by Nma Chinaza Agada
I once volunteered about four years ago, with a non-profit organization whose objective was to empower about 1000 Nigerian women to be millionaires in USD within a certain time frame. Their business model was such that low income earners in the agriculture value chain, transport industries would form cooperative societies, develop business plans and strategies and then vie for grants and low- interest loans to the tune of millions of Naira. It was a huge deal. The founder of the organization who is a quintessential media mogul had great dreams for these African women and a few men that had been admitted into the organization.
Prior to this time, I had started blogging and developing the scope of the objectives of The Negrifille Enterprise. It was supposed to be an organization geared towards being a hub that provides young African women with knowledge-based resources needed to accelerate their personal and career development through innovative content. You can now see why the activities of this non-profit would interest me. They were growing rapidly and had a blossoming network of women in the South-East especially Owerri, Enugu, Uyo and Calabar.
What piqued my interest was the fact that high profile women and their kids who did not “seem” to have need for the loans worth between thousands to a few millions of naira began flooding the group. With this influx came the politics and social constructs typical of Nigerian socio-cultural associations. These meetings, being hosted at my mother’s gym at the time, had turned into editions of the popular August Meeting where Christian mothers played partisan politics, indulged materialistic tendencies and vied voraciously for roles that would make them appear superior to their peers. There’d be shouting contexts followed by clique breakout sessions, people fired from roles for the pettiest reasons and the almighty “Do you have space for my daughter?” menace that reigns supreme in our society.
Here was an opportunity for these women and men who would otherwise have been left to the mercy of the unresponsive government, to plug into sustainable development goals and ride on this platform to build their dreams for the sake of causes bigger than themselves. However, they were mostly just hungry people, either in the literal sense or in relation to power. Consultants were present crafting resumes and business plans for the illiterates amongst them, seminars were held in honor of the founder, progress was being made with the sponsors and banks but beyond all of that, I saw how all of these would not work, at least not in a sustainable manner.
These were adults, many of whom were over the 40-year mark and laden with experiences that had crystallized into traits, habits, beliefs and aspirations. Years of auto-suggestion and hetero-suggestion had rendered them set in their ways and it was a herculean task to get them to plug into agendas that were alien to these past experiences. It was there that I realized two vital things that came to refine my intentions for my objectives for The Negrifille Enterprise and indeed my aspirations for social impact.
- Formative and Transition Periods cannot be overemphasized in the development of individuals and developmental initiatives are most productive at these phases
- There is such a thing as deconstruction and it is just as vital as the Learning Process.
I couldn’t help but think that if certain values and belief systems had been addressed and instilled in these women at younger ages, they might have had the presence of mind to apply themselves more constructively and in a more wholesome manner than they portrayed. In fact, there probably would have been no need for a number of them to participate in the program as beneficiaries because they may have been empowered with the knowledge that it requires to have exceeded their current socio-economic statuses. On the other hand, they would have recognized the intended value proposition of the program and aligned themselves accordingly.
At that time, I was in my final year of University but had a more robust understanding of the end goal of this financing opportunity. Because of my exposure and education (not just in the narrow sense of pen and paper knowledge), I had more vision both in the spatial and linear sense than women who had a wealth of years behind them.
People are more malleable in their formative ages and more flexible during transitional periods, these are some of the factors that the family and educational systems should take paramount. Between ages 8 and 19, I had attended a host of summer camps, mentoring programs, model United Nations conference, leadership and career seminars and workshops where a number of social constructs had been addressed and value re-orientation occurred. On the other hand, these were adults who had evolved in spaces that had fostered financial indiscipline, emotional illiteracy and all sorts of stereotypes. Little wonder, cliques emerged with roles and functions in the organization becoming tools with which these excesses were brandished.
It seems as though we underestimate the propensity of children and youth to embody certain levels of consciousness only to realize by the time we are ready to instill them that these now grown individuals are now unresponsive and set in their ways. Unfortunately, very little institutions are given to undertaking enormous task of guiding these individuals through a phase of deconstruction before trying to install new “software”. The most sustainable way to navigate this development cycle is to be proactive in engaging the minds of young ones in all facets that allow for them to stretch their boundaries within the context of progressive values. The alternative is a consequence which we must partake in unless we can afford to deal with a system where innovation, redress and evolution do not work or render certain groups even more dysfunctional simply because you cannot “erect a house on an already existing building” without fundamental changes.
The crux of the matter was that the program made no room for deconstruction – unlearning values, habits and relinquishing belief systems that will create room for mindfulness and progressive values associated with the program to thrive. Do you ever consider that the person that you are trying to teach simply cannot learn because well, there isn’t space to absorb and utilize the knowledge you’re looking to dispense? While pro-activity is key in considering systems to be deployed during the formative ages, our society and its development-seeking arms must make room for deconstruction to be a thing in driving change especially with the more aged individuals in the society. Although you may not be able to tear down all the walls of individuals’ experiences, especially when dealing with a group of people, for any growth or enhancement program to work viably, it must build into its curriculum, a process or experience that allows people to reverse the effects or at least their interpretations of their experiences to the point that what you offer can be accepted firstly for its intended purpose and then for its peculiar benefits to them. If the latter is more emphasized, then it will be easier to abuse its intended purpose because their beliefs, behavioral traits or expectations may not be aligned.
If a society such as ours, in which unwholesome values have crystallized into nearly all facets of life can be reformed, then all social, religious, political and economic systems including family units must come to admit that deconstruction is a “thing” and must carry out their affairs with consideration for it as it applies to the peculiarity of beneficiaries of their activities. With this in mind, systems will be reformed, costs saved and lives changed because we will be more mindful of our approaches to people’s experiences and our expectations of them. Outcomes and goals will be decided upon more rationally and growth can be achieved in a more sustainable context.