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Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity

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Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.

Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.

“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.

One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.

Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”

One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.

In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.

“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.

A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.

Her work

Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle
Source: Coco Olakunle

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Opeyemi Adeyemi: Addressing menstruation stigma with her invention, The Flow Game

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Opeyemi Adeyemi fondly called dryemz is a Public Health Physician and owner of the sexual health clinic which runs under O and A Medical Center Ogun State, Nigeria. She had her medical training in Sumy State University, Ukraine and MscPH from the University of South Wales. Opeyemi invented The Flow Game in an effort to address menstruation stigma and has written two books on sexual and reproductive health. Her foundation runs the Brave Boys and Girls club which travels around the South western part of Nigeria to provide sex education to children and teenagers in the effort to fight against public health issues like teenage pregnancy, STIs, HIV/AIDS and Sexual assault. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her social entrepreneurship journey, The Flow Game and why she is addressing sexual and reproductive health issues. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and your social entrepreneurship journey?

Opeyemi: I am a public health physician who is passionate about sexual and reproductive health. I am also the creator of the FLOW GAME which is West Africa’s first board game that teaches menstrual health. My journey started in 2017 during my NYSC program where I met with the impact of misinformation and lack of access to youth friendly sexual clinics had on teenagers and young people. This led me to the start of The Brave Boys and Girls Club tour around secondary schools where students are given age specific sexuality education free of discrimination and judgment. From touring, it gave birth to menstruation workshops, consent workshops and now creation of board games that are afrocentric and youth friendly.

 

Alaba: What inspired you to launch O & A Medical Center and The Menstrual Flow Game?

Opeyemi: The Sexual Health Clinic is under O and A Medical Center in Asero, Abeokuta where anybody regardless of your background, gender, sexual orientation or any other status can get care for sexual and reproductive health issues. We offer a wide range of services that are cost friendly for the average Nigerian. The Flow game was created because during the tour, I realized the power of menstruation stigma, so decided to involve the team of expertise and the girls from the club in the creation.

 

Alaba: What is the core issue you are addressing with the Flow Game?

Opeyemi: Menstruation is a subject that still has a great level of shame attached to it. Some cultures still see menstrual blood as dirty blood. Some girls use harmful products to collect their menstrual blood. The Flow Game is a fun way to teach menstrual health and hygiene. The game covers four main areas: the female reproductive system, menstruation and menstrual related health issues, menstrual products, pregnancy and contraception. Other issues touched on include sexual assault, consent and sexually transmitted infections.

 

Alaba: How have you attracted users and grown the platform from the start?

Opeyemi: The platform is currently being reviewed as the plan is to take it digital; decided to start with a board game as it is easier with the tours, besides an average Nigerian teenager might not have the resources to play the game online and did not want to miss out on these sets of people. The buzz around the game is increasing, the game was recognized on Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021 by the African Coalition for Menstrual Health Hygiene and the Indian Commissioner of Women Affairs during a conference held in Bangladesh.

 

Alaba: Data protection is a concern for users of health platforms. Could you explain your data protection policy?

Opeyemi: Right now we are are currently working on our policy but I can assure users that they would be protected besides the data page in design would require nickname, age, sex and email address.

 

Alaba: Would you expand in the direction of male health (fertility, contraception, etc)?

Opeyemi: Yes, in June, 2021. In a bid of getting a project with an international organization, the Play It Safe board game was created and it is currently being tested in the school tours. The game is for both genders and covers safe sex practices.

 

Alaba: As a social entrepreneur, what has been your biggest challenge up until now?

Opeyemi: The field I chose is still faced with a lot of stigma, so a lot of sensitization is involved, changing mindsets and cultures associated with it. The second I would say is finances, balancing the cost of production and the ability of the target community to afford the services rendered.

 

Alaba: The term Femtech is still quite new. What is your opinion of the state of Femtech industry and its growth? 

Opeyemi: Femtech has had a massive impact on female health, so many innovative ideas that are gender specific. A good example are period tracking apps which have allowed women to track the menstrual cycle, have a better understanding of their cycle and make informed decision about fertility. I am happy to be in the industry and I know there is still so much more to be done especially in Nigeria.

 

Alaba: Where do you see the Flow Game and sexual wellness in the next 5 years?

Opeyemi: This is one question I keep asking myself every day, I desire to go beyond the Flow Game. Very few innovations on sexual and reproductive health tailored to the African woman. I would like to be one of the women creating sexual health innovations that are Afrocentric in the next five years.

 

Alaba: As an inspiring social entrepreneur, what piece of advice would you give to fellow female entrepreneurs?

Opeyemi: Invest in knowledge; learn from those who have done things in your desired field. Also understand that gender is nothing more than a social construct it does not define YOU, whatever you want to achieve is not tied to gender. Dream big and take steps to turn the dreams into realities. 

 

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Interview with Insure Africa Founder, Judith Pila On Driving Insurance Inclusion

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Judith Pila, Founder Insure Africa (Image: Supplied)

Judith Pila is the Founder of Insure Africa, a company whose main goal is to drive insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education, and awareness. Aside being an insurance professional, Judith is a contributing writer to Insuranceopedia, an online insurance information platform focused on Canada and US markets. She is the Content Director for Ladies Corner Canada Magazine, a Board Director for LCC Media Foundation. She volunteers with various organizations like, Insurance Institute of Canada, Career Education Council, SoGal Foundation. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, she speaks on her entrepreneurship journey into the insurance ecosystem and why she is driving insurance inclusion with Insure Africa. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about yourself and how you end up building in the insurance space?

Judith: My name is Judith Pila, born and raised in Nigeria, I now live in Canada. My journey to the insurance industry was purposive and one inspired by the need to do something different in an environment where it seemed everyone else wanted regular careers. Shortly after I moved to Canada, I already knew the industry was where I needed to be. In 2015, I began my career in insurance.

Alaba: For those who don’t know, what does Insure Africa do?

Judith: Insure Africa is a company that is, focused on driving insurance inclusion in Africa through literacy, education and awareness. We also provide consulting services to individuals and small businesses, we help them make smart and informed insurance decisions to help meet their personal and business goals.

Alaba: What makes Insure Africa special from other startups driving insurance inclusion?

Judith: While other startups are driving insurance inclusion through Artificial Intelligence and Technology, Insure Africa is doing same through literacy, awareness, making sure that Africans are well informed about insurance, so that when they decide to take on any insurance products, they are equipped with the knowledge they need.

Alaba: What have been the biggest challenges and successes in building Insure Africa till date?

Judith: I think I would have less to say in this regard, considering that Insure Africa has been actively operating as a company for only about  four months. I think the biggest challenge has been trying to convince people that we are not insurance salespeople. I think the moment you mention insurance to someone in Africa, they feel like you are trying to sell them a product. People that we have been able to reach, see value in the services we offer and have given us positive feedbacks, I would consider that a success.

Alaba: How has the insurance industry evolved?

Judith: Unlike before, when most people thought insurance was only for the rich and large corporations, more and more people are now seeing the need for insurance. The Covid-19 pandemic has also proved the importance of insurance. And with the use of technology, insurance companies are now offering insurance products through different channels making it more accessible to consumers like never before.

Alaba: Kindly share the most difficult part of being a CEO of a startup?

Judith: I think one of the most difficult part is the unpredictability, that what you are trying to build will either fail or be a success.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Judith: I feel great and inspired by other African entrepreneurs who have made it to the top.

Alaba: What are Insure Africa’s expansion plans in terms of product, tech & markets in the next 5 years?

Judith: We are more of a service company and have plans of reaching as many people as possible that might need our services. We do have tech plans but are not ready to share those plans yet. We already have representatives in about 5 African countries and think that the opportunities are endless, and the future is looking bright.

Alaba: Finally, what piece of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Judith: Keep building, there are going to be tough days, but hold on to the vision and hope for a better end.

 

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Edith Njage: My Letter to fellow Female CEOs

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Edith Njage, Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa (Image: Supplied)

Edith Njage is a Social and Serial Entrepreneur based in Africa. She is the Co-Founder and current CEO of Arielle for Africa, which aims to create over 100,000 jobs in Africa through empowering, training, coaching and connecting and funding entrepreneurs. Edith is the Country Representative for Invicta Ventures on a mission to fund social impact ventures with up to $10 billion in developing markets. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration with a major in Finance and a Bachelor in Business Management with a major in Economics. A Master of Science in International Business with a major in Disruptive Innovation and a Master of Science in Finance, both from HULT International Business School. Excerpts of her letter below;

 

There are realities that come with being a woman in leadership that in most cases remain secret.

Realities faced but not communicated.

My journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO has been nothing short of rough, tough and everything in-between. The hardest truth is that the journey has been lonely with no-one to turn to, until I decided to make changes to not only my leadership, but my circles as well. I began my journey as a serial entrepreneur at 18, relatively young in the books of most but when a problem in your continent calls, age is never a factor. I became a CEO at 24 and to date I wish someone explained the realities of being a woman in leadership. Especially a young and black woman in leadership.

I wish I knew the bias that I would face each time I walked into a room and sat on the table when most expected me to just bring the coffee,

I wish I knew that fundraising would be more about my gender and race than the value my companies brought to the table,

I wish I knew that the most powerful weapon a female CEO can wield is a network of other female CEOs,

I wish I didn’t do it all alone.

Dear Female CEOs,

You are powerful. You are graceful, You are beautiful in leadership. I know that the world has taught you to blend in, I know you have been told to use your position or title to protect your vulnerability and I know most days it feels like no-one in the world can understand what it is like to be you. I want you to know the key to our strength is each other. I want you to know that rather than face the bias alone, rather than rise to the top alone, we can band together and not only rise but build a system for the next generation of female CEOs to struggle less than we did.

Where the world has called us bossy, let’s exude grit and relentless pursuit of our dreams,

Where they have called us soft, we can preach emotional intelligence and finally,

Where they have prevented our progress, we can build paths for the progress of other women after us.

This is our time, but we cannot go at it alone. We must band together and begin talking about these realities, not in secret but for the world to see. It is for this reason that I decided about a month ago that enough was enough and that it was important for me to begin sharing the truth behind my journey as a Young, Black and Female CEO. I started a podcast!

Since beginning this journey I am in awe of how many women in leadership, in business, in politics and in corporate have reached out sharing their stories!

The Latest Episode is available below (streamed to Spotify and Apple Podcast). Adding onto that I have decided to be intentional about building a Female CEO Global Board. A space for Female CEOs to share their stories, struggles, plans for growth of their businesses and so much more!

If this is something that interests you and you would like to join us next week or maybe just find a safe space and community of women who understand, book a coffee chat with me here; https://calendly.com/edith-njage-alpha-group/one-on-one

I became intentional about building circles with fellow female CEOs and investing into those circles so that as a tribe we would all rise! Rise in business, rise in our purposes and pursuits and rise in who we are as people in the world.

As always, I hope that unashamedly sharing my truth will help you know that you are never alone.

 

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