University of Lagos Political Science graduate, Aregbe Idris, is a visioner, entrepreneur, cultural reformer, politician, philanthropist and innovator with a penchant for supporting grassroot initiatives. He holds the office of Youths Organising Secretary of Lagos State, through which he has been making significant contributions in promoting political participation and contribution amongst youths through his grassroot initiative, ‘Our Lagos Your Lagos.
As a lifeline to mitigate the negative jolts occasioned by the unexpected effects of COVID-19 pandemic which have caused untold hardship for many businesses and families, the business mogul recently set up a learning center, Culturati Academy, in Lagos, as part of the Culturati brand where youths adversely affected by the pandemic will be empowered. He talks this and much more in this interview with MARY NNAH
As a business operator, you have managed to stay afloat as the pandemic took its toll on businesses. What is the secret?
It’s a new challenge to us all. I believe there is an inherent advantage in every disadvantage, and so beyond the disadvantages of the pandemic, we should try to see what advantages we could derive there from, to better our lives and society. Yea, so for me it’s just a new learning curve.
Whether we like it or not, the global economy is facing a major crisis presently and no one can anticipate how long it will last. With social distancing and isolation being the preventive measures put in place to curtail the spread of the escalating pandemic, it has forced businesses to fathom new and creative ways of operating.
As a business owner, there is no denying that many businesses have struggled. For the Connecting Lagos brand, we have leveraged the digital presence to offer some of our services which has been a huge advantage. With on-line marketplace being the only succour for delivery of essential items during this pandemic, there has been an
astronomical increase in demand and we have tried to take advantage of this, while at the same time trying to stay safe.
Having said that let me say that, COVID-19 is testing our social, economic and even political resilience. Today African countries are coming up with different in-depth and strategic approaches to human development, economic diversification and solidarity, which hold good prospects for us all. We have to rethink many prior assumptions and find new balances for our collective behaviour.
What is Connecting Lagos about?
Cultures help people connect with each other and build communities, within the same cultural backgrounds. The Connecting Lagos brand uses its CULTURATI arm as a voice to African culture, a vehicle to connect Africans in celebrating their rich culture, exploring its enormous diversity as an effective tool for enhancing creativity, increasing productivity, turning passion into profit and entrenching progressive human development for the common good, and by so doing, restoring Africa’s eroding cultural pride, while arresting the cycle of poverty and unemployment.
Through our educative, informative and entertaining cultural programs, in partnership with stakeholders and the Lagos State government, we work at augmenting governments’ efforts at empowering creative youths while expanding and sustaining the creative industry.
How do you intend empowering youths during this pandemic with the Connecting Lagos project?
For me empowerment is simply supporting another person or persons to gain some social or economic power, in order to support themselves and also create value, all geared towards a sustainably better society.
The Connecting Lagos is tailored around providing opportunities for prospective beneficiaries to learn a trade or craft, on completion of which they will be assisted in setting up their trade to provide employment and economic relief.
The unexpected effects of COVID-19 have caused some businesses to shut down while in others, many workers have been laid off. This has caused many to lose their means of livelihood, and in extension unable to support their dependants. It has therefore become imperative for Nigerians to fashion out ways of generating employment in order to cushion the negative effects of the crisis.
The empowerment initiative comprises training on Nvarious courses including Farming, Catering, Photography, Videography, Fashion, Designing, arts and crafts, Digital Marketing, etc., with graduates of the Academy assisted to set up after graduation.
A prime goal of the initiative is to make graduates of the Academy become manufacturers, self-sustained and thus add value to the economy.
It has been almost 14 years of promoting African culture. Would you say the brand has achieved its purpose so far?
Yes we are achieving that purpose, and it can only get better as we continually seek new ideas and ways to up the ante. The diverse underpinnings of the African culture readily provide a veritable source for creative expressions, wealth creation and empowerment, if properly explored and harnessed. This is what we have been doing with our
Culturati platform. Through this platform, many young people have been given the opportunity to discover their talents, make rewarding collaborations and
partnerships over the past 14 years.
What are some of the challenges encountered with these successes?
I would say funding principally. The availability of funding is critical to deliver on our programmes and initiatives. Global economies have been hit hard by COVID-19 and the recession, which have also had ripple effects.
As a cultural operator, we have always worked to enhance the import of our culture, foster good policy tools, create collaborations with creatives, and all to ensure the adequate positioning of culture in the overall development strategies and policies. These come with some of challenges. But we’re forging on.
What advice would you give business owners in the post pandemic era?
I dare-say despite the losses and negative impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it provides a rare opportunity for businesses. This may be the best time to dot the I’s and cross the T’s, making necessary adjustments to strengthen operations, service delivery, and other major aspects that are vital to the growth and stability of any organisation.
The pandemic provides a good opportunity for businesses to do some re-evaluation; ask questions about how to improve efficiency after this blows away.
The use of digital platforms have been on the increase during this period as businesses are trying to gain market share and are competing for audience attention. So it is a very good advantage to have a good online presence and key to that is focusing on the platform that targets your audience.
Also, the success of any business lies with its people. Given the current reality where people have been forced to work from home, businesses can encourage employees to take advantage of this opportunity to develop themselves and build in-demand skills.
Furthermore, I will say that we should continue to observe stipulated protocols in the fight against COVID-19. Together we shall come out stronger.