“One of the biggest challenges we have faced globally is the Covid-19 pandemic. Companies closed and people lost their livelihoods as we were trying to survive this airborne disease no one fully understood. The pandemic slowed us down and forced us to re-evaluate how we wanted to do things going forward. While all this was happening, companies were also born, from the ground up,” said Lindokuhle Nzuza, project coordinator at Jamlab during a Jamlab Accelerator alumni webinar, ‘Is it business as normal post the pandemic’.

The accelerator webinar is a series of monthly webinars which forms part of the Jamlab Accelerator Aftercare Programme, that aims to create a network for entrepreneurs across the continent, who support, share contacts and help each other through their entrepreneurial journey via various platforms.

“We are hoping through events such as this that we can promote cross-pollution of ideas within Jamlab and other stakeholders within the digital ecosystem, whether it is opportunities or challenges and as the media landscape changes not only in Africa but globally, we are privileged to be part of this programme, with companies coming up with innovative ideas and solutions to contribute to society and also the discourse in the digital media space. We have been observing in the journalism and digital media industry, over the past few years we have faced a number of challenges and it is encouraging to see entrepreneurs leading innovative ideas to bring change to society,” said Phillip Mogodi, Jamlab Accelerator manager.

Adenike Aloba from Dataphyte in Nigeria was part of the sixth cohort that concluded in December 2022. Dataphyte is a technology-enabled, citizen-powered data gathering and analytics platform that provides highly localised real-time data for journalists, researchers, governments, international and local non-governmental organisations, intergovernmental organisations, and SMEs within Nigeria and globally. Bongani Shongwe from Cardinal Magazine in Eswatini was part of the fourth cohort from 2020. Cardinal Magazine started off as a digital organisation but has evolved and become a civil society organisation as they advocate for human rights, xenophobia, and racism as diversity and inclusivity are vast.

Mogodi said that “digital communications are expanding opportunities to create new forms of media, and how to engage different audiences. And what we are also seeing is journalists and media makers are increasingly having to operate independently rather than depend on long-term employment in large media institutions. This evolution is disrupting the labour markets and presenting new opportunities in a way one could not have envisioned 20 or 30 years ago.

Globalisation intertwined with technological advancement and the shift in geopolitics and the changes in regulatory structures are shaping the consumption and production of digital media products and are also shaping the commodification, distribution, evaluation and marketisation of the media. All of this requires new creativity and entrepreneurship in setting up and finding out one’s outlet, and creating a marketplace for their products and services. We are proud to be part of those changes, and disruptions and all of this would not be possible without the tenacity of the entrepreneurs and the Jamlab Accelerator alumni.”

“We launched during the pandemic when there was a need for information and people were struggling and trying to figure out and find information about the pandemic, and though there was available information, contextual information to help people understand why it affected them and why they should pay attention was scarce. Dataphyte launched a journalism initiative providing valuable information and we also launched a Covid-19 dashboard that predicated infections with 95% accuracy which was valuable and gave us a confidence boost,” said Aloba.

She said that the pandemic changed the way they worked as an organisation and which required their work to be more collaborative. However, working remotely posed a challenge as people were working and living under circumstances whereby electricity and the internet were unstable.

“Our business model focuses on product-thinking and how we can design products that can help us be sustainable. One of the very first product launches was research and because of our research on Covid-19 and the dashboard, people who had research needs such as data collection and analysis reached out to engage with us,” said Aloba. Adding that “our thinking and the solutions we were providing has evolved as the work evolved and now we have several platforms for data access such as Dataplex where we are curating fiscal transparency and accountability documents”.

Aloba said: “There was a clear need that people needed to collect data that was not easy to collect. For example, if there is a health organisation that has conducted research on the post-Covid challenges that people are facing, for a researcher in Nigeria that data is difficult to find and access and that is the simple solution we are bringing. It is data collection from hard-to-reach places curated and collected by citizens which allows citizens to be a part of their own data. Goloka provides a linkage for citizens to benefit from the data collection process”.

“The pandemic exacerbated the media sustainability challenges that we were and are facing and the hope is that there are more conversations helping media innovators rethink how they are engaging with media sustainability as many media organisations are thinking about sustainability from an outcome perspective and wanting more profit. In some media rooms to talk about journalism as a product is problematic and there is some resistance from veteran journalists but in reality, that is what it is,” said Aloba.

She added: “We need to critically analyse how we can innovate the whole value chain, we need to think about the people producing, the process of producing and the people consuming our products”.

But how can businesses create meaningful partnerships and collaborations? “Even the biggest organisations have to wrestle with the idea of collaborations and partnerships because sometimes it is our need that drives partnerships when it should be our purpose and it can be challenging when operating in a difficult business environment where your resources are not guaranteed by pursuing an opportunity that will benefit your business will result in wasting both your financial and human resources that you are hoping to build,” said Aloba.

Cardinal is a digital travel, lifestyle and leisure publication that aims to educate on racism, and xenophobia and promote inclusivity and diversity through tourism. The magazine explores travel in its entirety, not just physical movement from one place to another but mental and sensory stimulation when you read about our destinations, recipes, beauty and fashion tips and interviews.

Shongwe said he chose to launch during Covid as “most people were home. However, we experienced some difficulties as we tried to include everything in the publication but were able to scale and focus on the important topics of the magazine”.

As a result of the challenges Shongwe had to think about media sustainability, how to support his team and how to keep both his brand and magazine going. Evidently, he changed his approach and decided to diversify the magazine’s portfolio. As Shongwe has a background in tourism he decided to offer tourism services and grew their brands as they were referred to diplomats and government officials who became strategic partners. One of the other ways Cardinal diversified was by setting up a research consortium that tracks trends, “so we always stay on top of the ball,” said Shongwe. He added: “We are not selling tourism, we are selling a group or community that you can be a part of, we use tourism as a tool for shared experiences”. Shongwe said through partnerships with Angolan fact-checking organisations and Indian children’s magazines they were able to broaden their reach and build their magazine and brand. “With these partnerships, we are tapping into new markets and networks.”

Shongwe encourages entrepreneurs to “be open to change, and adapt to new challenges anything can happen at any moment and don’t think just because you have been doing something for over 25 years, there is one way to do it, you constantly have to be in the moment, in as much as you can plan for future projections, remember to be in the moment”. Aloba said that entrepreneurs or companies, should always put people first and build products that are people-centred because people make the product work. “I have energy but I cannot do everything that my team does. Thinking around your people will force you to rethink your process.”

How have emerging technologies such as AI impacted business relevance?

“We cannot afford to take an adversarial position against emerging technologies, we cannot stop it or limit its capabilities. As media organisations we need to think about how we can leverage digital technologies and how we can begin to build digital technologies,” said Aloba. In addition, “In Africa, the impact of emerging technologies is not quite significant as yet and we are in a position to properly prepare, we are seeing people use these technologies to produce better work at a faster speed. However, we do need to ask ourselves how we can leverage this and repurpose it for our use and optimisation”.

Aloba said media organisations cannot be spectators with digital technologies and from a sustainability stance it causes more harm to watch and wait and from a developmental lens we need to engage with the production shaping our future technologies”. She said AI is not good or bad and it has not yet put media organisations out of business and has not radically changed the business environment but there is an opportunity to think about how to leverage and fill in the gap that AI leaves behind.

In terms of tech innovation in Africa, the biggest question Africa will have to answer is how we can prevent these technologies from deepening inequalities in our countries.

Watch the full webinar here.

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