The amazing thing about knowledge is this: when you remove the situational space of learning; when you take out the details of a particular learning experience, what you're left with is a conceptual, a philosophical nugget of wisdom that you can apply across the board. For example, I've found that the best motivational and self-developmental books/articles for me are those written in the situation of business management. No Oprah for me, Harvard Business Review is all the self-help I need!
On to the purpose of this post: broadly, the age of internet and more accurately, the progress in real-time communication and subsequent dissolution of geographical boundaries, has spurned an incredible creative revolution in the arts in Africa.
The big conversation of the decade was the success in encouraging and supporting creativity in Africa. The result? An incredible fashion industry replete with designers with a strong vision and originality. The same goes for music, photography, digital art, furniture design and others. The beginning of this millennium was also the beginning of a continent-wide renaissance of the African identity, in all its wonderful diversity. It was an exciting time when what previously was thought of as impossible, as unattainable, for Africans was challenged. We redefined the inaccurate image of Africa, we showed a modern side that the world previously was almost completely ignorant of. And in turn, we exposed ourselves to a wealth of potential that could been adapted to all fields: finance, sociology, politics, technology, etc.
The conversation towards the end of 2010 progressed to the need to emphasizing entrepreneurship that would sustain this African creativity. In essence, the focus shifted from creativity to visibility, the market, and revenue; to business. Now that it was clear that we could produce quality art, through fashion, music, photography and other artforms, how could this be translated into profit? The answer lay in a larger global phenomenon: the internet. The democratization of information brought by the internet gave an opportunity for visibility and for attracting a market, which would translate into revenue if used the right way. This is an example of opportunity meeting preparedness.
Social media - Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin - are platforms that were made to increase communication between friends and family. However, by the end of the decade, these were increasingly used by businesses to establish more authentic relationships with consumers than traditionally known. This means business has become personal. Owners of businesses can readily know what their customers want and do not want through comments left by the latter. One great example of this conversation for African designers is the increasing focus on accessories which for consumers are more affordable than apparel, and which for designers are a way of further developing brand image and expanding the revenue base. In addition, this positive spillover effect is pushing designers to focus not just on the body, but on a lifestyle. A Christie Brown woman for example - successful, independent, modern but at the same time conscious of her Ghanaian heritage - might be drawn to a certain type of decor, providing CB with a venture to expand the business whilst maintaining and growing the brand.
Aisha Obuobi, founder of Christie Brown
There are no rule as to who can use social media, and the most creative entrepreneurs are reaping the most benefits. Futhermore, since social media itself is used by businesses as a way of connecting with potential customers, for Africans this has prompted the need for a stronger web presence through improving company websites. This is very important for business as we shift from traditional, physical spaces for conducting transactions to virtual space. With new perception-changing gadgets being invented every year such as smart-phones and tablets, a business' online presence is just as important as its physical premises. Three prototypical examples that I'd like to focus on: The BHF Network (USA), GHUBAR (France) and DESTINY Magazine (South Africa).
The BHF Network is a social networking site with one aim: to promote the rise of the African Creative class. BHF Magazine on Facebook has more than 20 000 fans, the magazine itself has launched its first print edition. The next step: a BHF social networking site that is a real-time networking base for all BHF readers. Launched in November 2010, membership reached over a thousand by the end of the year. Activities on the site include forums, onsite blogs, events, videos, and a personal page for each member that allows you to message other members. The most popular forum to date is: What is your biggest challenge in getting visibility for your product in the world marketplace? where different artists share their challenges and solutions to those challenges. For BHF Magazine, this gives editors insight to who their readers are and what topics are important to them. It is also an excellent way of finding talented writers for contribution, and keeping updated with what's happening in Africa's creative world. Above all, it makes the print magazine even more personal. It's no longer just a bi-annual publication, it's an extension of what happens on the network. You eat, you sleep, and you read BHF magazine.
GHUBAR started as a magazine in Paris two years ago. The January 2011 Issue marked the 2-year annivessary for GHUBAR, along with the unveiling of a new website presenting all facets of this prototype. No longer just a thriving and hugely popular online magazine around the world, there is now GHUBAR Models, GHUBAR Studio and GHUBAR Channel. Founded by the ambitious and meticulous Sarah Noemi Diouf (Cote D'Ivoire) at the tender age of 21-years, GHUBAR is not your typical magazine - it's a multimedia company that has been growong exponentially thanks to a dedicated staff with a clear sense of identity, and loving fans around the world. Opportunities presented by the internet, combined with hard work and passion, helped refine and disseminate the magazine's philosophy: diversity.
DESTINY Magazine was started by media mogul and Harvard Business School graduate, Khanyi Dhlomo. Dhlomo is also managing director of Ndalo Media which, together with Media24, have equal ownership of the magazine. As a successful businesswoman, Khanyi founded a magazine that would appeal to other women in business. The print magazine was an instant hit, but as a periodical, it needed a web-based version that would provide real time interaction with its readers. DestinyConnect - Women's Business Network and Lifestyle Magazine is this online portal for such women. The DestinyConnect facebook page has a staggering 43 000 following, more than ELLE SA, Marie Clarie SA, Cosmopolitan SA combined.
In conclusion, as we start a new year and a new decade, the principles guiding success in business and in personal life are blurring as business becomes a personal affair. Success in all factions is guided by the same principles: integrity, hard work, and an ability to identify and capitalize on opportunities. I am excited to see progress in the arts in Africa - to see an increase in receipts for people with unique talents that can be used to improve the lives of others.
Fashion Et Al progressed into Native Touch Fashion Show, and my dream is to expand into a MOMA (museum of modern art) carrying works by contemporary artists; a library containing the works of African writers such as Kopano Matlwa, Chimamanda Adichie, Dambisa Moyo along those of Steve Boko, speeches by Nkwame Nkrumah, the constitution of the Organization of African Unity; a retail business focused not just on apparel but on lifestyle - clothing, decor, books, art, and everything else that would appeal to the cosmopolitan generation of Africans. One is allowed to dream right?!
Wishing you a successful year ahead,