How Do You Tell the Stories of 1.2 Billion People?

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What do the stories of 1.2 billion people look like? Are they each unique? Distinguishable by each individual’s distinctive background, culture or language? One would imagine they would be. So why then does the popular narrative continue to portray an entire continent’s population as one homogeneous people, and so, one homogeneous culture of business?

During Advertising Week Europe, a collection of tech, business and industry leaders from throughout Africa sat down to discuss why the African continent, and its many unique cultures, businesses and people, should no longer be looked by the rest of the world as a single story.

“Africa is a diverse, long stretch of people that runs from the south to the north,” said Nikiru Olumide-Ojo, Chief Marketing Officer for Stanbic IBTC. “But we do have passion in common. We have a passion to make a difference.”

Though the rest of the modern world has yet to fully immerse and familiarize itself with business and culture in African nations, Bosun Tijani, Co-Founder of Co-Creation Hub, said storytelling is the key to transcending those borders and better connecting different parts of the world. Thankfully, new technologies have made their way into the African continent, making the ability to tell the stories of people in Africa – their experiences, their cultures and their many differences ­– an increasingly less daunting task.

“What’s important is how nations can leverage technology to their own advantage, and to understand that you don’t need to have deep science,” said Tijani. “We’re beginning to create things the rest of the world can take advantage of. Now it’s a lot easier for people to generate content and consume, so that’s helping to shape the narrative globally about our continent.”

Olumide-Ojo echoed those sentiments, noting that some of the biggest exports to come from Africa are the stories and experiences of the people that live there.

“Are we telling enough of our stories? No we’re not. Stories are powerful, not just to be told, but so that they are tangible and are making a real life difference,” Olumide-Ojo said. “We need to be more deliberate about telling our own stories. We each should think about what content drives the narrative about Africa out to the rest of the world.”

Eruke Ideh-Ichofu, CEO of Alytera, credits living and working in the UK for developing her drive to better the connection with Africa and the rest of the world. Doing so, and in seeing what is possible in places like the UK, has forced her to question why the same can’t be possible in her home back in Nigeria.

“It’s not easy, but it’s possible because tech makes that possible. People back home are outward looking. They’re thinking, ‘I want it, I want to be a part of it.’ So I felt it was my responsibility to take [my experiences] back to Africa and help shape the narrative, help change the perception, help bring them up to speed with where the rest of the world is,” Ideh-Ichofu said. “Africa is coming of age because we’re taking it back and we’re stepping up.”

A key in changing the perception of Africa falls to the creative industries, says Qondisa Ngwenya, Owner at Octagon South Africa, and understanding that Africa shouldn’t be painted with a “broad brush.”

“When you put an advert in a program that’s splashed around the continent, you need to understand it’s got to be in four languages. It’s those kind of nuances that people need to understand,” Ngwenya said. “And still, you can’t just translate it from English to French or Portuguese, because it’s going to have a different meaning altogether in each place. It requires a new approach and a new set of spectacles.”

Asked what’s next for African business, the panelists agreed it will be the furthering and bettering of existing technologies to make systemic ties with businesses in other parts of the world, which as result, will hopefully peak the interest of international investors and bring business back to Africa.

“If you’re coming to Africa, it’s not just about business,” said Ideh-Ichofu. “It’s about creating a lasting environment that will help businesses thrive. It’s about making change, and they’ll reap rewards further down the line. The returns will speak for themselves.”

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