Anesu-Tendesai Chikumba, a Zimbabwean brand strategist and content marketer, has a passion for solving Africa’s challenges and empowering young people, which led to her creating Unpublished Africa – a social impact organisation that supports and assists Zimbabwean storytellers and creatives.

Unpublished collaborates with storytellers to find new and creative ways of telling African stories whilst providing a space for like-minded creatives to build a community that encourages collaboration, curiosity, and confidence. Chikumba says that Unpublished is “committed to creating and facilitating events and activities that encourage the sustained advancement of visual storytellers and their invaluable work while prioritising the growth of the African emerging creative”.

You are a digital brand strategist with experience in marketing, what led you to the field of photography and African storytelling?

I help people build better brands and businesses that they can launch their visions of. I do have a background in brand strategy and digital marketing and have trained in business and then went on to do an advanced diploma in digital marketing, which is how I stepped into that. I essentially help people through different avenues and the first was the ‘created creative’ which is where I serve entrepreneurs and as a result found myself working in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. I have taken what I have learned in the entrepreneurial space and have applied it to the creative space because the skills are still needed in those spaces, they are just applied differently.

Unpublished Africa captures Zimbabwean and African stories through photography. Why choose to create this platform that specifically focuses on photography as a medium?

We need more stories from Africans and when you look at photography, it’s unique in that it goes beyond language barriers. If you see an image it communicates or tells a story. Photographers are in a great position to tell the African story, and we need more African stories that are told by Africans. We need more platforms for African photographers and visual storytellers to share their stories, to be equipped and to build communities to improve their storytelling. When we look at the narrative of Africa, it mostly focuses on our leadership and poverty, which is not the only thing happening on the continent. We know that as Africans there’s a lot more to Africa than has been told. At Unpublished, we equip people who can capture this on the ground and as a result we are creating spaces for the full African story to be told.

This was highlighted in our most recent exhibition titled City Life Resilience – a street photography exhibition with 12 photographers from 9 cities. It was linked to a publication that we have released titled From the African Streets, which celebrates Africa and showcases what Africa looks like and what our everyday looks like both the good and bad. But we do want to just try and encourage more storytelling, more true and real stories and authentic stories and encourage our everyday African visual storyteller to be the one to tell that story.

How often do you host exhibitions and how can storytellers and photographers showcase their work? 

Unfortunately, we do not host exhibitions as often as we would like to, as we have other programmes that we run. We started by serving Zimbabweans but then realised that there’s a similar need across the continent. Africa is not monolithic and we do have different problems and we are at different stages from country to country. But when it comes to our emerging visual storytellers and when you speak to them, you realise that there is an appetite for conversations. There is an appetite for more spaces to showcase their work and put out their work, art and craft. In January, we decided to move from Unpublished Zimbabwe to Unpublished Africa, because we wanted to create a space for all Africans to showcase their work.

We have a database of photographers and visual storytellers, and when there’s an opportunity that comes up we send it to them. For the City Life Resilience exhibition, we had a callout for our publication From the African Streets, and the people who were featured in the publication were allowed to showcase their work.

What support does Unpublished Africa provide photographers and curators?

The Creative Business Studio is a six-week virtual programme that focuses on the business of creativity and how to navigate the business aspect. Each week we take them through a different aspect of business from accounting and finance to brand strategy, business strategy and social media, and digital marketing. In our last cohort, we collaborated with NFT Kenya and we also had a segment on how to monetise in the NFT space. The programme includes workshops and consultations. The photographers and visual storytellers engage with the content through the workshop, which is where they will learn their material and then through the consultations, they can apply the information that they would have learned. The participants of the programme are then invited to contribute to the publication Africa published.

You mentioned your collaboration with NFT Kenya, how can media entrepreneurs create partnerships and collaborate with other media organisations?

The first step would be to identify your goal. What do you want to achieve which includes your objectives? When you seek to approach other organisations or individuals, you need to identify how they can also benefit from the partnership. There has to be something in it for everyone at the table and the nature of Unpublished at the moment is that a lot of our efforts are collaborative. The creative business studio collaborates with consultants and consulting organisations. With our partners, we all aim to serve creatives which allows us to form these partnerships.

Digital technologies have significantly changed how stories are told, how has your company or platform responded to these changes?

We started online, using social media platforms, and given I have a background in digital marketing, I do have a better understanding of how to capitalise on the space and what tools we can utilise to better manage the business first and better manage Unpublished and to better serve the visual storytellers.

Building a media business can be challenging, what are the necessary steps that one needs to take to ensure that their business is successful?

You need to think about what is your goal why you are getting started, and what is your big why.

Firstly you need to think about the problem you have identified and how you want to solve it. Doing that means that you aren’t tying your business to a specific service or product, but you’re tying it to a transformation. Once you’ve identified a solution that works and solves the problem for people, you’re able to serve them better. Another key thing would be to understand your target audience better. For us, it is visual storytellers, we had to take the time to understand what their needs are and what some of the primary problems that they face are. Then you start to understand what some of the secondary challenges are as well. There are primary challenges and then secondary challenges which are other things that you might not necessarily have set out to solve, but if you solve them it will help you serve the people that you want to serve better.

How do you measure success?

Success has been measured by our ability to serve the people that we set out to serve. Firstly by understanding their needs because the more you’re able to engage your target audience, the more you’re able to understand what some of their needs are. At Unpublished we help visual storytellers and photographers build credibility and then create opportunities that can help them build their creative businesses. But firstly we need to look at some of the reasons why they might not be able to sign up for those things such as exhibitions or other programmes. For example, if we decide to curate an exhibition and invite people to participate, you might have people who apply or who send through their work, but they’re not able to afford printing which becomes a barrier to entry for that opportunity. Understanding them and their needs and how else we can help them has been one of the ways we have measured success.

We have also measured our success in terms of our reach, We have been focusing on engaging more people but most importantly engaging more people purposefully with collaborations. Our recent exhibition was a collaborative effort with one of our participants from the Creative Business Studio programme. We are really big on collaboration and how we can equip them to monetise their talents. There’s a gap in the market for emerging artists, people struggle to tap into opportunities because they don’t have enough entry-level opportunities to first gain experience or to gain the credibility they need to tap into spaces that can actually build their income-earning capacity. At Unpublished, when we bring in new artists we are helping them with their credibility and to better equip these artists to engage with players in the market.

We also have a survey of photographer rates that allows photographers to see what prices to charge so they know how to price and feel more confident in the work that they’re doing.

What is next for Unpublished Africa?

We are working to create more opportunities for photographers and visual storytellers and to better serve them through our publications, programmes and workshops. We are working more engaging with different organisations and individuals across the continent so that we can continue to build on the work that we’re doing. We believe we go further together, our purpose is to continue to find ways to work with others, and to learn more about our audience, the space that we’re in and how we can better serve people.

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