The GE Reports Africa blog’s partnership with aKoma Media, where stories are made@africa, formed part of the Amplify initiative, Africa’s first paid fellowship for content creators.

As the series draws to a close, we speak to aKoma Co-founder and CEO, Zain Verjee about the Amplify programme.

What was the inspiration behind the Amplify fellowship?

The inspiration behind the Amplify fellowship came because talent in Africa is awesome and not given enough opportunity. Discovery platforms do not exist and creative talent is also under appreciated. Amplify changes all that. We discover new and exciting talent, offer a training platform for growth and development and a content showcase on akomanet.com.

We are very proud of the fact this is a six-month paid fellowship programme because we want to demonstrate the value of story and narratives for Africa, told by African creators.The content emerging from the fellowship directly delivers stories that capture the essential vibe of the content and places front and centre the amazing storytelling talent in Africa.

Why do you think it’s important to develop content creators in Africa?

It’s important to develop content creators in Africa because they are the next generation of influencers who will re-tell Africa’s narrative. They will bring forth the stories of Africa that are not just about war, famine and corruption. There is so much more to Africa than that. Amplify will help change the narrative by discovering new talent and giving them opportunities that they did not have before. At the same time, by developing content creators, our fellowship hopes to elevate the value of creativity in Africa. It is widely expected that people in creative media should work for free. Or that if you want to train to be a creative writer or documentary producer, it should be on the side and something that you do for free. We reject this totally.

Talent and creators should be valued, and not taken advantage of. We hope that our fellows will walk away with new skills, a space to share ideas, collaboration with global brands and most importantly, an understanding of their true value that will put them in an optimal position to build a career or business for themselves. They’ll also have a pan-African tribe of highly skilled, savvy and impassioned content creators and storytellers to collaborate with.

What did you think of the inaugural graduates? Do you believe they will continue to pursue careers in content creation and storytelling?

For our inaugural fellowship, we selected the top 25 writers, photographers, animators, and videographers from Nigeria, Rwanda and Kenya out of over 1,000 applications. The inaugural graduates grew so immensely and we appreciate how they rolled with the punches. They’re a diverse and entertaining bunch, and their hard work really showed in their final project. They presented their branded content campaign for GE Africa in front of a panel comprising Professor Bitange Ndemo, Pamela Sittoni of Nation Media Group, Patricia Obozuwa of GE Africa and Google Kenya’s Charles Murito. I believe that they will continue to pursue careers in content creation and storytelling. As a matter of fact, many of the fellows still work alongside us to create content.

Now that the first fellowship has been completed, do you think the programme could be adapted to be more beneficial for future graduates?

Yes.  We have learned many lessons from the cohorts in Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda, and we will adapt to make it more beneficial. For instance, having them do projects that are more team-oriented, giving even more critical feedback to their work, and encouraging cohorts to meet one another and collaborate, or collabo as we like to call it.

Will there be future fellowships?

Absolutely. In fact, we are about to launch our second Amplify fellowship in September 2017. We are proud to be adding Ghana to the mix of Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda. We have selected a batch of 30 super talented videographers, photographers and writers. Our goal is to grow the Amplify programme to be the #1 media fellowship programme on the continent and in the diaspora. I do not just want the fellowship to be solely continent-centric because I am very adamant, as well as my co-founder, that we do not want to ignore the rest of the world where there are powerful, African stories to be told. I would like the fellowship to be recognised as a powerhouse, storytelling and training space for fellows to get opportunities they would not normally get and after the programme, they are in a better position than where they started. I want fellows to know they are a part of the aKoma tribe, where they can build relationships, where they can build their businesses, where they can be paid to build their content, and where they know we won’t exploit creators financially.

The growth of Amplify would put us in a position to shift the narrative because enough people are saying different things about the continent. It is not to say the stereotypes or negative stories aren’t true — a lot of them are. But those aren’t the only stories and they should not define us. I would love in the next five years, we can define ourselves and make a tangible, measurable contribution and shift the African and Africa narrative. I would be very happy if we reach that point and we could have support from international, Pan-African, regional, and community media. It is not that our fellows are less talented than those in mainstream, international media. They are just as talented. Many just have not had the opportunity and we are providing them one.

Image top: The Amplify graduates celebrate the end of an engaging content development programme.

Image above: aKoma Co-founder and CEO, Zain Verjee. Credits: Supplied

Why are skills development initiatives such as Amplify so important for Africa?

Skills development initiatives are important because I learned that the talent is there, if given the opportunity. I have seen some phenomenal things emerge, once talented people have the platform and the tools. It has been very validating for myself, my co-founder, Chidi and the team because the kind of stories that we envisioned, came about.

As a former CNN news anchor, were you able to share some of the lessons you learnt at CNN with the Amplify fellows?

Yes, I was able to share some experiences. I would like to create more room for on-air talent and field reporters to learn from what I have done in my 14 years at CNN.  Many of my own colleagues at CNN would like to share knowledge and experiences with young African talent, and I hope to bring them into the curriculum and instruction in the future.

How has the transition from CNN to aKoma (and Amplify) been going? Do you miss being a journalist?

I don’t miss being a journalist. I am in a new phase of my life and one where new challenges are on the horizon each day.  I felt I had reached the top of where I was going to be at CNN and it was time for a change. It has been one of the more rewarding and fulfilling experiences of my life. However, I really don’t think I could have pushed forward with the darkness, the loneliness, the confusion and the struggles, if I didn’t really believe in what I was doing. The obstacles are greater than I thought they would be, so I have to be as tough as nails to get through the days and inch forward. Having my co-founder and CNN-alumna Chidi Afulezi at my side has been invaluable. He brings a lot of business knowledge and spirit to keep hustling.

What advice would you like to give to aspiring African content creators?

My advice would be to keep going if you love and believe in what you are creating. It is important work. If you are rejected, do not lose heart, keep trying and something will give. Do not give away your work for free, it has value. Most of all, be courageous.

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