The TRUE AFRICA 100 is our list of innovators, opinion-formers, game-changers, pioneers, dreamers and mavericks who we feel are shaping the Africa of today.
George Issaias is the founder of African Speakers & Artists (AS+A), a new talent agency which already represents a formidable line-up of African success stories: from Ashish Thakkar and Erik Hersman to Sauti Sol and Just a Band. He tells us why it’s so important to give these people a platform and why the rest of the world is listening.
Why is it so important that African artists and speakers have a place on the world stage?
Africa has a wealth of insight and inspiration to offer the rest of the world. There are countless diverse and dynamic stories and storytellers that have either been silenced or side lined for too long. I returned to Kenya to set up AS+A after a 12-year hiatus in London. The first thing I did was prepare a shortlist of the speakers and artists I wanted to approach for our roster. After just one day I had written down 88 names, and that was just in East Africa. The continent is bursting with people who have incredible stories to tell, be they in business, tech, culture, politics or the environment.
Perhaps this is what prompted Shinzo Abe to describe Africa as ‘the continent that carries the hopes of the world’.
The rest of the world, like a slow moving ship, is beginning to come around. Fortune 1000 brands crave the insights that will allow them to tap into Africa’s ‘billion new consumers’, and burgeoning middle class. Foreign governments are frantically jostling for positions in African markets, and the technology world and its ecosystem has long looked at the continent, and in particular Kenya, for the next innovation. I could go on, and on.
Global audiences now want to hear from those on the ground who are living and breathing African progress.
In the past, that intelligence and those insights came from western academics, economists and business gurus, offering their proverbial two-pennies worth. Not anymore. Global audiences now want to hear from those on the ground who are living and breathing African progress, who have built successful home-grown businesses and are recognised as world-class performers.
Who do you think is up-and-coming and will soon be a household name in Africa and more globally?
There are quite a few, but off the top of my head, there’s one young man by the name of Victor Ochen in Uganda who has an incredible story to tell, which recently earned him a Nobel Prize nomination. Victor is the founder of the African Youth Initiative Network, an NGO that supports those affected and terrorised by the LRA in Northern Uganda.
Then there’s Boniface Mwangi, the Kenyan activist warrior and award-winning photojournalist. He’s been imprisoned and beaten more times that I can count, but is still so full of optimism, hope and determination. I had the pleasure of hearing him speak at his creative arts and performance space in Nairobi ‘Pawa254’ and was blown away by his passion and humbleness.
Another game changer is Ethiopian Sara Menker. Sara is the founder and CEO of Gro Intelligence. Gro Intelligence ‘cultivates opportunities’ by gathering, aggregating, and processing data to unlock crucial insights into weather patterns, trade flows, pricing dynamics, and production. It provides its users with actionable agricultural data to drive higher productivity and greater access to capital. Look out for Sara as she’ll be coming to a news channel near you very soon.
Who’s your African of the year and why?
There are simply too many people to choose from, but if I have to choose just one, it would be Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the founder and CEO of soleRebels shoes, based in Ethiopia.
She truly stands alone in the spectrum of successful business women in Africa and the possibilities for her future seem endless.
From the most humble beginnings in an Ethiopian slum, to creating the first omni-channel global brand from an emerging market, you won’t get impressive personal and corporate growth story than hers coming out of an emerging market.
This year she plans to open another 50 stores around the world. She truly stands alone in the spectrum of successful business women in Africa and the possibilities for her future seem endless.
Have a look at AS+A africa-asa.com
Come back tomorrow for the next TRUE Africa 100 and keep up to date using the hashtag #TRUEAfrica