Interview with Dr. Mehret Debebe
By Eyob Workineh, October 01, 2019
A leading promoter of change, motivational speaker and author of best-selling books, Dr. Mehret Debebe has been a household figure in Ethiopia the last few years. His inspirational event, the Mindset Series, has been one of the most influential events in Addis Ababa attracting people from all courses of life. LinkUp Addis sat with Dr. Mehret Debebe for a chat about his life, his experience and his projects.
As an introduction, tell us a bit about yourself.
To put it short, my name is Mehret. I was born in a town named Mojjo. I grew up in a big family. Though I wanted to be a mathematics teacher early on, I ended up studying medicine, specializing in Psychiatry. Until recently, I moved between Ethiopia and the USA serving as a psychiatric doctor. Currently, I am focusing on social development.
For the past few years, you have had a very active presence in various social activities in Ethiopia. What is the mission?
What I have been doing is all about Mindset Change and Personal Development. I think our society has not yet given the individual its rightful position. As a society, we think and live as a group. While many societies around the world focus too much on the individual and are challenged by a broken social element, in our society, individuals are hidden behind society. So, the first core mission is working on empowering individuals and bring about a mindset change and personal development. This is not about creating an individualistic society, it is about creating a society where individuals are valued and given the right position they deserve.
The other core mission is promoting ideas. Our society focuses too much on material elements and few value ideas. Thus, we work to bring about individuals transformed through ideas, and ultimately a society that builds sustainable institutions based on ideas.
Your event, The Mindset Series, has been one of the most important event-led inspirational, social movements in Addis if not in the entire country. How did you come up with the event?
Well, I love ideas, and I am active in my faith too. For a long time, the social activities in our country have been mostly entertainment, information or education driven. The only motivational/inspirational drive came from people’s occasional attendance to religious gatherings, and the ethical/moral teachings may not be practiced in the day-to-day life of individuals. When I was in the USA, I have seen many events, books, and projects focusing on personal development. As compared to the amount of effort the western world put into this, one can easily see there has been almost nothing done in our country in this area.
Inspirational events, naturally, combine the entertaining, informative and educational elements, and as opposed to many other types of events, may result in an overall social movement and transformation. It is with this thought that we started the Mindset Series.
As discussed earlier, you strive to bring about a mindset change in multiple ways. In your opinion, what are the key indicators of mindset change in society?
The results of what we do are not very easy to measure. The only way to measure the result is by looking at the impact of what we do. The impact might be in terms of direction or paradigm shift, and psychological and social awakening, etc. One shift I am observing these days, for instance, is that we have started recognizing that our biggest problem is our negative mindset. You hear this in many media and discussion platforms. I think this is a very important shift because we have now identified the problem which is 50% towards the solution. The other 50% which might be even more painful is working to change the problematic mindset. If we consciously work hard on ourselves constructively, I think we will see a major shift within the next decade.
However, changes often happen between generations, and we might not be there to see the ultimate change.
You have written a couple of books Yetekolefebet Qulf and Lela Sew. Both books were best sellers in the Ethiopian market. Do you consider yourself as a career writer?
I do many things. For instance, I work as a psychiatric doctor, but I do not consider myself a doctor. I just take medicine as one of the ways I express myself. It is the same with writing. When I have an idea, I try to find the best way to express it. That’s how the two books were written as fictitious stories. If they were written as self-help books, I don’t think they would have been as wildly accepted as they did. Shortly, I don’t consider myself as a career writer, but if that is the requirement to write, well, I am.
Both of my books incline more towards motivational elements rather than artistic elements. That is because I believe art is a vehicle to the message the artist intends to transfer. It is the container of the content.
Several readers claim that there is a common trend in your book the major characters are only from a specific social and educational background. Do you agree?
In a way, yes. When I wrote both my books, I started from the story and developed the characters. While some characters can transmit the message of the story, other characters did not have that capacity. To have a realistic story, I needed characters with the capacity to say what the books intended to say.
Do you plan to write a new book?
Yes, there is a new book coming up. It focuses on conscience. I hope it will come out soon.
You have had two seasons of the Mindset series. How successful has the event been?
Our main success is trendsetting. We are attempting to set a trend where people pay to come into an event and buy ideas. A lot of people were quite confused when they first heard that this is a paid event. We do not have much of that confusion anymore. People are learning to buy ideas.
Our first season was titled New Idea, New Mindset. The second was New Self, New Society focusing on emphasizing individual blocks to build a society. The current season is title Noble Character, Noble Culture focusing on creating and nurturing noble character to bring back our Noble culture. What’s new this season is that we will start debate sessions once a month.
Coming to your observations of society, what strikes you as the biggest difference between the society you grew up in and the society we live in now?
One significant difference I see is much weaker social cohesion. We used to have a highly interrelated and interdependent society where people had a sense of belongingness and ownership to one another. I don’t see much of that these days with the society fractured because of several social, political and economic factors.
On a positive note, there is much better openness to connect with the outer world, there is more interest in being informed as opposed to the society I grew up in.
Still on your observations, what is your frustration?
One of the biggest frustrations for me is negativity. People prefer telling you “No” or “Impossible”. They usually need someone to show them things are possible. Another observation I have is that there are too many unfinished projects in town. It’s as if we have stopped finishing anything.
Finally, if you have anyone to say thank you, you can say.
I would like to thank all the people giving all their time and energy for the Mindset Series. I would also like to thank Fana TV for covering our event. I would like to thank the management at Eliana Hotel where the current mindset season is taking place and managements at Intercontinental Hotel and the National Theatre Hall.