The public lecture on Mindset Change by Malawi’s Vice President Saulos Chilima was timely, as is the initiative to initiate conversation and discussion.
It is good that the initiative in the presidency is from the Office of the Vice President, which among others, is the platform for championing the reforms programme. I am believing the reforms have opened or unearthed deep seated issues that have been the axis of the challenges and difficulties in moving forward as a country – the mindset.
Mindset change is indeed a matter of decision and sometimes can be a bitter-sweet process, where one is doing away with the old way of doing things to embracing the new. It requires a whole bucket load of focus, determination, patience, and discipline along the way.
I like the approach the presidency has taken in setting the foundation one which the country can operationalise the change. It is grounded in empirically scientific and social behaviour change approach.
Just like any change (political, religious, personal development etc), mindset change requires practicing and living its energy. Now, considering that this may (probably) not just be about an individual but working on developing a collective national psyche for a progressive and development mindset – and also dealing with fatalism, corruption, mediocrity, and the many vices that have plagued our society in this day and age (awkwardly and sadly), the pathway towards this paradigm shift has facets both bitter and savory.
We nevertheless have to painfully squeeze the pus out so we can gradually heal. We also have to, carefully, make gains and build on the sweet and low hanging fruits already seen in other areas. For example, laws and justice have to continue being seen as laws and justice – applicable to all and sundry (we are on the right path already).
All over the world, among others, the media has a strong muscle in shaping national mindset and perspective as much as a nation’s success or its tragedy. It has the power to set an agenda and a narrative.
For example, despite underlying ethnic antagonism, the Rwandan genocide was inflamed by the media. On the other hand, the tiger economies of Asia have also been inspired through creating a transformative national psyche, that re-framed their social constructs, towards development.
In our own country, Malawi, the media to an extent glorified corruption through pronunciation and depiction. For example, with due respect, the only national radio in those days had the audacity to allow pronounciations such as _‘Katangale aposa salary’_ almost on daily basis. The print media had a well circulating cartoon depicting opulence of one ‘Mr Katangz’ who had access to so many goodies from his corrupt money. The lingual on the street changed from ‘ _she/he is business person’_ to ‘ _ndi wa ma deal’_ or _‘amapanga za ma deal’._ We, later on, had people in leadership positions proclaiming to the masses _‘kumachenjela pa town – osamaphethila’._ We quickly embraced that one has to make money and not earn it – as a nation, we can also unlearn many of these, as well as re-learn through mindset change.
Mindset change at personal level is a personal decision but just like being christian ‘born again’ _(for lack of time and space to fit in all processes of transformation in all other religions),_ it can manifest as an instant decision, but at times, it can also be achieved through repetitive exposure to change information, through a strategic approach the change agent engages in facilitating the transformation.
For example, _’faith comes by hearing…’_sometimes in a repetitive way. It is, therefore, equally necessary to craft a fully fledged ‘Whole Of The Nation’ campaign for a strategic mindset transformation delivered at national level _(through media and public content),_ at institutional level _(through organisational and departmental codes of conduct and soft skilling)_ and at personal level _(periodic inspiring speech deliveries),_ to remould society. The campaign can be for a 5-10 years period. Making it a breathing and living machine subject to constant reviews, to build on the quick wins and dissect the difficult areas.
The word propaganda may have, for long, been associated with negativity and spin doctoring, but the process is just as informative and educative in achieving the necessary end. The end should justify the means in certain circumstances, as long as it is agreeable with the people to do so, and in their best interest. It may be necessary if the ends are for the greater good of society.
Other than running a campaign, the approach can also be inclusive of other government ministries, departments, and agencies as critical stakeholders.
For example, wouldn’t it be prudent to strengthen the Censorship Board with more than just its primary function of reviewing books? In this case, and as part of mindset changing, would changing its name be the starting point so that people can mentally wean away from its image of yester years? Would a name Media Content and Information Consumer Board (MCICB) be ideal in the transformation process to, among others, provide checks and align the mindset change approach in media and social media content – or could that facility be better under the Ministry of Information and Civic Education? Or would that be retrogressive in the spirit of the Access To Information act?
In addition, the reforms programme may consider working on having a desk to facilitate an sector inclusive steering committee that should include agencies such as the National Planning Commission (NPC), Censorship Board, the Media Council of Malawi (MCM) Ministry of Information and Civic Education (MoICE), Malawi Communication Regulatory Authority (MACRA), Chiefs Directorate at Ministry of Local Government (MoLG), Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), National Initiative for Civic Education (NICE), the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCI), Council for Non Governmental Organisations in Malawi (CONGOMA), etc to foster an approach on how each of these would operationalise mindset change in their sector deliveries.
It should be seen as a behavioral sciences approach, or psychological behaviour approach intertwined with strategic communication and a powerful stakeholder engagement.
For example, the Media Council and the Censorship Board can work with media houses on programming content. It is beautiful to greet your loved ones every morning or wish them happy birthday on radio _(whilst they are sitting next to you at the breakfast table),_ but how much value would radio programming add in people’s and national economic transformation if the mornings were packed with programs that inspired people to engage in economic activities; programs that share inspiring ideas for the day?
These two can also work with the media housed to, apart from media houses maximising revenue, instill the need for a good percentage of motivational content in their programming.
Equally, community engagement organisations such as NICE and other community programmes can also be mindset change agents through their programming. They can work on their material to reflect mindset change at grassroots whilst promoting best practices on their deliveries.
Further, other stakeholders such as MoEST can consider how to reintroduce Civic topics in the education system, but now as Ethics and Morality subject under social studies – to instill a mindset of integrity, national servitude, duty of care, and respect for self and other, whilst these members of society are young (Mmela mpoyamba).
Other than at individual level, leadership at various government departments, agencies, and units have to be transformative themselves, they must understand and embrace the concept of reformation and that of mindset change, so that they can ably champion for it in their respective spaces.
Equally, traditional and community leaders need to understand the changing times and embrace the approaches in the governing of their communities and subjects.
It is a daunting task, but national transformation and mindset change is very possible, we are on the right path and everyone needs to participate, as we are re-calibrating the trajectory of our nation.