Nina Mapili: The journey of a career making a difference

"I understand personal empowerment to be the process of giving a person the ability, the power, to “take charge of their life” – to be able to responsibly and independently define and pursue their personal vision." - Nina Mapili founder of Journey 2 Excellence (J2Ex)
 
Where on the planet are you currently located? I started this list of questions in Madagascar, continued in South Africa, and finished in Germany (where I live).
 
Your career has seen you travel the planet and currently you head up a project called the Journey to Excellence, tell us more? I began working with entrepreneurs, businesses, organisations, and individuals in southern Africa in 1997 as a consultant to SAFRI, the Southern Africa Initiative of German Business, a German B2B initiative. The Journey to Excellence (J2Ex) program grew out of this engagement, along with additional factors such as my experience as the Course Director of Germany’s first international English language Masters program. I also have degrees in architecture from the US and Germany, and am a believer in lifelong learning.

Though my work in Africa began with a focus on organisational and business excellence, and targeted fairly well established businesses – with the goal of helping them become more competitive - over time it expanded with offerings targeting less “sophisticated” businesses and organisations, and the people within them. These days I work mostly in the latter area, specifically offering, and developing new facilitators for, workshops called “Take Charge of Your Business!” (TCYB) and “Take Charge of Your Life!” (TCYL).  TCYB helps management teams develop strategic frameworks for their business, and develop action plans to implement them. TCYL does the same for an individual – a task that in many ways is even more challenging than for a business.  
 
With TCYL, we target “people wanting to lead an enterprising life”. To me, this means a person who wants to be proactive in shaping the path their life takes, as opposed to someone who just “goes with the flow”.  (FirstStep.me says from Architect to real life hero - awesome!)
 
You work extensively in African and developing regions, what are the key issues to make these regions stronger and more stable? The word “empowerment” is way overused, and often misused, but I’ll define it and use it anyway. I understand personal empowerment to be the process of giving a person the ability, the power, to “take charge of their life” – to be able to responsibly and independently define and pursue their personal vision.  (Too often people confuse the word with “entitlement”,  a mentality that is at the core of many of the region’s problems.)  
 
So what does that mean in this context? It means that people need to take personal responsibility for their lives and their futures, not simply cede this responsibility to governments, chiefs, parents, or any others who might come along.  This will strengthen Africa and other developing regions. Of course, this also implies good education for all, not just for a small elite!
 
Any crazy or out the box adventures that you have had with The Journey to Excellence program? My day-to-day would be pretty out of the box for many, what shall I list?  
 
- Recently I had lemurs jump on my head in Madagascar while filming the Journey to Excellence video. (FirstStep.me says see picture above!)
 
- I had the chance to meet a fascinating assortment of people - from farmers in mud huts to presidents in palaces –  from Madagascar to Togo (15 African countries), many European countries, some in Asia, the US…  Next week I’ll be talking about the J2Ex program in Vietnam!
 
- I have been deep underground in mines, worked with a huge assortment of businesses and organisations, and – after hours – bungee jumped off bridges, flown with microlight aircrafts, and watched all sorts of wildlife in the bush…
 
Where do you see the program in 5 years time? I see dozens of independent J2Ex facilitators taking the program to the next level by reaching out to more varied groups of participants. As a result, I see thousands of people, businesses and organisations increasingly and successfully “Taking Charge”!   
 
At present, for example, workshops can be presented in English, Ndebele, Shona and French. We have facilitators and partners reaching out to small and medium businesses, entrepreneurs, youth, employees, children. All of this primarily, but not only, in urban areas. That leaves a lot of room for expansion!  
 
In terms of young individuals looking to venture into developing countries through various internship programs and NGO setups, what advice do you have for them? Go for it!  But remember: keep an open mind, and be ready to challenge your preconceptions.
 
Your average day is not average at all! How do you manage your hectic schedule and do you kick start you day with a cup of coffee? When I’m home, I start the day with a really good cup of tea.  When I travel, I try to do the same. If that is not possible, I resort to coffee.
 
Prioritize, systematize, focus, delegate… and work as smart as possible (while also working really hard).  Of course it helps that I am highly motivated, since I see that what I do has a positive impact on individual's lives.
 
If you could name your own planet what would you call it? When I said recently that I was “off to look for lemurs”, one of my friends replied “...that sounds like a new planet”.  However the lemurs were really easy to find, so I thought "No, not a good option.  A planet should be named after something more elusive.”  This got me thinking about animal-related names. Between flights on the way home from Madagascar recently, I visited a botanical garden in South Africa. There I hiked along a special dassie path.  The path was long, the day was hot, and no dassies were in sight – beyond a quick shadow seen out the corner of my eye . So, I thought, “is this the name for a new planet? Something suspected but not seen?” As a Trekkie, I take such questions seriously!   
 
However, after the long and fruitless trek, just before the exit gate, I came upon a patch of grass just covered with the critters (who, by the way, though they look like overgrown guinea pigs, are apparently the African elephant’s closest living relative).  Too easy after all therefore not a good name. So for the moment, I’m stumped!  Maybe I would just call it “Home”. (The FirstStep.me team raises eyebrows but smiles at the same time!)
 
Words of advice for the youth of the planet? Mark Twain is credited with having said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”
 
I’d add Joel Barker’s words: “Vision without action is merely a dream. Action without vision just passes time. Vision with action can change the world.” , and then challenge young people to go out and change the world - for the better.  
 
You can find out more about the Journey to Excellence (J2Ex) program on their Facebook page!