Chude Jideonwo started Joy Inc. to "spread happiness across Africa", now he's trying to provide resources for people living with depression.
Earlier this year after he completed a World Fellowship at Yale University in December 2017, the media entrepreneur left his position at RED, the platform which is home to YNaija and Statecraft Inc. to start Joy Inc, a revolutionary non-profit whose primary objective is to “spread happiness across Africa”.
“Africa has leapfrogged once before — from desktop to mobile — and it’s time to leapfrog again,” Jideonwo said in a statement launching the new company .
“In fully harnessing the power of positive emotions in line with the current thinking across sociology, psychology, divinity and behavioural economics, Africa’s new generation can possess the tools needed to not only tackle the continent’s mental and emotional health crisis, but also leapfrog around the considerable obstacles that prevent its nations from achieving full potential and transforming nations.”
As one of his first projects, Chude is making an attempt to address depression, trauma and the resources available to people living with these and similar conditions.
He is asking you to join him, and help the good people at Mentally Aware Nigeria and She Writes Woman, in raising 10 million naira to build a walk-in center for young people dealing with depression and trauma.
Here’s what he says about it:
"I am very effusive person. Those who know me closely know that, even though that’s not the image that filters into the public.
I just sent a mail to one of my team members saying, “My heart burst with warmth at your mail” and he responded, “Awwwwwnnn…Chude! ”. Because that’s how I choose to live my life these days — with emotion, with feeling, with delightful goofiness, and with the fullness of myself. I shared that with you, because it really just makes me smile.
I walk around the office with bare feet because what does it matter; I scream, “Osas!” at the top of my lungs whenever I visit RED where I used to be CEO because our receptionist, who is also one of our administrative associates is one of my favourite people in the world; I hug people every time I can; I gush over my partner every chance I get; I take random photos with my mother anytime she visits; I tell people they hurt me even if they think I am more powerful than them. I say a lot of please, thank you and I am sorry, because it makes me feel connected to others more fulsomely. I laugh, cry, and love, very fully.
I began to do this — to begin the journey to becoming my truest, ‘whole-est’ self — many years ago, when I decided I would be unhappy and fearful no more, and I would find joy. I would live life on my own terms, because I finally figured out that that’s what this really is about; that I could really do that, despite the risk and the doubt and the fear. That I could really live my truth, and do whatever the hell my heart felt was right and nourishing, and…good.
But it wasn’t always like this.
I am almost ashamed to say this now because I had no excuse. My parents were not rich, but they were not poor. They sent me to good schools. They had a marriage that was difficult sometimes, but they stayed together because of me; it was a good marriage, and they never projected pain or trauma unto me. My life has had no abuse of any sort (not even verbal abuse by my mother), and I have been loved and validated by my parents every day of my life.
Yet even with all this reinforcement, when I left their protective arms and went into the world, it frightened me. There was so much lack of love and warmth and good faith, and care, that I quickly learnt that I couldn’t be open with my feelings, I couldn’t be vulnerable with my fear. I had to be well put together, perfect, else someone would have a go at me. I grew up in this mortal fear of being hurt, and of being myself.
And that often led me to unhappiness, and to anxiety and to clinical depression now and again. I was depressed over broken relationships, over unwanted weight, over business rejection, over being broke, over losing a pitch or a competition. I wrestled with inferiority and insecurity, even though I had no reason to. Just because the world wasn’t a safe space, wasn’t a warm place.
Many of you reading this, you know what I am talking about. You know how you have (or hopefully, had) to hide your true self, your true feelings, your fears and doubts, because you don’t feel anyone cares, or you don’t want to be the ‘softie’ in a hard world. You had to learn to survive, rather than truly thrive.
These days I ask myself: How do people who were raped, who were abandoned, who were emotionally and sexually abused, who were victims of divorce, who grew up in abject poverty, how did they survive the world? How did they cope? How do they manage?
Ever since I started talking to my team about joy three years ago, began to teach others from 18 months ago, and began to do this as my life’s work a few months ago, I have seen more things that have broken my heart. So many are in so much emotional and mental pain, and they just have no one to talk to.
I ask people to send me their responses to my daily newsletter, The Daily Vulnerable (you can sign up now on thedailyvulnerable.com) and I make sure to read them every week. The things I read about bullying, and abuse, and hurt, and pain, and loss, and fear…it’s…People. Need. Help. People just need someone to talk to, someone to listen, someone to say a kind word as they continue their journeys, someone that confirms to them what they feel is normal, it’s human, and it’s alright.
And I know this, because I have the quantitative data as well as the stories from the people I meet every day at our masterclasses, at my speaking events, on my social pages, in my email inbox — our communities, our society, especially here in Nigeria, are too hostile, too negative, too harsh. People are suffering and they have no one to turn to.
People are dealing with abuse (oh my goodness, is there even one young woman who hasn’t been somewhat sexually abused by wretched men in Nigeria?), trauma, depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts and they have nowhere to go.
I was shocked when my new friends at SheWritesWoman and Mentally Aware Nigeria told me they have been trying unsuccessfully to raise money to build walk in centers and get toll-free lines that people can reach out to without judgment, without being preached at, without being scolded.
Where does a young person walk into today if they are suffering depression or anxiety and want someone to talk to?
So I decided to put myself on the line, and raise this money from you, and other people like you who read this. I could harass brand managers, or companies, or beat down the doors of rich friends to do this, and avoid the burden of putting myself out there. But remember what I said about living bravely? Yes, putting myself out there — where I may fail in raising the money, because this is not an urgent call for a person who has cancer, for instance — is risky, but so what?
I want this money to be raised by the public. I want all of us together to raise this money for Mentally Aware Nigeria and SheWritesWoman, so we can prove to ourselves that our humanity matters, that our emotions matter, that our society can heal itself even if it takes us a while. The process of the public doing this together is part of the idea. For us to be human, together.
Today is my birthday. And this is the only gift I really want. For us to raise a minimum of N10million to build this center. The full accounts of this fundraising and how it is spent will be published online, so you can see where your money goes.
Thank you for helping me do this.
May your days be filled with love and joy".
Needless to say, what Chude is attempting to do is very important. While many young Nigerians deal with clinical and acute depression, the general attitude to the subject is one of derision almost.
To put it simply, we act like depression is not a Nigerian disease but something for white people who have had too much to eat and more than enough time to let their minds wander.
Evidence in the stories and experiences of young Nigerians negates this perception. As we seek to discard the elements that have fuelled Africa’s stagnation, we must address the issue of mental health.
We can start by giving people in need a place to share their stories and need, but ultimately, we will need to do much more.