In honour of Women’s Month, for this month’s media entrepreneur edition, we sat down with Binja Basimike, the co-founder of Unwomanly Media, an organisation that aims to increase marginalised groups’ confidence, provide validation for African women and their impact on the continent, and serve as a catalyst for promoting gender-responsive and inclusive media. Unwomanly Media is committed to promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals on gender equality and parity across the company’s structure, policies, talent pool, partnerships, products, and audience.

Basimike is a connector, digital marketer and foodpreneur investor. Since making her move from Boston to Kinshasa, Basimike has established multiple ventures in the city: Kivu Brand Architects, Diaspat and Unwomanly Media. Through these ventures, Binja engages with African creatives and entrepreneurs in the pursuit of the development of the continent starting with her home country – the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Basimike co-founded Unwomanly Media alongside Patience Landford a multilingual international development practitioner, human rights strategist, and gender equality and humanitarian expert, with experience working in cross-functional environments within both development and crisis contexts. She’s also an unapologetic afro-feminist, economic enthusiast, and emerging investor, who champions a women-centred and feminist approach to market investment opportunities in Africa. Originally from Liberia, Landford co-founded Unwomanly Media to move away from the cliched patriarchal interpretation and falsification of African women in traditional media.

1. Binja, you refer to yourself as an unapologetic “girl boss” in the technology and digital space. What led you into the media industry?

For eight years I worked in consulting and my background is in health care and public health, but whilst working as a consultant I was a content creator and a lover of fashion. I was obsessed with making chronologies of everything that was fashion and for me, the idea of being able to tell a story through the content that you have always fascinated me. I lived in Boston for a couple of years and I worked six days a week, on my off days I would take the day to go and do photo shoots, meet other content creators and attend influencer events. My interest in the media space was from the perspective of somebody who loves to tell stories. When I moved to the DRC, three years ago, I was surprised that African stories were still not being told from an African perspective which was the saddest thing because I had lived abroad for about 12 years and had I believed everything I had read about the continent it would’ve been an exaggeration or wouldn’t have given the full context of a story. It was incredibly frustrating to move back in 2020 and still not have enough people who are telling our own stories. It felt as though we still had to wait for international publications to be able to hear stories about ourselves, and as a black woman in Francophone, I felt misrepresented. In DRC we lack the proper infrastructure that will help us to thrive. So for me getting into media was out of frustration and celebration.

I think I would credit being a consultant which teaches you how to think, how to strategise, and how to run businesses very differently. I had worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies, with different needs, and I wasn’t looking at it as someone who was moving from the healthcare industry to media, I was looking at it as somebody who knew how to solve problems and was trying to solve this problem, it wasn’t much of a transition for me. I was more focused on all of these transferable skills that I’ve learned and questioned how to I translate what I knew into this media space. I was mainly focused on the problem, what am I trying to solve and how can I get there.
3. Unwomanly Media says it aims to revolutionise the media in Africa, can you explain how your organisation is revolutionising the African media?

When we initially started the company, we researched the continent and how stories were told, what we found was that African storytelling was country-centric, so everything was incredibly siloed. A reporter in South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria would report on stories in their own countries, and these stories were rarely told from a pan-African perspective. We found that there were only a few organisations that were pan-African and for us, it was an opportunity. At Unwomanly, we’ve taken a revolutionary approach to being heavily biased toward women because, at the end of the day, we know that men will always advocate for men and will always create spaces for other men. For us, we saw that there was a niche that was open where female-centric media content was not well represented. For example, the women who were being celebrated in journals and major publications were older in their 50s or 60s and were established captains of industry. We saw it as an opportunity to be able to tell these stories and amplify these women’s voices, whose stories often go untold. At Unwomanly, we don’t just focus on telling women’s stories and amplifying those voices, but we’re also looking at the medium and we launched a podcast that focuses on young African female entrepreneurs.

4. What have been some of the challenges you have faced as media entrepreneurs and how have you overcome these challenges?

Unwomanly is based in Kinshasha, and our infrastructure was not good when we first launched. I had a Wi-Fi but we could not sustain an actual conversation with it. We were heavily challenged by the infrastructure and the lack of connectivity in the country. We also struggled to find background information on the women we invited, we wanted to tell these rich and full stories, but in the beginning, we couldn’t because the information we found was limited. But the good thing is that once we got people talking, the stories that we pulled out of them, were rich and we didn’t need the background. But when we started, it was extremely challenging, especially for the different formats that we were looking to execute. As a two-woman team, it has been challenging because we had to learn how to be versatile very quickly.

Despite the challenges, it’s been wonderful to see the Congo grow and change and also just dedicate the time to find and research the people that we have interviewed. It has taken perseverance and patience. 

5. Many media entrepreneurs struggle with funding and creating partnerships, how can entrepreneurs fund their businesses?

I would advise entrepreneurs to do a combination of both sponsored funding and self-funding. When we began we discussed how much we had to contribute to the business and what we could make with it and we also leveraged our networks, sharing and promoting content within our networks. In terms of partnerships, we reached out to Africa Podfest and we spoke to one of the founders, who gave us her time and advice on the podcasting industry in Africa. We spoke to people in the podcasting space to have a better understanding of the industry and know where and how to fit our own podcast.

6. Your podcast, A Series of Ands, focuses on amplifying women’s voices, how has it been going? 

We launched our second season on August 8, and in both seasons we have spoken to 22 media entrepreneurs, and have been able to talk to women such as a Zimbabwean woman who had been sexually assaulted as a child and is now a top 3D Architect in her country. In season two, we interviewed a woman who escaped the war in Libya and now works in a health tech firm. These are stories that I would never have known unless we went on this journey and this quest to find these women. This podcast has allowed us to delve into who the interviewees are as people because I think it’s easy for people to just label themselves as what they do. It’s easy for people to go straight into what they do, but the question is really who are you at your core? I think that is the story that we don’t get to hear and the podcast has allowed us a window into the lives of these women, and I’m in awe.

7. What advice would you give to upcoming media entrepreneurs?
8. What is next for Unwomanly Media?

When we launched we started from a position of having something to prove, we had a chip on our shoulders and we were focused on executing this vision to amplify female voices on the continent. We are excited to announce that we are launching a finance podcast and we have partnered with a Zimbabwean woman who is based in Nairobi and has a background in the fin-tech industry. She’ll be talking about bitcoin and cryptocurrency and we’re hoping that what it does is it gives the confidence to invest or reinvest in the same way that African men do. Her role is to help African women know where their money needs to go. 

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