By Joseph Besong
Faced with a myriad of challenges, Africans must imagine and create the continent they want as a way forward, says Arrey Obenson. In an interview with PAV, Obenson, Co-Founder and CEO of Transformunity, a consulting firm that harnesses opportunities of corporations and organizations to transform the world, says the re-imagination is not feasible only within government and corporate board rooms , but also in the streets and market squares of Africa.
“We have cultured a master-servant mentality in our society that has become so pervasive in the African society. We need a massive mindset shift to accept that every child that is born in Africa deserves the same opportunities as a child that is born in the most advanced economies in the world,” Obenson says.
Founder of I Am Cameroon with a mission to inspire, educate and engage Cameroonians to accept and assume responsibility for the development of Cameroon, Obenson in this interview dwells on efforts he is leading to supplement Africa’s response to COVID-19 , and his stewardship with Junior Chambers International, JCI, where he served in diverse capacities for close to two decades.
PAV: Mr. Obenson, thank you for accepting to grant us an audience for an interview could we start with an introduction of Arrey Obenson in his own words?
Arrey Obenson: I am a global citizen, who is committed to being an actor in the common destiny of humanity as opposed to being a spectator. Born in Cameroon, educated as a lawyer, I am a husband to an incredibly beautiful wife – Queen and father to two awesome boys. I am a Strategic Consultant and CEO of a Consulting Firm called Transformunity with mission to help organization harness their opportunities. I am also Founder of I Am Cameroon with a mission to inspire, educate and engage Cameroonians to accept and assume responsibility for the development of Cameroon.
I am passionate about finding solutions to complex challenges. I am invested in empowering young people and lately in helping small organization and businesses identify opportunities and develop strategies that will help them achieved their greatest potential.
PAV: Can you shed light on your engagement with the civil society, governments, and leadership roles?
Arrey Obenson: At the age of 23, I joined an organization called Junior Chamber International (JCI) as founder member of my Local Organization in Limbe Cameroon. This organization gave me the opportunity to get involved in the development of my community. In 1997 serving as its Local President, we were able to raise funds and completely renovate 9 wash houses at the Limbe Regional Hospital, saving lives of thousands of patients who used that hospital. This experience led me to understand how much power lies in the hands of citizens to will change in their communities. I thereafter resolved to be an actor rather than a spectator in my community. I then took to building the organization, creating more opportunities for other young people to get involved and benefit from the same experience that I had had. In under two years, I traveled thousands of kilometers across Cameroon starting up Local Organizations and growing the membership of JCI Cameroon by over 500%. I was then tapped by the World Headquarters to work as its Director for Growth in Africa. In that capacity we grew Africa’s membership by over 100% in 5 years and expanded the organization to the Middle East. I was the given the opportunity to serve as Executive Director, Deputy Secretary General and eventually Secretary General.
One of the remarkable achievements which we made at JCI was strategically positioning the organization and its members as solution providers to the complex challenges of our society. The organization became therefore an active player in development by being at the intersection of government, corporations and the civil society. I led the organization through 3 strategic plans, developing a new mission, vision and long-term strategic positioning. We took on bold initiatives like mobilizing young people around the world to come peace actors with a global peace campaign. We were one of the first global NGOs to embrace and adopt the Sustainable Development Goals and made this the core of projects young people did in over 100 countries. We also developed and copyrighted a framework for the development of communities that eventually has been adopted by several other organizations around the world.
In accomplishing the foregoing, we had to collaborate with all sectors society. I worked closely with the United Nations, engaged with regional organizations, business leaders, countries leaders, community leaders and celebrities to achieve our common goals. I also spent a lot of time traveling, and inspiring young people in over 100 countries.
I am a student of leadership, learning at every opportunity. My style of leadership is essentially giving people the opportunity to share leadership. The best leaders to me are this who can rely on the people around them. You can only do that by building trust, having a clear vision and being a motivator.
PAV: The COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t spared Africa. What role have you played in helping the continent cope with the pandemic?
Arrey Obenson: I hesitate to say that the pandemic has spared Africa. We have had over 30,000 confirmed deaths which is largely under reported due to the poor state of healthcare in most African countries. That said, based on what was projected Africa has seen less deaths and it is a blessing. We are still to assess though the impact on its economy, and the mental wellbeing of its people. Time will tell.
I have been playing a role in slowing down the spread of the virus through a project we launched last April called the I Am Cameroon COVID-19 Diaspora Response. As earlier mentioned, I am the Founder of I Am Cameroon and when we saw the devastating impact of the pandemic in Europe, we knew then that we had to do something for Cameroon. We then launched a campaign in amongst the Cameroonian Diaspora to raise money to procure and distribute PPE to healthcare workers in Cameroon, who are in the frontline of fights against COVID-19. Thanks to sup[port and efforts of these several associations and contributions of over 150 individuals particularly in the Diaspora succeed in raising of nearly $30,000 (US Dollars) and the distributions of 10,000 surgical masks, 2500 face shields, 10,000 surgical gloves and 100 coveralls. Theses PPE have been distributed in 5 regions of Cameroon reaching at least 15 hospitals.
We signed a signed Memorandum of Understanding with the Cameroon Baptist Convention Health Services (CBCHS), Cameroon’s second largest healthcare provider, with 80 hospitals and clinics in all 10 regions of Cameroon. The coalition relies on the CBCHS to facilitate the identification of the areas of need and distribution of PPEs as and when needed. The coalition continues to work with the National Association of Cameroonian Private Doctors in Cameroon and the National Association of Cameroonian Pharmacist for guidance in its action.
Going forward, the I Am Cameroon Diaspora COVID-19 Response has secured two 40 feet containers of sanitary gel (hand sanitizers) from a sponsor company called Saraya Co Ltd form Japan. These donations include 24,000 1L bottles and 220,000 100 ML bottles respectively worth nearly $500,000. Working with local partners, these sanitary gels will be distributed on arrival in Cameroon with 60% going to the CBC network of hospitals and the rest distributed to other healthcare institutions. The task ahead remains colossal, and while the coalition has saved lives, the need largely outweighs the means. As the I Am Cameroon Diaspora COVID-19 Reponse plans its phase two distribution, there continues to be a need for more resources, as well as the need to build resilience in the Cameroonian society. An impact survey conducted shows that healthcare workers are stressed, frightened about the lack of protection as well the lack of awareness in the population. The outcome of the survey tells us we must provide more PPEs, but also support the mental health of healthcare workers as well provide more education or awareness about COVID-19 in Cameroon.
We are also launching fitness challenge campaign that will mobilize Cameroonians to keep healthy while fundraising to support healthcare workers in Cameroon. (See attached project write up). We have a goal of raising another $50,000 to support healthcare workers in Cameroon.
PAV: Your success story speaks volume. What are your secrets?
Arrey Obenson: I do not see myself as a success. I strive to be successful at every endeavor. Sometimes I fail woefully, and I learn the most from those failures. My secret is asking the right questions. I like to challenge the status quo and not accept things to be the way they are but the way the can or ought to be. It is a mindset – one that focuses on what is possible rather that what is not.
PAV: As someone who is in consultation with governments and organizations in Africa, what is Africa’s greatest problem?
Arrey Obenson: We, the people of Africa are in the way of Africa’s development. It is hard for Africans to imagine an alternative Africa other than what they currently see. Yet we must imagine and create the Africa we want. This re-imagination of Africa cannot happen only in the corridors of government or board rooms of corporations but in the streets and market squares of Africa. We have suffered the hangover of our colonial past for too long that we do not see ourselves as equals. We have cultured a master-servant mentality in our society that has become so pervasive in the African society. We need a massive mindset shift to accept that every child that is born in Africa deserves the same opportunities as a child that is born in the most advanced economies in the world. That will mean accepting that every human being, every Africa deserves the human dignity that every human being deserves.
I believe that when we Africans begin to accept ourselves as equals and can accord to each other the dignity that every human being deserves then we will not accept that 400 million people live in extreme poverty, or that children still die of preventable disease or that only person can be leader for 40 years in country full of talented people.
Africa’s greatest problem lies in the mindset of its people. Ironically that mindset is the greatest opportunity. I am working on the secret to unlock that greatest opportunity – one person, one project at a time. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I am certain that when we can change that mindset, Africa will transform.
PAV: Thanks for granting this interview
Arrey Obenson: Thank you.