By Priscilla Nyathi

Like many others, my husband Nick and I were fortunate enough to use the Covid-19-induced lockdown to sit down and reflect on how to add more meaning to the work we do.

Working in the plant nursery business we not only chat with our customers but also with people of similar interests in plants and the environment. When we engaged with the public we found that there were a large number of people who were intimidated by the idea of gardening. Even among people with more experience with plants, there were always questions asked that frequently had nothing to do with the plants we were selling.

As we know there is no shortage of information on the internet but it appeared few people were committed enough to do their own research, although there was a seed of interest within them.

We saw a need to bring motivation and information in an easily accessible way. We saw an opportunity to provide practical and contextual gardening tips and to link the information with broader issues to do with the environment in general.

Thus the idea for Greenspace — the urban gardening channel, and for Zambeziflora a more specialised and academic indigenous plant and botany channel were born. The main difference with these pages, compared to anything that exists in Zambia at the moment, is that they would provide information in video format which is easier for people to engage with.

“We will learn as we go” and with no particular plan in mind, we started creating videos for Facebook and YouTube. We soon found out it wasn’t as easy as we thought it was going to be. Neither one of us had any media or journalism background, we knew nothing about video production, social media algorithms, or engagement tactics. Needless to say, it’s been a steep learning curve. Not only did we have a desire to tell a good story but we wanted to have a good quality product and that is how we found Jamlab.

Within a few weeks of beginning our little experiment, we were convinced we were onto something good. Without any kind of promotion, we had received feedback from people about how excited they were about what they had seen on our page.

One business we profiled had increased sales after our episode on them aired. We had also realised the potential of our project to actually influence people in a positive, non-confrontational way, by making them see the bigger picture of the impact of so many of our activities on the environment.

But to continue with the video project we realised we needed help. With our limited time and resources we needed to be more efficient if it was to be sustainable in the long run. We felt a bit overwhelmed. We started a search online, not sure what we were looking for but just that we needed to have some kind of structure to our project especially if we wanted to shorten the learning curve and not waste resources.

When we came across the Jamlab Accelerator Programme, it seemed too good to be true. Not was it designed for media start-ups but it fit exactly into our timeline too. We were thrilled at the idea of getting help from someone real and could not wait to take a break from the University of YouTube.

Although we are still in the early phases of the programme, the knowledge gained from the Jamlab Accelerator Programme has already helped us critically analyse our plant business in general and rethink some of the assumptions we had for our online channel. We were more concerned about the technical side of producing videos but we realised that it fits into the bigger business model frameworks which will refine some of our ideas.

By December, we intend to have a quality gardening channel that our whole team can be proud of, promoting the concept of green spaces in urban areas.

The JamLab Accelerator is a six-month hothouse programme for journalism and media innovators. It is based at Tshimologong Digital Innovation Precinct in the heart of Johannesburg.

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