everywhere I needed to, but I made the odd journey by tram.  It was such a pleasant experience.  They were air conditioned, regular and simple to navigate.  Best of all, it was very very cheap.  With an Istanbulkart (their Oyster card equivalent), each single journey was 1.95 TL (around 70p).  Despite Istanbul being a very busy city, traffic easily negotiated the trams (and vice versa), whilst it made the city feel a lot more cosmopolitan.  I really think London should have something similar.

Just because someone is old, doesn’t mean they’re not useful

At home, the rise in the retirement age has been the source of great angst for most of the population.  There seems to be this feeling that above a certain number, human beings cease to become useful or able to do anything.  Not so in Turkey.  From the old man sweeping away rainwater at Topkapi Palace to keep it as fresh possible, to other members of the elderly fraternity selling bits ‘n’ bobs on their stalls, everyone was busy.  I don’t doubt that a lot of these people had to do this to make ends meet and, whilst that is sad (let’s be honest, pensions pots now or in the future ain’t gonna keep any of us comfortable…!) it highlighted that this generation is able – and on the whole willing – to work.  Let people retire when they wish to.

Trust is a novel thing in a big city

As a Londoner who uses the Tube pretty much every day of the week, I’m used to everyone being miserable.  I’m also used to the idea that nobody really trusts anybody else around them – myself included.  It’s not a city where people look out for one another.  But in Istanbul, the level of trust I saw and felt was remarkable.  When buying my Istanbulkart from a small stall owner, whose other products were cigarette lighters, keyrings and nail clippers, he told me to wait for 5 minutes as he went off and topped up the card for me.  I waited and in that time, 2 more people arrived wanting to buy a cigarette lighter.  Now, they could easily have walked off with one but no, they waited for what ended up being about 7-8 minutes until the small stall owner returned and handed over my card.  That would never happen in London.  And it should.

Blog: Failed promises…but new opportunities

The last time I wrote on this blog (2 October 2012), I said I was back.

Clearly, I haven’t been.  “Why Eshaan?! Why?!” I hear you scream.  “Why did you build our hopes up this way?”  I have no answer for that my friend.  I really don’t.  But I’ll try and explain some of it.

After my last post, I spent a couple of weeks still recovering from that broken wrist.  I did go to work but all that typing really wasn’t good for me and, as a result, the recovery took a little longer than expected.

In that time, my mum started studying after 36 painful years of looking after her family.  I’ve been encouraging her to do this for about 7 years, and it was great when she finally took the plunge to do a Certificate in Higher Education in Legal Methods at Birkbeck College (where I did my Masters) with a view to studying Law after its completion.  Helping her make that transition has been inspiring, heart-warming and, at times, incredibly funny.  Soon after starting, she said, “Everyone keeps saying I need to Google this or Google that…what’s my Google?”  When I explained it helps you search websites to find information on anything you need, she asked, quite practically I feel, “how many websites are there?”

You see, my mother is frightfully intelligent.  She had to grow up pretty quickly and can see the wood from the trees better than anyone I know.  But put the internet in front of her and she’ll wilt like spinach.  She is the ultimate technophobe and believes, and I mean genuinely believes, that the pace of technological advancement will leave too many people behind resulting in a mass uprising and societal oblivion.  It’s a compelling argument.

So the technological expectations of modern-day study has been a culture shock for her.  And her old school approach of taking notes upon notes upon notes and hand writing essays (my brother has typed these up for her to date) has been a culture shock for other students on her course.  But nevertheless, she enjoys learning and I’m incredibly proud of her.

Early in November I went to Istanbul for a week’s holiday.  What a wonderful city.  I’ve got a little blog piece lined up about my travels there but it won’t be a typical travel log…so look out for that!

And finally, I recently lined up a 3-week stint with the weekend team at Sky News HD in February 2013.  I’m really excited by this opportunity as broadcasting is something I’ve always wanted to do.  In fact, I’ve had to put up with jibes of “You look like Krishnan (Guru-Murthy, Channel 4 broadcaster)” my whole professional life – my white colleagues lazy attempt to find a celebrity look-alike for me you see.

So I have been pretty busy but that’s still no acceptable excuse for breaking a promise.  I won’t be making any promises this time – except to myself to say that I’ll try much harder to post more regularly!

Blog: I’m back…?

Hello readers!

I know you’ve all been wondering where on earth I’ve disappeared to (just work with me…I like to think people care what I have to say…)

You may remember, I had a stint at The Observer (where I had a few things published and bylined – woo!) and immediately after was caught in the whirlwind that was my brother’s 18th birthday.  I made a return to the stage with a few dances but was particularly busy with the dance choreography of 16 of his friends – all non-Asian – in what proved to be a quite remarkable spectacle of community cohesion in Dagenham.

Since that day 2 weeks ago, I’ve been nursing what I think is a broken wrist (another x-ray coming up soon), catching up with work and, just this weekend, was diagnosed with shingles (eurgh!).

As you can gather it’s all been a bit of a blur.  That said, I’ve still kept my eye out on things that have been happening in the world and there’s so much to say!

So this is me saying I’m back – I hope to have a few things on this blog over the next few weeks and, as always, am grateful to you for taking the time to read and comment.

Blog: Bollywood, The Observer and more…

I know I haven’t written in a while.   I have been incredibly busy at work, not least because I’ve been winding down there ahead of my two-week stint at The Observer New Review (which started today) and with preparation for my brother’s 18th birthday bash in September.  We’re doing a typically Asian OTT Bollywood extravaganza, which means I’m making a return to choreography AND dancing!

I was very kindly put forward for the placement a few months ago and today wandered into the impressive Guardian offices on York Way.  My internship coordinator has been incredibly helpful and they seem to think I have “writing experience” given my previously published pieces, both with The Guardian and other publications.  This has meant they’re at a bit of a loss as to what to do with me!

I’ll keep you posted on developments at The Observer and hope to have pieces published in due course.

In other news, I’ve decided to cycle part of my 30-mile journey to work.  I’m contemplating starting a separate blog dedicated to my bike riding exploits but, given the irregularity of my posts here, I’ll probably wait to see if I can blog about it here first!

So here’s to more articles, Bollywood and bike riding!