Dr Ola Brown-Orekunrin
As 2020, comes to a close, many of us are contemplating our new years resolutions, what we can do better, what we want to improve, what we want to achieve.
Atedo Peterside is one of this year’s heroes for me and millions of other young people across the country. But no one has yet been able to put into words why so many young people feel this way. I will explain it.
Its because he saw you.
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The first time I realised that there are people we come across everyday that we don’t really see, was when I read ‘Born on a Tuesday’ by El Nathan John. The story he narrates in ‘Born on a Tuesday’ centers on a young man called Dantala. Dantala is a fictional character, whose life mirrors one of of the millions of young people across Nigeria who exist as statistics, not real people.
The book took an Almajri boy, invisible to most people and gave him dreams, aspirations and the same sort of drama that we have in our personal relationships. The book changed my life. Every time I drive through Northern Nigeria and see the swathes of Almajri I ‘see them’, like Dantala. As people.
To a few of the older Nigerian elite, despite the fact that over 50% of the population are under 40, we are inconvenient statistics, only useful as tools for their own ends. I can remember meeting one of my many male role models a few years ago, I was so excited to finally connect with someone that I had followed for over decade.
I looked forward to the mentorship and potential shared business conversations we could have…like in his TV interviews, but in real life. I was shocked to find that all he wanted to do was make sexual advances. I tried to navigate each conversation back to business, but when I did, he got angry.
Eventually, my respect and awe dissipated to the point that I was able to be honest with myself. I was the only one that thought of myself as a human being with aspirations and dreams of my own.
I read my own profile/academic achievements feeling proud of the work I have put in, but understanding the huge amount of work yet to be done. He barely saw me at all. He viewed me like many Nigerians view Almajiri kids like Dantala. ‘The daughter of a poor person’. At best, a toy/tool, not a person.
That’s why there is normally a sense of shock when I post the breakdown of Nigerian household income. Many upper middle class Nigerians don’t like to think that there are so many people (the survivors and the ultra poor) that they simple don’t see.
Back in 2019, at a meeting organised by the CBN, Atedo Peterside, used an opportunity that he could have used to further his own business interests, to speak out for young people. To make sure that the faces that usually go unseen could be recognized and counted in a national conversation. Watch the video here: https://youtu.be/sV6CB6bJKKA
In another interview a few months ago, he again, centered his entire interview on young people. His focus on the role young people have in national affairs again gave young people a face. His words show how he seems to believe in young people more than we even believe in ourselves: https://youtu.be/sPIho4eGeKo
Researchers Simon Baddeley and Kim James, describe four types of people that exist in a organization/society. They are sheep, donkeys, owls and foxes. The two states on the left, donkey and fox, are both characterised by selfish, self-interested behaviour. The difference is in how well the political manoeuvring is carried out: ‘fox’ behaviour is adept, and ‘donkey’ behaviour is not.
In the bottom right, ‘sheep’ behaviour will not harm others. Sheep act with integrity, in a way consistent with their values. Unfortunately, however, they will struggle to get anything done, as they are not politically savvy or emotionally intelligent enough to understand the system in which they operate.
In the top right quadrant is the ‘ideal’: political awareness used as a force for good in the organisation/society, and not for self-interest. This is described as ‘wise’ or ‘owl’ behaviour.
A number of the wealthy, influential Nigerians I know, use their influence, power and platforms solely to further their own interests and the interests of their children. This is normal, fair and completely expected. They are foxes. Its easy to be a fox. Our society in Nigeria, breeds fox-like behavior. But famous New York Stern Professor, Scott Galloway said something in a recent blog post that I am going to quote here, he says
‘The fastest blue-line path to a better world isn’t economic growth or a better phone, but more of us becoming irrationally passionate about the wellbeing of a child that isn’t our own’.
If you have been wondering why Atedo Peterside is different. Scott Galloway, sums it up in that sentence. He is irrationally passionate about the wellbeing of children that are not his own. He ‘sees’ and defends the interests in the ‘Dantalas’ of this world in a way I have never seen before. He is an owl. That is so rare.
Scott Galloway goes on to say in the same blog that:
‘Most mammals will give their lives defending their offspring. What makes us human is not just opposable thumbs, but also our ability to cooperate. Cooperation draws on things that are uniquely human, like speech, culture, and long childhoods. One of the most noble forms of cooperation that advances the species is caring for those that aren’t biologically yours’
One of the main takeaways from billionaire Tony Hsieh’s book, which I have seen many people reflect on since his death is that empathy can be scalable, kindness can work hand in hand with massive value creation and that business can be a force for good in the world. I never met Tony, but Atedo Peterside has and continues to live this philosophy.
I once asked Atedo’s wife; an executive coach (with a background in Psychology), how I could run my business and my life more like her husband. How I could ensure that my business wasn’t purely about accumulation of wealth, but I too wanted to live a life of impact. She paused, maybe finding it ironic that a young woman who was barely 30, had such lofty aspirations.
Then she told me that Atedo Peterside, didn’t become Atedo Peterside in a day. But that he had, and still has the discipline to develop and learn everyday. She said the best thing I could do is commit to this daily discipline of becoming better everyday, because nearly ‘all skills, even the ones you think are natural, are learnable with focus’-Dudun Peterside.
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So I have committed in 2021, to ‘see’ more Nigerian’s/Africans, to live my values everyday and to a discipline that allows me to use whatever influence I have to improve the lives of others across the African continent, but especially in Nigeria.
I invite you to take this journey with me in 2021. A daily discipline of trying to become a little better, kinder, more empathetic and more creative everyday. If we all make this commitment in the words of Atedo Peterside ‘we can turn this ship around, do not despair’.
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