On May 14, Tasleem Thawar will be joining PEN Canada as our Executive Director. Newsletter editor Kelly Rankin asks Tasleem to tell our membership a little about herself, and her plans.
Kelly Rankin: What attracted you to working for PEN Canada?
Tasleem Thawar: I’ve always been interested in the free exchange of ideas – I think that exchanging ideas is the only way that societies can progress. The opportunity to work with PEN Canada on defending freedom of expression was therefore very compelling. The timing was also exciting for me: the world is changing quickly and there are lots of implications for PEN Canada and its work. There are big questions to answer: Who is defined as a writer today? How do we advocate most effectively in an online world? How can we create a national conversation about freedom of expression? The internet has meant that though ideas can spread further and more quickly than ever before, there are also more opportunities than ever for free speech to be curtailed. I find the landscape in which PEN Canada is working fascinating, and one of the things that intrigued me was working with a great group of people to explore this new terrain.
KR: Your background is varied—a family history in India and Africa, a graduate degree from the London School of Economics, work experiences in Japan, India, England and Canada. How will this inform your work as Executive Director?
TT: These varied experiences have changed the way I approach the world, and they have made me relentlessly curious about where the work I do fits into the bigger picture, both in my writing and my consulting. Working with not-for-profits and foundations has also made me very interested in how to create organizations that are creative and innovative, and that operate seamlessly. I hope to approach my work as Executive Director of PEN Canada with the same curiosity about our place in the world, and I’m very interested in continuing to build an organization that defends freedom of expression in creative and innovative ways.
The internet has meant that though ideas can spread further and more quickly than ever before, there are also more opportunities than ever for free speech to be curtailed. I find the landscape in which PEN Canada is working fascinating, and one of the things that intrigued me was working with a great group of people to explore this new terrain.
KR: What key challenges does PEN Canada face in 2012?
TT: That’s a good question, and one for which I don’t have a complete answer yet. I imagine that as I step into the role, new challenges will emerge. The staff has done a fantastic job recently without an Executive Director, and I think the big challenge now is working with them, the board, and the membership to create a vision for moving forward. This will involve exploring some of the themes I’ve mentioned, learning how PEN in other parts of the world is addressing its work, and creating innovative partnerships with other organizations in Canada that are asking similar questions.
KR: What do you think are the organization’s greatest assets, and how can we use them better?
TT: Like any organization, perhaps even more so, I believe that PEN Canada’s greatest assets are its people. PEN Canada has been punching way above its weight—I was amazed to discover that all the great work that PEN Canada does is the result of so few resources. Clearly, the talent and passion of everyone involved have been instrumental in this. The thoughtfulness that goes into PEN Canada’s work is also unique, and I’m excited to work with a board, staff, and membership made up of so many writers. I think that one of the big questions that we’ll be looking at in the next year is exactly the question you’re asking: How can PEN Canada engage with its membership in ways that are fruitful and thought-provoking in order to help PEN Canada achieve its mission?
KR: What would you most like PEN’s membership to know about you?
TT: I’m truly excited to be able to work with PEN Canada over the coming years. I love debate and conversation and am always interested in new and creative ideas, and suggestions for making things work better. I’m also interested in different perspectives on the challenges and opportunities for PEN Canada, so please feel free to get in touch!
Tasleem Thawar can be reached by email: tthawar(at)pencanada.ca, or by phone: 416 703 8448 x24.
Photo: Krist Papas