In 1999, Graves Manor, a neighbourhood in Memphis, Tennessee in the United States of America was a tough neighbourhood where drug gangs held sway. These gangs sell drugs to teens and youth in the area with no misgivings whatsoever. Tired of seeing the lives of their youthful population wasting away, some residents formed the Memphis Neighbourhood Watch organisation to clean up their 'hood.' The organisation then rolled out a special Violence Reduction Programme for children between five and 17. They provide tutoring and quiet places for homework. They bring in mentors to guide the youth toward imbibing positive value skill-sets. The result after six months was remarkable, there was a radical turnaround; drug use reduced drastically, drug gangs were forced to leave and youths were free to express themselves without being molested by violent gang members.
The lesson here is that it sometimes takes a group, or even an individual to change the mindset of a society. For long, we have held the belief that only the government can solve all our problems with a magic wand. That certainly is not true. This is the tough call Mr. Bamijoko Okupe, an entrepreneur and brand marketing and communications practitioner with over 30 years' experience has taken upon himself to champion. It starts with a 'Mindshift' in the Nigerian and African youth. Mr. Okupe's keen interest and passion for Nation building, transformation and social enterprise made him to participate in the OAKSEED programme of the Institute of National Transformation in 2006.
I met with this 'die-hard' Nigerian recently and the optimism he exudes about Nigeria, Africa and its youth is quite contagious. As the founder of the 'Mindshift Advocacy for Development Initiative,' Okupe already has his work cut out for him. Incorporated on November 28, 2016, the non-partisan, non-governmental organisation aims at re-directing citizens' mindsets from negative mindsets in private lives, societies and nations to positive mindsets that foster meaningful holistic personal, social and national development. The initiative also seeks to activate a radical and positive change in the mindset of the Nigerian - and by extension, African youth - literate and non-literate.
In rolling out this initiative, Mr. Okupe believes strongly that 'the bane of Africa's problems is the mindset of Africans as individuals, communities and nations, about themselves and the mindset of the rest of the world about Africa. The wrong mindset of Africans, which influences the way we do things, has created problems such as lack of visionary and purposeful leadership, bad governance standards, erosion and loss of good value systems, corruption, poor understanding of global issues and how it impacts their lives; unprecedented, never-ending poverty, heavy debt burdens, over dependence on international aids, endless conflicts, inadequate education etc.'
He stressed that every effort geared at re-orientating the citizens with a view to making them develop positive and progressive mindsets as individual, society and at national levels, would put us on the road to meaningful and effective transformation of the continent for sustainable growth and development. This is why: 'The changes we wish to make have more to do with how we think than what we actually do, because thinking patterns ultimately influence actions. We need to get our citizens to embrace positive mindsets that can impact thought and action for our progress and development. We must also lead by example by thinking and acting differently.'
Citing Mr. Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, who once said that Africa's transformational change will first happen at the level of mindsets before it is translated into concrete actions; Okupe firmly believes that Africa's journey of transformation starts with changing how people think. 'It is vital for citizens of all ages and social classes to have the right mindset because they are the ones who would be actively involved in the day-to-day actions that bring about sustainable transformation.'
In his determination to put his best foot forward, he agrees with the late Martin Luther King that 'Rarely do we find men who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions.' These 'easy answers and half-baked solutions' are what the initiative is out to challenge viciously because 'a popular old Chinese proverb says the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. If we want success and growth in the future, the best time to act is now! The number one strategic tool for transformation is to change how people think! Transformational change happens at the level of mindsets.'
A further rationalisation for targeting the youth - and others - is because they are the most critical and active component of the population that is required to drive progress and development of any society. Studies have shown that about 60% of Nigeria's population is the youth and the number is still growing. To this end, he is bent on creating a broad based, youth driven movement, aimed at the transformation of human minds towards desiring and doing good for mankind - especially for Nigerians - to create a more developed, progressive and enduring society.
On what lies ahead, the initiative's mission includes empowering citizens with relevant knowledge and enlightenment to provoke 'mindshifts' from negative to positive mindsets; citizens' re-orientation and promotion of values to engender responsible citizenship in mindset, attitude and behaviour; initiate and motivate citizens to partake in action-oriented initiatives that will positively impact self, society and nation and to foster fruitful interaction between governments and citizens to engender more productive relationship between government and citizens.
In order to achieve these, the initiative has in place well-articulated key focus areas toward its agenda. These areas are: family and society, government and politics, education, business and economy, media, arts and entertainment, innovation and technology, religion, culture, and health and wellness. Additionally, it will approach this systematically through social research, targeted issues campaigns, action-oriented initiatives, knowledge sharing, events, and public discourse platforms.
According to the late American management consultant, educator and author, Peter Ferdinand Drucker: 'Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…Within a few short decades, society rearranges itself - its world view; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions. Fifty years later there is a new world. And the people born then cannot even imagine the world in which their grandparents lived and into which their own parents were born.' Though using the West as a springboard, we can hardly fault his submission as 21st century events have clearly shown.
Progress and development are functions of the mind therefore our actions are manifestations of our mental constructs. These actions can be expressed in different forms, including body language. Of course these actions are informed by values and these values can be positive or negative. But to propagate progress and development we must examine the minds of our youths vis-à-vis their disposition to the prevailing values in order to intervene for the collective good. As a system we are stuck, hence, this is the time for a new model to navigate our way forward toward progress and development.
There is, therefore, the need for a radical change in perspectives beyond the traditional way of looking at leadership, the economy, religion and other aspects of life because the context in which our present leaders - both in public and private sectors - operate is less desirable. However, leadership is to be responsible; and responsibility is not about age.
Society, as we are aware, is made up of individuals with varying backgrounds. These individuals are associated with different religions, manners, festivals, literature, customs and traditions etc. The condensed form of all these elements is what is known as culture. It thus takes a long time to form the society and its culture. The various element of the culture that is bound to provide the welfare of human kind and surroundings are called societal norms and values.
If we are honest with ourselves we'd mostly agree that all is not well with our nation and that the values we once held dear sadly belongs in another era. This is the major reason I'm aligning with the vision of the mindshift initiative - especially as it relates to the youth, my constituency - to cause a paradigm shift.
© Pakistan Press International, source Asianet-Pakistan