By Christy Anyanwu
Aregbe Idris is a culture entrepreneur, innovator and politician with a penchant for supporting grassroot initiatives. He has been making significant contributions to promotion of political participation and empowers youths through his grassroots initiative, Our Lagos Your Lagos. He founded No 1 Heritage Solutions, a brand committed to providing winning solutions. Culturati, a cultural enterprise serves as a special purpose platform for connecting Lagos through arts and culture. Not the kind that rests on his oars, Aregbe is APC Youth Organizing Secretary in Lagos. He spoke with Sunday Sun recently.
Could you tell us more about Culturati and what you stand to achieve by bringing up this project?
Culturati is Africa’s largest cultural fusion, a platform that has been rewarding cultural excellence, empowering young cultural buffs and creating business opportunities for many to leverage on while celebrating Africa’s rich, diverse cultural heritage for the past 13 years. I decided that to set up a learning centre, Culturati Academy, in Lagos as part of the Culturati brand where youths will be empowered by being given the opportunity to learn a trade or craft. In a bid to mitigate the unexpected effects of COVID-19, which has caused untold hardship for many businesses and families, debutantes of the Culturati Academy are pencilled to be those adversely affected by the pandemic, thereby providing opportunities for them to learn a trade or craft. On completion of the training, they will be assisted in setting up an enterprise that will provide them economic relief. A prime goal of the initiative is to make graduates of the academy manufacturers and self-sustained economic agents who will add value to the economy.
What you talk about ‘connecting Lagos through arts and culture’ what exactly do you mean?
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 for 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. It has been 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 the Culturati platform. Through this platform, many young people have been given 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 creative individuals, and all to ensure the adequate positioning of culture in the overall development strategy and policy. This of course comes with some challenges, but we’re forging on.
How do you intend empowering youths through arts and culture in the midst of the pandemic?
Connecting Lagos brand is embarking on empowering people adversely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, as a lifeline to mitigate the negative jolts occasioned by the pandemic. The initiative is tailored around providing opportunities for prospective beneficiaries to learn a trade or craft, and they will be assisted to set up enterprises to provide employment and economic relief. The unexpected effects of COVID-19 have caused some businesses to shut down while many workers have been laid off. This has caused many to lose their means of livelihood, and by 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 various courses including farming, catering, photography, videography, fashion, designing, art and craft, 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.
What is the drive behind all you do?
For me, it’s just about making sure the society is free. A free society is a society where its youths are not idle.
How do you relax?
I work out. Each day I go for a workout. I’m also discussing business there and trying to connect with people. For me, wherever you are, make it count. See what you can get out of it and what you could also put into the place. In as much as I go out to get something to eat or for relaxation, I try to get business out of that.
What other things take your time aside this?
I’m so keen about empowering the youths. I believe that a lot of younger people they just sit; if truly elections can be done online, of course we would know what the result would be like. It is beyond that; politics is a process and I want to imbibe that. We are not ready for the young president because we must be able to buy ourselves into it, we must be able to show that we are ready. Election in Nigeria is not a game of anyhow number, you must have the numbers and that’s why some of the big names in politics you also see them doing their mathematics, trying to see how they could see buying from the North, East and all that. But when you look at our young people in politics, it looks as if once they aspire you probably get there and all that. No, you must have figures to play when it comes to politics. When Sowore visited Kaduna and saw the kind of turnouts that should have told him he was not ready to win the election. Let’s see how we can double up into the National Assembly, let’s see how we can double our numbers in the Senate; speak and let Nigerians see that you have what it takes, let’s see how we can identify with the children of this top leaders that things cannot continue to go like this. They travel abroad and see what is happening. In politics we have the language barrier, we have religious barrier, ethnicity barrier and all these play major roles in politics. You see, 2023 looks very far but we can see the going around. South West know that in as much as we are pushing for that, we cannot get it without some other key factors in other regions.
What are you saying to the youths politically?
This is the time they need to brace up. Election is not won six months to election. We have to plan. But here, we see the youths three, five months to election trying to regroup. You can’t win election in few months with a party that has no structure.
As a business operator, how have you been able to stay afloat in the face of buffeting by COVID-19 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 therefrom, to better our lives and society. 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 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 the online 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 advice would you give business owners in the post-pandemic era?
I daresay 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 organization. The pandemic provides a good opportunity for businesses to do some re-evaluation and ask questions about how to improve efficiency after this blows away.
The use of digital platforms has 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 them and build in-demand skills.