Mindfulness – The Return to Innocence

The work of the mind is thought. Our ability to entertain multiple thoughts comfortably at once makes the mind the virtue that it is. In a complex world, you want to be able to process things rapidly, connect dots, make meaning, decipher things, and work around concurrent tasks. A great mind simplifies the complex and make living less tedious. Yet, the virtue, when it starts to sink in the unending complex and simple tasks that the world never stops throwing at it, it may start to grit in its own way. 

Often , as I get to oversee several things I work on, I am in constant battle to keep my mind in a single place. Trying to manage all the progress and obstacles from one mind soon starts to take it toll on productivity. As a person who cares much about my productivity, that is a problem. So I started to work on it. 


There’s a mundane saying that makes a lot of sense.


While washing dishes one should be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing dishes.


Nhat Hanh

As shorter version goes

While washing the dishes, wash the dishes.


I think this is the simplest description of mindfulness you will find or the simplest prescription. There are certain tasks that you cannot simply take your mind off. Driving, operating a heavy machinery and so on. For something as mundane as washing a plate, your mind is likelier to wander. Keeping the mind on the plates, noticing the swashes of water around the sink and the lather as it replaces the particles in the plates and then get washed away itself, that suddenly becomes less easy.  In my early trials, I lamented failing at that, as I continued to work on the workings of my mind.

With a few more readings, I gathered that not only are almost all minds meant to wander, the task of mindfulness is in constantly returning the mind to the present. That was a breather.  So I started to practice that instead. I worked on constantly returning my mind to the present.

Why is this even important at all? I think we start to lose the magic of life when we do not wait to experience it. Mindlessness makes an experience less fulfilling. I think you age faster, because everything seems to be at a speed where you are constantly behind, constantly trying to catch up. Thinking about that alone is tiring. To fully enjoy the gift of life, we need to be keep our mind on it as it happens. We need to be able to witness the emergence, discovery, happening, lingering and the passing of things, and of the people that are within and without us.  

Mindfulness may also be connected to gratitude. When you lose sight of your present and your mind is always in the future, you are less likely to be appreciative of the things that your past has given you. Gratitude is looking backwards, and at the present and coming to full realization of the gifts that you have and being appreciative of them. You cannot be grateful for the future because your gratitude will be inaccurate. Therefore, returning the mind to the present deals the mind the capacity to be fully grateful. Given that we return our gratitude both to the supernatural and the people around us, mindfulness means we can also improve our relationships with people, because we become fully aware of how supportive they may have been to us. And in the case where they or we have been toxic, we come to a proper realization of this and do our best to form bonds that only moves us forward and are less harmful. This ability to evaluate by increasing our awareness of the present is likely to raise the quality of our lives. 


Mindfulness is even more important to me because of my interest in design and creative writing. For design, I need to be fully aware of the things that make things work, and other points in a system, obvious or not, that affect the quality of a work being done. Having my mind constantly running a rigorous mill makes my process difficult and less effective. Thus, relentlessly returning my mind to the present, preceding events and being fully aware of my surroundings or the things that I am training my eyes on, is critical to my productivity and growth. Writing demands the same. Thus, the less attention I am able to share with the present, the less successful I will be at these things.

Getting to be mindful is therefore not as easy as snapping one’s fingers. It takes some work. For some people, they take to meditating to train their minds to be more mindful. Given the amount of people who use this, I believe it produces results. However, I have not been successful at bringing myself to meditate in the way that is popularly prescribed. To sit in a corner with folded arms or legs, when I am not praying, has so far called for some commitment I have been unable to give – similar to my early morning jogs.

So far, I have tried a few things that are working. I more often work in two hour chunks where within a two hour period, for which I usually set a countdown timer, I spend 90 percent of my time thinking and working on just one thing. I try as much as possible to postpone anything that comes up within this period that does not fall within the chosen task. I have not done a proper evaluation yet, but I believe I have been able to manage my mind better while at work. I hope to learn more about how to improve my mindfulness without jeopardizing my ability to keep several task running concurrently. I want to live life in its fullness. There’s not much to it otherwise.

Photo by Aa Dil from Pexels

Moving to our fourth year at Agbowó

On Wednesday, July 22, 2020, Agbowó released its third magazine. It also marked our third year in existence. Since our humble beginnings, we have built an art organization that is now standing out among other art organizations across the continent.

When we first started the magazine, it was only a literary magazine. However, I felt it was important we went for more and for several reasons. I don’t know to what magnitude it is to create and run a literary magazine, but many people had been failing at sustaining one for several years- especially keeping them at the top. Some started well, but started to fade in relevance, several died altogether. Few platforms existed that provided creative Africans with a platform to share their works. For this reason, we had to figure out our sustainability model.

From the beginning, we had our eyes on the globe. While we are an African organization, we wanted our literary and arts platform to be mentioned in the same realm as The New Yorker, Paris Review and Granta. These were organizations that had lasted several decades and continue to wax stronger. However, without similar resources as these organizations, keeping the magazine alive was going to be a task. Keeping it alive, relevant and outstanding was going to be great task.

In 2019, we acquired an events organization, ArtsnChill, allowing us take some of these experiences offline. Yet this step was taken to start to solidify our approach to sustainability. Few weeks into the year, we had our first event and did about 9 more afterwards. In May, we won the Goethe Institut grant that allowed us do more events, but most especially offset the financial costs on us for doing offline events. Almost all of our events were sold out every time we organized them. It also kickstarted our first set of revenue as an organization. While we still had to balance our costs with our income, it made us feel good that there was something to build on. It was also just one of the steps we took to raising actual revenue from serving people in the art community. We tried to run ads on the platform, but when it started interfering with the experience of readers, we had to take it down.

Our third magazine (agbowo.org/memory) was in fact well received. With the commitment of the team, we can guarantee that the organization will continue to thrive and improve in reach and relevance. However, that is not what it will mean for us to succeed. The most important legacy we would leave behind is helping platforms like us find a way to sustainability independent of continuous founder sustenance or grants. The reason this is important for us is simply that creative platforms provide a good avenue to support voices from every corner and of every ideology. Our ability to keep these alive is critical to the progress of our society. When Africans are left with only foreign organizations to share their most important creative works (which has been the case), our ability to strengthen our narratives become at the mercy of foreigners who may not understand the importance of the words and contexts we create. However, many Africans do this because most of the platforms that guarantee them any form of financial return were foreign platforms. Practitioners of creative writing and several other forms of art have often resigned to the inability of their craft to support their livelihoods. Creative Africans thus flocked towards where the money sang, which made sense, as against African platforms who were struggling to stay up. 

Thus, at the launch of our second magazine, we became clearer about our goals. We wanted to provide global audience to creative Africans. We also wanted them to get returns on their craft. This was showing some promise until the pandemic, which halted a lot of our activities. However, our base of activities remain untouched. Our team continued to help creative Africans get published on the platform and when it was time for the yearly magazine, we put in a rock solid performance in creating a magazine that people loved to hold in their hands. 

There is still a lot to figure out. While we have achieved our primary goal of becoming a recognized African literary brand, we must kickstart (or revive) our journey of building a responsible platform with impressive revenue to bolster our work. Four years is a long time, and what we do in the next 12 months, barring any new halting events, will be instrumental in defining how prepared we are to build one of the Africa’s most reputable art brands. 

Is Nigeria Ready for Digital Education?

Sometime in 2017, I sat with my cofounders at my first education technology startup, and engaged in one of the numerous realizations about the product we had built. We had given so much to creating this application and had seen it eventually become a delight among the students that used it. Our app, which we called the Geniuses Social Learning Application was meant to make it easy to teachers and students to work together, especially after school, wherever they are. A student could share work with fellow students to study and they could also do the same with their teacher. Teachers should share new learning items to everyone on their timeline and group, while students can consume content from an automated curriculum.

As delightful as all these were, there was a fundamental market problem which made our application awesome but not rewarding. The problem was not in the interest of students or teachers. In fact, when students came across the application, they became so engrossed they leave us standing. The issues came instead in form of infrastructure. Students did not have enough mobile phones to enjoy this application at home, while teachers could not use a tool most students did not have access to using. More importantly, we had to give away a lot of airtime to the people who used the application. Every now and then, students messaged us to ask for money for data to use the application. Although the application consumed very little data, students could not afford to pay for data outside the regular subscriptions that only allowed them use social media apps – a provision made by telcos to offer special data packages for social media. At the end of 2017, we had to close shop. Our application was well ahead of its time. The conclusion was to wait a few more years. The alternative was to provide gadgets, airtime, strong bandwidth for our users.

In 2020, more problems came. While there was a sudden demand for digital education platforms, the users were still not ready. Infrastructure is still lacking. In addition, more of the existing infrastructure has been put to test. Even if you are able to afford internet access and power, you could still be cut off from online sessions due to bandwidth problems. Unless you intend to start a new telecommunication company and provide strong bandwidth for yourself, this is not a problem you could easily solve. For some internet access providers, their network start to misbehave once rain starts falling. This means several people usually try to get several options to keep up with live online conversations. This cost is significantly higher than pre-pandemic periods and will easily dissuade a lot of people from trying at all.

This meant while several digital education platforms existed at the start of the pandemic, they still could not take up the opportunity that the pandemic provided nor were teachers and students able to bridge learning gaps adequately during this period. Instead, as school owners try to survive the period, some are turning into new businesses. The funniest I heard while in a meeting at work, was about a school owner that took out all the desks in the school and started rearing poultry in the classrooms. The failed transition of most schools to effective online, simply uncovered the many inadequacies of the current education sector in Nigeria.

The process of learning at home had always been unsupported by most schools. All learnings are encouraged to be held in classrooms while students usually have assignments to take home, but nothing to warrant consistent communication with their peeps or teachers. It was the reason we did not gain much traction with Geniuses the first time. Instead, schools worked to provide computer labs in their schools for students use. However, many of these labs were not built to be part and parcel of students’ learning. Rather than being integral tools of students’ learning process, they were things students went to once in a while. The most techy thing many schools did was use projectors to display notes for their students – and in such funny scenarios students still had to copy down the notes instead of just being handed the printed copies. Others often only use their tech solutions to prepare for CBT exams. Thus, the pandemic was a brutal shock for many schools, rendering them incapable of providing quality education for their students.

Many of the people who enjoyed using digital platforms during the pandemic were usually students from schools  that already embraced the technology before the pandemic started. There were some schools as such that had successfully integrated technology into their learning procedures. However, these schools constitute only a few of the total population that could have access to such learning opportunities.

One thing I know is that schools now understand why they should embrace digital technology for their learning activities. This is now a reference on why this is critical. Between schools, usually affluent, who have embraced digital education and those who are unlikely to use it, are a significant chunk who had some of the facilities required and have now understood more reasons why the switch is key. The chart below is not concrete data but gives some visualization on my understanding of how the market is structured. 

This meant during the pandemic, thousands of schools effectively shut down, or use very inefficient platforms like WhatsApp simply to communicate with students via their parents’ phones. However, motivation waned with time. The inability of several schools to even pay their teachers during the pandemic meant very few teachers started or maintained communication with their students and kept at it. Motivation on the side of the students too waned. Learning online is not as seamless as people expected the transition.

Before the pandemic, online courses had very poor completion rates. Compared with online live classes, students who took online courses had flexibility around time and bandwidth. Yet many of them failed to complete their classes. In Doug Lederman‘s article, Why MOOCs Didn’t Work, in 3 Data Points, he provided that MIT researchers document low retention rates, enrollment declines and general affluence of students to explain why massive open online course providers have largely ditched their original model. 

“Among all MOOC participants, 3.13 percent completed their courses in 2017-18, down from about 4 percent the two previous years and nearly 6 percent in 2014-15. And among the “verified” students, 46 percent completed in 2017-18, compared to 56 percent in 2016-17 and about 50 percent the two previous years.”

This meant that even when students across the world had full control of how the consumed educational content, too many barely completed their classes.  At the end of the article, Doug’s final sentences read

New education technologies are rarely disruptive but instead are domesticated by existing cultures and systems. Dramatic expansion of educational opportunities to underserved populations will require political movements that change the focus, funding, and purpose of higher education; they will not be achieved through new technologies alone.”

If these conclusions were reached for the global audience where a good number of people who even have access to these online courses have the facility to do them, how would we rate the local Nigerian audience where poverty is prevalent and most families can barely afford consistent daily nutrition, not to talk of education technology facilities.

Is Nigeria ready for digital education? The answer is largely no? But does that diminish the efforts people are taking to provide it? That is no as well. We need more companies and organizations with the staying power to keep pushing with their efforts to improve access to quality education – at some point things will yield significantly. A good amount of people will be able to use such services at present, but to achieve mass education, you will need much more.

Thus, the approach to bridging learning gaps with digital technology will only be successful with new processes, rather than just technology. Processes created by policy, backed by the appropriate funding. Else, digital technology solutions will continue to be knackered by the damning Nigerian system while the few who are able to score contracts to provide edtech solutions for a few will continue to bask in the positivity that will likely fail them.

Cover Photo by Julia M Cameron from Pexels

[Draft] My Life is Meaningful

I’ve got to say I don’t necessarily believe the world is vain. A general lamentation at death, especially one regarded as untimely, is that it is all vanity. It is often a reaction to loss and our inability to deal with endings. I am grateful for this ambit of time, that I, a speck in a moving blue, have to explore sated desires. And it is more reason why I think it is often ill-advised to spend your time pursuing life in fear, pursuing ambitions that are not the ticklers of your soul. The result of my life is my life well-lived, a judgement that only I have the power and knowledge to proclaim. You may lose things, objects, people, parts of your body, and perhaps sadly your memory, but you’ll never lose the power that the feeling of making your own path sprouts in you, albeit and conjunct all the influences that surround you. I am a moment in time and my life is meaningful.

to be continued.

A Simple Categorization of Education Intervention Areas in Nigeria.


Education intervention programs are not exclusive to underdeveloped countries like Nigeria. One of the largest education intervention programs is Teach for America which has had over 60,000 volunteers since its inception. Due to several reasons, shortfalls occur in different learning phases and must be addressed because they often directly affect the quality of life available to the affected person.  Having worked in a number of initiatives that directly or indirectly intervene in the education sector. I wish to categorize these areas of intervention into these classes.

(This seems like an obvious classification. But I think documenting the obvious is important, so it becomes a conscious part of our design process. In addition, you can easily understand how to plot your growth along with the classes or across them.)


Class 1: Out of School and Uneducated

Nigeria’s 13 million children are the largest in the world when counting the number of children who do not attend school, have yet to attend a school or have had to drop out early. This is a staggering number equivalent to the population of some countries like Belgium, Portugal, and Rwanda. Helping these children get educated is both important and urgent. The case of out of school children’s cut beyond just financial capability. While money is usually one of the hindrances, certain parents are comfortable leaving their children out of school for cultural reasons. Other reasons that could hinder a child’s access to education include gender, location, conflict, disability and socioeconomic status – factors that exist before the child is born.

I will also highlight girls who have to stay out of school temporarily but consistently each month because of their menstrual period. This continuous disruption of a child’s education due to the absence of WASH facilities (and cost of menstrual pads) remains one of the key areas of intervention, especially in low-income schools. This adds to other reasons why girls miss school such as child marriage, early pregnancy, child labour, housework, etc. 

Some Important data about out of school children are these;

  • 63 million children of primary school age (typically aged 6-11 years) are not in school
  • 61 million adolescents of lower secondary school (typically aged 12-14) are not in school
  • Adolescents of upper secondary school age, from 15-17 years, make up the largest group of those out of school. About 139 million (53 percent of the total) are not in school
  • More than one-half of all out-of-school children are in sub-Saharan Africa
  • 50 percent of children who are out of school are girls
  • Nearly 1 in 4 of out-of-school children live in crises-affected countries

Intervention in these areas includes providing WASH facilities, evening classes, creating new schools accessible to children in remote areas or areas of conflict, creating structures that allow disabled children to attend schools, inclusion programs, etc.

Class 2: In Pre-Varsity School but Under-Educated

This category comprises several public schools in Nigeria and surprisingly a large number of private schools in middle and low-income communities. While it has become the bane of Nigerian public education system to be under-resourced, you will also find that several private schools are also unable to provide quality education. What is common is that these schools often charge lower than the high-profile ones but appear an upgrade on the public schools. Students who attend these schools are less exposed to important skills that are introduced to students in the early stages of their lives. An example of this is computer literacy. 

Interventions for public schools and low-income private schools will often include those that provide access to key educational resources, information, and services at a reduced cost, or with a financial model that either allows students to pay over a long period or is funded externally of the students’ pockets.

Pre-varsity education intervention is one of the most important in this list. This is because when early child development and education is done properly, they form a strong foundation for the latter years of the child. Students who started out poorly will often struggle to catch up with their peers who had a great foundation.  Asides being great at literacy skills, students may need to be introduced to other soft skills such as communication, leadership, problem-solving, sports, team-work and so on. Learning about digital technology is becoming more than necessary as the world continues to evolve.

Class 3: In Tertiary School but Under-Skilled

Well, 9 out of 10 universities in Nigeria (from observation rather than data) do not possess the right facilities to train world-class students. Students who are lucky enough to know this early and are sharp enough to make moves, often have to rely on other means, usually online, to attain what is regarded as the world standard. Thus, intervention for the millions of students who are in Nigeria’s undergraduate and postgraduate schools is necessary.  

Providing alternative learning opportunities that undergraduates can rely on is a way of intervening in the malaise. Starting from helping undergraduates learn the use of simple work tools to introducing programs that actually improve the quality of education received in their fields. This may also include increasing access to such learning programs and opportunities and providing them at attainable costs.  

A direct intervention would be influencing the creation of better government policies and improvement in funding provided for academic institutions.  

Class 4: In job – but Under-Skilled 

Due to a continuously changing world of work, in addition to the poor training most people receive in Nigerian tertiary institutions, you will find that lots of workers do not possess the required skills to do their job at maximum efficiency and productivity. Nigeria’s labour productivity is at 3.61 dollars/hr which is quite low especially when compared with other countries such as South Africa (19 dollars/hr), Turkey (31 dollars/hr), and the United States (67 dollars/hr).  

This means the country is leaving a lot of money on the table that could have been used to improve the lives of citizens. We are not maximizing our labour capacity. Improving labour productivity, asides from providing key facilities that make work easier and faster requires the further education of workers to excel in their current fields. This education is often also required because many people will work in jobs they did not study at the university. Better trained officers will raise the income per spend of a company significantly.  

Class 5: Out of Job and Out of Skills

This category of people may also be products of poor tertiary education or no tertiary education at all. These set of people lack the required skills to take on most jobs that pay well enough or the jobs that they would ideally want. Unemployed, these set of people are incapacitated from gaining steady sources of income. This may also include women who are unable to return to school, do not have the required capital and knowledge to sustain a business or are heavy dependances on unearned income.

Some of the intervention programs for these set of people are entrepreneurial training, vocational training programs, street education programs, etc. These programs are key as they support an otherwise excluded population who may easily resort to crime or other forms of work they would normally not want to do.

Class 6: Adult Illiteracy  

Unless dead, adults whether or not they are out of direct service will continue to interact and transact with other people, both young and old. Different institutions will often require both the old and the young to have standard literacy skills to enjoy their services. Thus, adults who can neither read nor write and do not have trusted people to do this on their behalf will be excluded from key services and opportunities that may be necessary for them to live well. 

The Organization for World Economic Cooperation (OECD) defines adult education as:

Adult education encompasses activities and programs organized for this purpose to meet the learning needs and interests of those who have been out of compulsory schooling and whose main occupation is no longer to go to school at any stage of their lives.

Adult Education remains a key area of educational intervention. These interventions include what may be referred to as ‘continuing education’, ‘recurrent education’ or ‘second chance education’. 

Why is Adult Education important? Answers include the rapidly changing technology which continuously demands better literacy level to maximize. Others are 

  • The Extension of Human Longevity- When adults are properly educated, they make healthy life choices.
  • Increase in the Time of Formal Training Participation
  • Changes in Work / Professional Life
  • Changing Status of Women- Women, who may have been marginalized at the early stages of their lives get a chance at redemption.
  • Changes in the concept of leisure time
  • Education Life-long Need
  • Democracy, Increase in Human Rights Demands

Class 7: Teacher Training

This is quite essential to power most of the learning needs of members of all the different categories listed above. Teachers need to be well equipped to help students; you cannot give what you do not have. In addition, since varying categories have varying learning demands, their teachers must be able to handle their training, whatever they are. Thus, teacher training interventions are just as important when addressing education gaps in a country. In Nigeria, The Teachers Registration Council of Nigeria has pointed out that a total of 250,000 teachers must be employed annually in the country to address the shortfall of teachers in basic and secondary school levels. 

Teacher training interventions may include upskilling teachers and exposing them to modern teaching techniques in their fields, creating programs that increase the availability of teachers and addresses the shortfall, creating interventions that solved teacher needs such as poor remuneration. These are some of the areas that need urgent interventions. 

The United Nations already reported that new projections show the world is off-track in meeting its education commitments by 2030. This should propel more people to take education intervention seriously and proffer, as well as continue to vigorously implement, new solutions that can improve access to quality education in Nigeria and across the world.

Are you working in education? Which of these areas are you working on?

Habeeb X

#Around the world, August 12 is celebrated as the International Youth Day. This year’s theme, “Transforming Education”, highlights efforts to make education more relevant, equitable and inclusive for all youth, including efforts by youth themselves.

How To Be A Butterfly

_____________

“Yet I must acknowledge that it is a curse to see things very clearly. The only cure of which is an evident breakthrough. Before then, many wonder why you dance to a piece of music they cannot hear. What do you see? Where are you going? Why will you do that? Until you find your breakthrough, seeing and subsequently acting a little bit different is a cause for concern. Until then, you remain in the stead for more knowledge, hollowed in your own conviction, seeking light not for yourself, but for others who cannot see as clearly as you do.” 

HABEEB KOLADE 

_____________

One activity we sometimes undergo during self-awareness exercises is saying what animals describe us. I still do not know which shares similar characteristics with me. This is because while I might think I share some strengths with an animal, we might not share the same weaknesses. Maybe I am overthinking it. Yet, I have taken a special liking for the butterfly. It starts as a caterpillar and in a murky yet wondrous transition, throws off its skin and wears new ones- those colourful wings. That is one example of the grass to grace archetype. In a country where most people live in undesirable conditions, it is great story to start as the ugly duckling and in one remarkable fashion, become the delight of all. But that is not the only reason I am inspired by the butterfly. 

While man’s vision is sharper, butterflies can see across a broader spectrum. The patterns and colours that a butterfly sees are invisible to man. In addition to this, butterflies can see in all directions. To combine man’s sharp vision with the wider spectrum and directions a butterfly enjoys is to have the capability to see things clearly and deeply. One quote by one of my most favourite persons, Nikola Tesla reads; 

“The scientists of today think deeply instead of clearly. One must be sane to think clearly, but one can think deeply and be quite insane.” 

Thinking clearly requires mental clarity; being awake and alert to the different factors that affect certain systems. In order to act intelligently, one needs to be able to see, perhaps not all, but a little more than the obvious factors that surround most situations. In a world where people are constantly preoccupied with things that take away their focus, it is very difficult to attain clarity. Thus, I crave those moments when I am able to tear away from the noise and the unapparent blindfolds. Those moments I can see clearly and can discover and comprehend all the important details that I need to know to be able to properly influence things in a way that ensures true change occurs. 

Yet I must acknowledge that it is a curse to see things very clearly. The only cure of which is an evident breakthrough. Before then, many wonder why you dance to a music they cannot hear. What do you see? Where are you going? Why will you do that? Until you find your breakthrough, seeing and subsequently acting a little bit different is a cause for concern. Until then, you remain in the stead for more knowledge, hollowed in your own conviction, seeking light not for yourself, but for others who cannot see as clearly as you do. 

The major reason I like butterflies has nothing to do with real butterflies. Rather, I enjoyed learning about the Chaos Theory which has the butterfly in one of its analogies. Chaos Theory is the science of unpredictability. It is the science of nonlinear and dynamic systems. My first real introduction to Chaos Theory was while I was doing my final year project as a Mechanical Engineering student. I needed to develop Runge Kutta scheme based FORTRAN- subroutines that could simulate dynamics of a harmonically excited nonlinear pendulum. Using fractal characterization, I could then determine if Runge Kutta methods could be relied upon to create approximate solutions for nonlinear systems. This journey launched me into the world of dynamic systems- a world where so many factors influence the direction of a system making it a chaotic state. It becomes quite difficult to understand the directions which things take thus leaving unpredictable outcomes to applied modifications. 

In all this chaos, the Butterfly Effect theory creates some hope. It explains that there is indeed a connection between small changes and big outcomes. As I read, this effect grants the power to cause a hurricane in China to a butterfly flapping its wings in New Mexico. It may take a very long time, but the connection is real. If the butterfly had not flapped its wings at just the right point in space/time, the hurricane would not have happened. 

It is not easy to look back after a hurricane occurs and draw the lines back to a butterfly. However, I think the amazing thing is to be that butterfly that sets off a hurricane sometimes in a near future by flapping its wings just at the right moments and in the right manners. The magic is to be there before things happen, and understanding what ways to flap your wings in order to set off a hurricane in a particular place. Combine this with the incremental development philosophy of kaizen, and you can repeatedly make small changes that eventually cause unprecedented and massive events that ordinarily would have been too cumbersome for one individual to inspire. 

It means I can begin to ask myself questions like, what little changes can I make today that will create significant effects on our situations and perhaps solve our most difficult problems? While hurricanes definitely occur from our little actions, can I influence what types of hurricanes are formed by taking conscious actions that eventually connect? Can I connect the dots looking forward? You see, we all make choices. If you do not choose a path, fate will decide for you. To solve real problems in a country muddled in complex situations, one must be able to understand patterns and understand how to set off a chain of activities that eventually create desirable outcomes. My questions continuously remain how much control can I muster? In what way can I influence change in the way I want, not just as a consequence of my action, but as a reflection of my decision – as a manifestation of my intended goal. 

When butterflies travel, many of them settle on any flower that they see. Some butterflies choose their perches. You do not see them on any kind of flowers. That gives me hope. You see, we can create the kind of life we want, and we will do just well. I hope I can continue to choose my perches, to not succumb to settling in places that are not within my choices. In areas where I can decide, I hope to be able to do things, not because I have to do them, but because I want to do them. 

This power of choice and the ability to influence (premeditatedly) big changes from seemingly small actions are a combination of the desirable attributes of butterflies I am learning to glean. 

As we grow, we soon discover that our realities are more complex than we think. We are powerful beyond measure, yet we are just as powerless. As much as we have the power to change the world in unprecedented fashion, the world can crush us in an incredible swing. This is well lived on a street, when a driver of a bus, ensured to drive carefully but was eventually the victim of a tanker that fell on the bus from an overhead bridge. You see, you can’t control all strings, but you must try. You should master the strings that fall in your hands and wield your influence impeccably. While butterflies do not have all the best defences against harm, they know how to use their magnificent flight and colours to keep them going. 

The subtle way in which butterflies contribute to the growth and diversity of beautiful vegetation and food is very lovely. As agents of pollination, butterflies give life and ensure continuity of life. This can mean many things to me. I want to do things that are vital to the growth of other people. I want to touch people’s lives in a way that leaves indelible marks on their existence. I hope I can be the reason more people choose quality life, and more the reason they take inspiring actions. And I want to do this in that subtle manner, without the unnecessary noise and drama. I also hope I can build remarkable things that last beyond my time and my space. Things that grow beyond my imagination. Built in the corner of a room, starting with small thoughts and gentle actions, but travelling beyond the oceans and mountains to impact lives forever. While many of our dreams become memories of things that did not get to fly, I hope the dreams most important to me come to life. 

To have the ability to fly without looking back is to be a butterfly. The ability to experience the tastes of different nectars, journey like a focused wanderer, never too attached to a place to fear leaving is to be a butterfly. I want to cut myself from the clutter and seek peace in new places. I want to see the far ends of the world. I want to conquer new horizons and never settle on my laurels. I want to keep going without hesitation. I want to fly without restraint, in the things I do and the places I go. I want to be a butterfly. 

A butterfly has its weaknesses, who doesn’t? I remain in awe of its other attributes. You see, I want to be able to change the world, while being beautiful, while being subtle, while being limitless, while being as harmless as possible.

Habeeb Kolade
#EveryoneHasAStoryToTell

July is Coming! We Can’t Wait!

On July 22, we will release the second edition of our yearly magazine, themed Limits. We have received amazing submissions from diverse African countries. We are enthused by the quality of works sent, and that these amazingly creative people have trusted us with their work.

July is now one of my favourite months. It is the most significant month for Agbowó. On July 22, we will release the second edition of our yearly magazine, themed Limits. We have received amazing submissions from diverse African countries. We are enthused by the quality of works sent, and that these amazingly creative people have trusted us with their works.

Why is this a significant step for us? Last year, our magazine was simply a collection of works that had been published on our online literary journal, agbowo.org. We simply presented it in another format. Yet, it was an important step, and people embraced the magazine as if the works were completely new. One of my exciting moments was when I attended a literary event in Lagos and met this very excited lady who spoke so highly of the magazine and even remembered some of the writers and titles in the magazine. Who remembers Abeiku Arhin Tsiwah?! Great writer but easy to mispronounce name for me. And then she said Petitioning Christ. Her friend had shared the magazine with her via mail and she frantically searched for it again. The magazine equally impressed another budding writer who soon sent her works for publication on the literary journal. It felt very different from the online accolades we received, because I could see that reaction for myself and knew our work was important. Ours is not the first African literary magazine, but few (or almost none) have built the kind of credibility that has made their American and European counterparts revered and darlings of creative people around the world, including Africans. That is the level of excellence we aim to operate and even more.

This year, we did a call for entries with a specific theme. We received works from almost all the regions in Africa. Our editors have had a lot of work to do, especially since we also continued to receive submissions for the online literary journal, which is open throughout the year. By now, we have finalized on most entries, and are now working on producing something amazing from the awesome works that have been sent to us. We cannot wait.

July 22 is also the day we get to unveil new steps we are taking at Agbowó in building platforms to provide global access for creative Africans. We are making this a yearly tradition. While we are gradually building our literary platforms, we hope to do more. We want to build tools to help creative Africans create new works, while also building platforms for them to reach their audiences across world with their creativity. More importantly, we want to help them capture the value they are creating. Everything we do is on this canvas.

We are still very early in our journey, and we are still unraveling our purpose. Late last month, I had another long conversation with Moyo, who leads Agbowó, about recent developments in the literary community. At the end of that conversation, the importance of our work became more obvious and our purpose clearer. We could see why our platform was necessary and why we needed to do more; especially in setting new standards that improve the lives of creative Africans.

Last year, we made it our goal to start an events arm to bring live art experiences to people. Our goal was also to build a community of creative people sharing their works, lending their voice to important conversations and building a network. We went out to acquire arts initiative, ArtsnChill. We can say that move has shown early promises that we hope we can build on. While we took our time to have our first event few months after the acquisition, we have successfully sold out our tickets for our first two events and we already have new collaborations in the pipeline for June and July events. We also got funding support to cater for part of our expenses for our events later in the year from German cultural organization, Goethe Institut. We are working to get more funding to support our programs. While there is still a lot of improvement we need to make to our events, we believe we are heading in the right direction. And we are doing this with very lean resources, and using lean strategies.


Arts n Chill by Agbowó

As we countdown towards July, our team is working to add to the platforms that help us serve creative Africans better. Our journey has been gradual, but we have been growing. Our team has grown to 15 amazing and committed people who are just as enthusiastic about African art. That connection means our team is a small community on its own working together to create platforms for the larger community. We are proud of what we hope to accomplish.

While our world continues to grow technologically, we see the role of art in this increasingly mechanized world. There is the rising need to improve man’s utility and efficiency, but it is art that helps us connect with our souls, with our humanness, and sparks those emotions that make us who we are. Thus, our goal is to empower creative Africans across diverse forms to create art and help them reach the hearts of people who are looking for more ways of becoming better versions of themselves. While we do this, we hope to create and capture enough value for our company and the art community.

July is coming! Keep watch!

Habeeb X

Please visit agbowo.org to learn more about our work.

Follow @agbowoart on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.  

There is something special about seeing your stuff live, beyond the online thing. I was excited to stand in front of this physical representation of Agbowó’s progress.


Possible Impossible Ratio: Role Models and Mentors as Tools for Human and Societal Development

Warning: This article was written by a wanderer. Expect digressions. Danke Sehr. 

Two boys grew up in different neighbourhoods. Let’s call one Bayo and the other Shola. Bayo grew up in a rural-urban community in the heart of Ibadan. His mother and father are separated and he now lives with his grandma. Both his parents barely support his education and have instead pursued new lives with their new partners far away from him. Incidentally, most of his friends are from similarly unstable homes. Based on this experience, he has built his view of his expectations and responsibilities should he get married or hooked up with anyone. He has also built his view of his responsibilities to his child, should he have one. In school, he has cultivated a few friends, a good number who are also like him and have little exposure beyond their immediate communities. Their first role models, their parents, have not exactly provided an enviable way to live a happy and responsible life. However, since that is all some of them know and see around them, they will eventually grow to be like them. Another set of role models they will often find, are the ones who have managed to be financially successful in their communities, who drive the best cars and have the best apartments. More often than not, these are often people who have cut it through consistent dirty dealings. They are usually dropouts as well. As Bayo grows, he knows only this kind of life and his view on how to become a better version of his current state is directly motivated by the experiences and exposure that his community affords him. Unfortunately, his school is also not well equipped to help him see different kinds of lives or possibilities that he could compare with these. Unless through some miraculous intervention, Bayo will end up just like his father, or other people that he feels have led comparably better lives, whatever that means. What is dangerous is not that Bayo has limited options, it is that he does not believe he could be anymore than those things.

Unlike Bayo, Shola comes from a wealthy family. His parents are separated too, but he attends one of the best schools in Lagos. He has several friends who come from both stable and unstable homes and has the luxury to choose the kind of home he would like to have. In school, he has access to a good library and internet. The school also organizes tours to a number of countries and also to different companies so Shola and other students can meet successful people across different backgrounds. He is able to talk with different people from different walks of life about their lives and careers. Shola has tons of ideas on how he could live his life and what he needs to do to build that kind of life and reach great heights. He does not have to settle, because the people around him, as well as his school, have empowered his view of the world by bringing him closer to more that is possible. They have let him know that his options are unlimited and he only needed to choose.       

It is easy to overlook the importance of mentors and role models when you have visionary and excellent people as colleagues, friends, family members, partners or close associates. In one way or another, these people serve as the compass through which you navigate your life. The truth is that we are often limited in our view of the world until someone points out even more possible things. Before we get new knowledge, it often almost appears that nothing exists outside the things we know. While we know we don’t know everything, we don’t know what we don’t know. That limits the kinds of initiatives we can take. However, once we know what we don’t know, it is often easier to find and know those things.

The electromagnetic spectrum is a great example of how we can be limited by the things we know. Within the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light is the only radiation that is seen by the human eye. Therefore, for a long time, it was thought to be the only type of light (or radiation) that existed. It was not until 1800, that William Herschel discovered the infrared while conducting a thermal experiment in a laboratory. He even termed it “the light that cannot be seen”. The following year, another scientist, Johann Ritter, discovered the Ultraviolet Light also known as the invisible light induced by chemical reactions. And on it went till all members of the current electromagnetic spectrum were discovered using one technique or the other. In the electromagnetic spectrum, visible light represents just a small fragment of the range of frequencies radiation travels. One of the lovely discovery was definitely the microwave. I still marvel at the possibility of the microwave oven heating my food while the container remains at its normal temperature. I’m usually like wow, what sorcery! Yet, it is important to look back and dwell in the knowledge that if there had not been any advancement in science, it may have been the only kind of radiation men knew, and perhaps the only kind of radiation he thought existed. The most important thing is that he would have also lived his life based on the truth that that was the only kind of radiation that existed. We would have lived without the microwave and we would have lived fine. Fine, but limited.

 

A Simple Analogy: A World Of Worlds

Imagine this; next to football with 4 billion followers is cricket with 2.5 billion fans. Yet most fans of football cannot mention one famous cricket player which would be an easy and obvious guess for a person who follows cricket. There are people who know nobody in these two sports. This means that the things that constitute the realities of a person who follows cricket are different from that of a person who follows football. Thus the social laws which are deemed impossible to live without may just be non-existent in the other person’s life. Think about that.

While many of us, especially geeks, have entertained the idea of the multiverse, we should also realize that in our world, we have several worlds, all of which work in tandem with one another and also in isolation. The world of a young boy living in Oja Oba, Ibadan who goes to a public school not too far away from home, consists of peculiar characters, pains, joys, role models, possibilities and demands is different from that of a young boy in Lekki who goes to a very private school also close to his home, has unlimited access to the internet, loves baseball and travels at will. The world of a boy who lives on water in Makoko, Lagos, is different from the world of the Fulani boy roving the Northern hinterlands. A person is limited to the possibilities of his own world.

Each person will require help to know what is possible in other worlds. While we may never be able to understand what is going on in every possible world, it is good that we have the liberty to reach worlds that are important to our progress so we are not limited in our potentials. One of the best ways to enter a new world is through another person who lives that world. Close interactions and sometimes brief chats can be all we need to launch the expansion of our views of what is possible and what we can aspire to be.

We Need Other People’s Lenses to Have A Better View of the World

People get exposure in different ways. Some through books, some through travel, others through consistent interaction with people who have made significant progress or failures in their lives. The more exposure one has, the higher the likelihood of making life and career decisions that are more fulfilling and liberating.

The kind of exposure a person has also affects the things the person considers possible or impossible. Most times, the difference between those who are successful at maximizing their potentials and those who are not, asides tenacious execution, is simply that those who are successful have a wider range of the things they consider possible; which enables them shoot for them. I call this the Possible Impossible Ratio.

The Possible Impossible Ratio is a subjective analysis of what a person believes he/she is capable of doing to the things he/she believes is impossible or almost impossible to do. Note that this is an analysis directed at one’s self. It does not affect what you think others are capable of doing because in the end, you are not them.  

It is hackneyed advice that one should believe one can achieve the seemingly impossible (anything) e.g. landing on the moon, scoring maximum marks in UTME, becoming a billionaire, breaking a world record and so on. Yet this is usually relative. What we often overlook is that impossibilities are at different stretches for different people. Two young people may be starting their careers as designers in a small firm. One dreams and believes he can eventually become a top designer with billions in revenue, while the other believes what is possible is that he reaches the top of their current firm and earn millions in salaries. The latter may even be aware of the former’s goals, but he just believes that they are far-fetched. It is possible that the latter, after believing that he can do it, achieves his goal, while the former doesn’t. What is also true is that the latter will not reach the heights of the former, because you cannot hit what you don’t aim for, and what you aim for is in the boundaries of what you think is possible (even if it appeared impossible at that time). Keep in mind that every rule comes with exceptions.

Therefore, one of the best ways to help Bayo and expand Bayo’s view of the world is to bring him in close interaction with people who live different lives, especially ones which he can aspire to have. These people are role models and mentors. Creating this close interaction means that Bayo can begin to use his drive to seek something greater and better than what he has experienced and what his local community has provided as the best. In addition, he can start to seek information, that these people do not provide him, on his own because he has been shown how unlimited he can be; his ship has been set to sail. This way, Bayo’s Possible Impossible Ratio would have significantly improved.

An expected result is that he approaches his obstacles, with much more resolve, because he now has bigger things to pursue. This does not mean Bayo does not need quality education in a good school, it means pending the time he gets that, he will make the most of what he has, and will stop at nothing to get to where he believes is now possible.

 

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This article provides some foundation to one of my experiments in improving the quality of education delivered in Nigeria. There are millions of young people like Bayo who would do better with their lives if you help them widen their horizons. And doing so is not more difficult than getting some hundreds of thousands of people to spend time with Bayo and his mates at their convenience to share their experiences, insights and thoughts on important things. The outcome is much more than helping Bayo build a better career, it is also to help him become a responsible citizen who makes informed life choices. We may also help Bayo learn critical 21st-century soft skills that put more power in his hands.  This activity also happen in isolated and often discontinued situations. The question is if we can deliver this more sustainably and at scale. 

I have begun talking to some principals in public schools about this. So far, 23 public school principals in Ibadan have indicated interest and put in their contacts to be part of this program. I am hoping to get more before I move to the next stage which is talking to people who want to share their time with young students at their convenient time, as well as completing the design for how this would work effectively and at scale (since this already happens effectively in isolated events). I hope to share my progress as I move forward. 

 

Habeeb X

Wandering Wanderer.

(Please share if you enjoyed reading this)

  

 

 

Why I love The Big Bang Theory (TBBT)

the big bang theory habeeb x
The main cast of The Big Bang Theory

I did not stumble upon this sitcom. My close friends (Emmanuel and Tomi) had recommended it a number of times earlier but I was reluctant to watch it. I was reluctant to watch any long movie at all. I cannot remember when I started to watch it. However, since I started, I must have seen the episodes up to twenty times over. The Big Bang Theory is in its final season after 11 years of amazing geek comedy.

There’s so much to love about the Big Bang Theory. Starting with the cast, who seem perfectly suited for their roles, I fell in love more with the main character, Sheldon Cooper and then Penny.  These two offer the extreme of two worlds.

Sheldon Cooper is a theoretical physicist who got his first doctorate at 13 years. He has two PhDs and a Masters with an IQ of 187. The beautiful and social Penny, on the other hand, starts as a struggling actress and waitress at the Cheese Cake Factory but eventually builds a career as a pharmaceutical sales rep.

When artists exaggerate certain features, it is to highlight what we often clearly miss or overlook. Images that we see every day tend to blur and become forgotten. You know they are there, but you don’t give them much thought. It is the same with the gifts most people have. You forget how good you are, because you are used to being that good.

The Big Bang Theory brings to fore the beauty of the mundane. You find yourself giving gratitude for understanding the rather simple things while also hoping to embrace life’s complexities. With Sheldon Cooper’s intelligence comes a lack of social intelligence thereof. In most humans, social intelligence is more distributed. Thus, you find people who are adept at keeping social discourses and relationships but fall outside the small class of people called geniuses. A lot of people fall in the middle. These are the people who easily understand and appreciate the intelligence of a genius while pondering on their poor mastery of social relationship.

How can you have the ability to solve the most difficult physics problems yet you are sluggish at identifying sarcasm, or worse, people’s moods? What is rather perplexing is that many people suffer from same in different ways. When we pay more attention to ourselves, we realize how limitless and limited we are in many ways.

Penny et Sheldon Cooper HabeebX

In the genius Sheldon Cooper and the ritzy Penny, you find two people who are at the end of two important classes of intelligence. Penny’s mastery of social skills ensures she gets her way around things. Her success as a pharmaceutical sales professional where one’s ability to persuade fellow humans to one’s side is critical, speaks volume about her interpersonal skills. Her ability to also accommodate Sheldon who is a pain in every other person’s ass is another chink on her shiny armour. In the sitcom, Sheldon Cooper and Penny both journey from these different ends of intelligence as they seek to build a more balanced life. Sheldon struggles through building social relationships, while Penny struggles to understand the nuances of science and other things that call a person’s IQ to test. What you find are two people who tease and explore each other’s weaknesses and allow the audience to fully grasp the importance of both types of intelligence and how crucial they are to our existence. At certain times, Sheldon’s superior intelligence prevails when they seek to resolve a conflict. At other times, his intelligence kowtows to Penny’s superior social skills or street smartness. Both grow because of each other. 

Penny and Sheldon also sought to define their own normal. What is normal to Sheldon is different from what is normal to Penny. The repeated clash and coming together of the cultures of two souls, brought up in different backgrounds and with differing ideals, is another conflict that the sitcom tries to resolve. A resolution that is thrilling to watch and follow. 

Sheldon and Penny Habeeb X

I am usually excited to see how ‘geniuses’ deal with everyday life. How they try to balance their empirical expectations with life’s chaos. I have long realized that life is beyond just logic. It is okay not to have an explanation for everything. Not everything has an empirical basis. Sometimes, we need to have a grasp of facts to make certain decisions. Other times, we have to rely on our guts or our hearts or worse, we just wing it. Penny and Sheldon provide a mix of those two. And the lessons they share through their amazing relationship come with reeling laughter.

*I believe one of the biggest questions about the sitcom, for those who pay attention, is why Penny and Sheldon never got together despite that amazing chemistry of two people who are spectacularly different but who extremely enjoy each other’s company.

Penny hugs Sheldon HabeebX

P.S. This is the first post on my blog, but this is not the last time I will be writing about TBBT.

Habeeb X