When reporter Ray Lucey spotted a poster promising ‘male spaces’, he started asking questions. He encountered Mojo, and learned all about the nationwide initiative.

While walking in Tullamore some time ago, an interesting looking poster with a striking logo and a catchy slogan – ‘Mojo: Creating Male Space’ – caught my attention. Taking two steps back to read it fully, I was quite intrigued with my new discovery.

Mojo logo

Mojo, I learned, is a 12-week training programme developed by a collective of organisations and designed to reduce the high levels of male suicide in Ireland. The programme is aimed at men who are in distress and facing employment issues stemming from a lack of availability of jobs, poor physical or mental health, or providing care to a family member. It is intended that those who attend the programme will be empowered to create a more positive future for themselves and their families.

The first Mojo Offaly project ran in 2011, part of a national movement spearheaded by Mojo Projects and supported by the National Office for Suicide Prevention.

“The downturn in the economy in 2008-2009 found a lot of men with time at home, unemployed,” said Mojo Offaly programme co-ordinator Caroline Brickland about the programme’s beginnings. “The South Dublin County Partnership [SDCP] wanted to respond and meet men’s needs, so they set up the Mojo Project.”

The project was the first of its kind in Ireland.

With the Mojo 4 programme currently underway, I met with Caroline, as well as six past Mojo graduates from Mojos 1, 2 and 3, who each spoke of their experiences with the programme.

Speaking to the men who were present, it was clear that there is no such thing as a stereotypical Mojo programme participant, with a wide range of ages and personalities in attendance. One thing was abundantly clear though: through the programme, they all experienced positive outcomes and life-affirming improvements in their personal lives.

“At the end of every Mojo, you see how straight the men are walking,” said Willy, a participant on Mojo 1. “I got great energy out of it. [There are] great tools to be got in it. I got my confidence back and am able to take on challenges easier.”

One aspect of the programme that can be of particular benefit to participants is the friendships that develop out of a shared situation. Joe from Mojo 3 found that his complaints and worries weren’t unique to him. He said that Mojo is “kind of like an extended family. You could talk to and build up a rapport with them… A little bit of hope is all you need”.

As Caroline put it, “with voluntary participation, it is a male space, talking about issues that are pertinent to men”.

Joe agreed that Mojo gives you the tools to deal with life’s challenges. Graduates of the Mojo programme are known as Mojo Brothers, and they maintain contact with the local organisation. Some return periodically to visit, or indeed to assist with programmes currently running.

What does Mojo cover?

These programmes combine mental health support, adult guidance, physical fitness training and an overview of social networking methodologies. This helps participants to be and stay well, to identify the barriers to achieving their goals, and to learn how to plan for the future.

Each participant also has access to two one-to-one sessions with a life planner.

The Mojo national office is supporting the development of Mojo projects across Ireland. Currently, there are four Mojo projects in operation: Mojo Kildare, Mojo South Dublin, Mojo North Dublin and Mojo Offaly. Other projects are in the development phase, with interested parties across 13 counties. The aim is to have 20 Mojo projects throughout Ireland by 2020.

Willie, a Mojo 1 graduate, spoke about “black ops to the shops”. He said some men are so isolated, and maybe paranoid, that even a trip to the local shop is like a secret mission.

A group gathers at a Mojo meeting

A musical performance breaks out at a Mojo meeting. Photo: Ray Lucey.

“They just want to get what they need and make it back to base with as little human interaction as possible in case questions are asked regarding how they are,” said Willie.

He says Mojo is so successful because it is transparent and built on pillars of truth and honesty. As a Mojo veteran, he meets newer participants halfway through their course and helps them by sharing his experience. He says this approach is key.

“A lot of them open up as they can see what I got from Mojo through being honest with myself. When Mojo men realise that it is their space, and once they open up, they confide in each other and relate to each other, given time to express themselves and other men to listen.” Willie claimed that in overcoming life’s issues and challenges, “Mojo gives you the bricks and mortar to build that bridge and get over it”.

He said that when commencing the Mojo course, you take “small baby steps going into it, but now it’s ‘What else can I learn?’”

Confidence-building is a key element of the programme and participants are signposted to services available to them, Willie says.

“All they need is a kickstart.

“As long as I keep doing the right thing, I’m OK, whether that’s helping myself or others. That’s the main thing: men finding their own space. You are not dictated to or not being put under pressure to get something done. Do it at your own pace and, when you see the end result, that’s when you get your Mojo back.”

Who makes the ideal Mojo man?

Where do Mojo participants come from? Two-thirds are referred from mental health services, primary health care, the probation service and drug rehabilitation projects. The remainder are self-referrals, or come because the men hear about the programme through word of mouth.

“Self-referrals are best. Services are saying, ‘Give this a try,’ but men are also hearing about this through the grapevine,” said Derek McDonnell, CEO and co-founder of Mojo.

“We are building up a trusting relationship in each area we go into. With the men, we look at their values about life and what stopped them in the past from achieving their passions.

“We address masculinity and what it means to be a man. That’s really important; that whatever type of man we are is perfect – we don’t have to be any certain type,” he said.

In April, a ceremony took place in Tullamore and Mojo graduates spoke publicly about the change it makes getting your mojo back.

Daniel, a Mojo 4 graduate, said, “It helped me find my purpose. After Mojo, everything came together.”

Richard, another recent graduate, said, “I was stuck in a rut for 15 years. With Mojo, I have a lot more options. Everyone was supportive and helpful. The best thing about this is there is no judgement from anybody”.

Thomas, another Mojo 4 graduate, was referred to the Mojo Offaly programme. “I need a change in my life and went open-minded into Mojo. I was told to take out of it what I could, and I got what I needed from the course. The key thing for me now is to move forward and start a new beginning.” His particular focus is on adult education, with his hopes set on Social Studies and a course commencing this September.

Offaly County Councillor John Leahy spoke at the graduation about people with mental health issues and those affected by isolation.

“They just need someone to break that mould.”

He said he had seen how Mojo helped people to transform themselves in 12 weeks.

“The biggest crisis is in mental health and we need more programmes like this for adult men and for youngsters,” he added.

Caroline spoke at the Mojo 4 graduation: “For every man, his goals are different, but one thing unites everyone: we are all striving to be the best we can in life.

“The members of the Interagency Advisory Group guide the programme in Co Offaly to ensure that all men who can benefit from the programme have the opportunity to engage with a quality service that is supportive and responsive to their needs, signposting options for each Mojo man that will assist him to meet his life goals and ambitions.

“Each one of you committed yourself to sharing lessons from your life experiences for us all to learn from, reflect on and ultimately grow. As a group, you were open to suggestions and feedback, and really harnessed the team ethos, in that ‘together, everyone achieves more’.”

The support system Ireland needs

According to Derek McDonnell, CEO and co-founder of Mojo, the programme was built with a community development approach – “from the bottom up, with support from the top” – in conjunction with national policies, including the Connecting for Life suicide strategy.

“It is important to keep that connection, from the local to the national,” said Derek.

All Mojo projects are run independently and with a degree of autonomy. A key component of the Mojo programme is that it is facilitated – rather than taught – by the programme managers. At its core is peer support.

Mojo was the culmination of a three-year plan involving an interagency response and research into the high incidence of men at risk of suicide in South Dublin. It has since expanded its scope, with projects operating in Kildare, North Dublin and Offaly.

Given the programme’s focus, ensuring its continuation is understandably a priority. Currently, Mojo is retaining between 86% and 90% of participants per course.

“We make sure the quality stays the same as the programme develops,” said Derek. “Mojo is so successful because of the quality assurance piece we have developed. It just shows how much value the men place on the programme. We realise the positive impact on the men and the transformative effects on their families.”

The results speak for themselves. After completing the programme, 83% of participants report a reduction in anxiety and depression. 70% of Mojo graduates progress to work, education or volunteering.

‘That’s the part we don’t realise – how close we are to a mental health issue or life-interrupting issue.’

Derek has an explanation for the programme’s success. “We created a space that men would want to come to, but also in relation to mental health, education, work life and physical health. Up until Mojo, local organisations could not get men into programmes. We created a space for men that they own, where men are equal partners [to those running the programme]. It has to be really organic and, if not, it’s not Mojo.”

The three founding fundamental principles that underpin Mojo are community development, adult education and mental health recovery. According to Derek, everything in the programme must be in line with them.

“It is important to us that when men leave the programme, they have had a really good experience and an opportunity to connect with other men who will support them post-programme,” said Derek.

This can have a real-life impact on the programme’s bottoms-up approach. Two past participants are now on the national board of Mojo.

“It is important to us that we always listen to men who have been on the programme, and that they can build their capacity to advocate for themselves and for other men as well,” said Derek.

While the programme is yielding results in Dublin, Kildare and Offaly, it is clear to Derek that there is an urgent need for Mojo around the country. “That’s the part we don’t realise – how close we are to a mental health issue or life-interrupting issue.”

The intention to expand is very much part of Mojo’s plan, but the communities that are in need will have to be a big part of its development. “We build each project from the ground up and leverage resources that are in the community,” said Derek.

He elaborated: “Our job when we are working with the men is to be a facilitator, not a teacher, and to facilitate the men to know about themselves what they didn’t know. Unearthing tacit knowledge and supporting the men to connect with each other.”

“We need to be really careful that we are invited to do something, as opposed to going in thinking we should be doing something.

“The big thing for me is to bring about change.”

2 Mojo days at a glance

Mojo programmes feature input from various services working in health and wellbeing, volunteering, employment and education service, and lots more. This plays a big role in some of the themed days the programme puts together.

Wednesdays: Wellbeing and resilience

  • Exploring what mental health is
  • Exploring how physical activity impacts on one’s mental wellbeing
  • Mindfulness
  • Anxiety/stress
  • Coping mechanisms – decider skills
  • Sleep
  • Routine and structure
  • Self-esteem
  • Wellness Recovery Action Programme

Thursdays: Life Planning

  • Goal setting
  • Change
  • Communication
  • Self-employment opportunities
  • Volunteering
  • Educational opportunities
  • Employment-based programmes – jobs clubs/EmployAbility
  • Department of Social Protection
  • Citizens Information Service

For more information, or for advice on setting up your own Mojo project, contact the Mojo National Office on 01 450 8561 or at info@mojo.ngo.

Interested in reading more about the state of Ireland’s community development sector? Check out our latest issue.