We had tete-a-tete with Omer Aftab, a renowned social entrepreneur, on the process and impacts of behavior change communication. Below are the insights we derived out of it. What is Behavior Change?Behavior Change is a complicated process. It involves substantial commitment, effort and willpower. Partially due to our socio-cultural underpinnings and partially as a result of some bad experiences in life, we make certain negative concepts in our minds and get accustomed to some bad habits; and we start thinking and believing that we are right in our opinions and stances. Thus, behavior change refers to complete overhauling and revitalization of mind. What is the process of Behavior Change?Behavior change takes place in different stages. There are usually 6 stages including pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance and relapse. Passing through each stage requires constant guidance by some behavior change expert and strong dedication by the person itself. Usually, it is a long-term process but results are positive if intention is good and endeavor is robust. What is behavior change communication?Communication is key when it comes to changing perspectives and shifting paradigms. This communication needs to be designed and executed very carefully in order to neutralise or minimise its negative impacts. Look, it is pretty hard to disassociate a person from his/her beliefs as these beliefs are built up through years of enculturation and socialization. On the other hand, behavior change is totally unlearning and relearning. A behavior change communication expert first wipes out his/her subject’s mental blueprints and then inculcates new ideas and concepts over there. Behavior change communication can be direct or indirect. The direct communication includes one-on-one sessions, advocacy and counseling while the indirect methods refer to micro-profiling and disbursement of information according to the targeted audiences’ interests and aptitudes. What do you think is missing in our social change movements?The real change occurs in behaviors and no change is feasible and sustainable without this. No matter how strong laws you pass and how strictly you implement them, you cannot eradicate predicaments until you pinch on the area where these stem from. What we usually do is to approve and implement a law and punish the offenders. This punishment creates more resilience and rigidity among them instead of decreasing it. Our entire focus is on criticism and punishment. This is not garnering the desired results. We need to adopt an emphatic approach. First, we must step into the shoes of our target audiences, learn and experience their issues and problems, understand their interests and leanings and then treat the cancerous areas accordingly. What is your approach as a behavior change communication expert?As a first step, I always try to micro-profile my targeted audiences. This includes getting a complete picture of their social, economic, academic, family and occupational environments. When I have this data before me, I tailor my communication strategies and campaigns accordingly. This approach has very minimal chances of failure. Over the years, I have introduced a number of behavior change interventions from getting the breast cancer acknowledged and accepted as a key health hazard in the society to changing narrative about women. This all was made possible with an emphatic approach.Omer Aftab is a distinguished Pakistani social entrepreneur, an accomplished advocacy professional, a veteran behavior change practitioner, a successful communal reformer, an adept branding specialist, an eminent campaign strategist, PR expert and industrialist with his career expanding over 29 yearsPublished in Daily Times, December 30th 2018.