Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others. Alaba Ayinuola chatted with Lola about being an award-winning travel photographer, what sparked her interest in photography, how she’s connecting with local cultures across the world and telling the African story in the Diaspora through photography and more!
Alaba: Tell us about the Geotraveler media and the gap its filling?
Lola: Geotraveler Media is my umbrella company that covers all aspects of my work within travel media and culture. In essence, I am sharing through words, photography, and video how I am experiencing the world as an African and through those lens. Whether it’s exploring Greenland or working with local communities in Nepal. It is sharing my voice and others on a mainstream level.
Alaba: What inspired you to go into writing and travel photography?
Lola: I’ve always loved writing and used to pen fictional short stories all through secondary school while growing up in Nigeria. Then over time, I replaced fiction with creative non-fiction once I ventured into travel writing because I love exploring culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle. Photography, at the time, was a means to an end. I used to be an oil painter and so I took photographs of various scenes I wanted to paint when I returned from my travels.
Then over time, I realized my photography could stand on its own and I began to use it as a medium of expression over oil painting. But this career path came together many years ago, while volunteering with an expedition race in Fiji. It was while in a remote part of the country I realized that could create a career from becoming a travel writer and photographer.
Once when I returned back to my job as a GIS programmer and system architect, I started plotting my career transition.
Alaba: Which came first, the writing or the photography?
Lola: Writing came first as I love exploring and describing worlds through words. Photography became that ultimate complementary skill, because sometimes, painstakingly describing a detail can be answered through a single powerful shot that takes away all doubt and stops the viewer in their tracks.
I started out as an oil painter and used photography as a way of capturing scenes I wanted to paint once back. After awhile, I realized my photography was strong enough to stand on its own and so I stopped painting and started exploring photography as my new medium of expression. Semblances of my past life as an oil painter can be seen in the way I edit my photos – very vivid with a lot of heavy contrasts.
Alaba: How have your writing skills as a writer helped further your photography journey?
Lola: Within the world of travel, if you can do both and do them very well, then you’re at an advantage when it comes to getting assignments. Because editors know you can illustrate your stories powerfully with your own photographs. As an artist, you can choose whichever medium you’d like to focus on more, based on when you feel inspired or not.
Sometimes, it’s writing, other days, it’s photography. My writing skills have helped me develop my visual voice as a photographer as well. So my images feel like my own writing voice visualized.
Alaba: What makes a great image stand out from a good one?
Lola: For me, a great image is one that answers as many of these questions as possible: When, why, what, who, and other details, while leaving a bit of mystery. For me, a great image is not a technically perfect one, but one that moves me emotionally. There are thousands of amazing landscape photographers who have perfected technical settings to the point of not being able to differentiate whose photo of Patagonia is whose.
I would rather have a less technically perfect shot with a clear visual style than a technically perfect shot and no visual voice.
Alaba: How has photography enabled you to connect with local cultures across the world?
Lola: For me, I love observing interactions and connections… from how light is interacting with the landscape in front of me to capturing that moment of awareness and connection in the eyes of my subjects. I especially love environmental portraits of people and capturing a sense of them and their personality as wholly as I can.
Alaba: What is the impact of social media (Instagram and Pinterest) on travel photography?
Lola: Social media has ushered in a raise in overly staged travel photos. What once inspired people to go explore a new place, enjoy its cuisine and learn about different cultures is now forcing people to relegate places to just backdrops in search of the most creative angle. The main advantage is that it’s inspiring more people to get out there and see the world. The main irony is that they may end up not seeing as much of the world with their backs turned towards it.
I use Instagram and think it’s a great platform to play creatively as a photographer and take bold risks, regardless of whether Instagram rewards you or not based on its weird algorithms.
We can do much better by turning around and taking time to soak up and appreciate the places we’re exploring. Think about longevity and timelessness. We can always find a balance between the types of images we share. That cool visual trend today will become tiring and predictable tomorrow.
Alaba: How do you balance your time on the road between work and travel?
Lola: I always say you can’t raise the walls of a house without a solid foundation. In other words, taking time to develop roots for your company, business or brand. So I’m not always on the road and often plan my longer travels so I have at least four weeks in between.
Overall, I keep my travels short and targeted, so I am exploring a place through a focused, deeper theme instead of skimming its surface. That’s why I’m an advocate of slow travel. It’s not duration for me, but rather, the pace with which you explore a place. Whether it’s 24 days or 24 hours, you can still slow travel based on how you explore a place.
Alaba: How are you telling the African story in the Diaspora?
Lola: I am showing that as an African, I am richly layered and multi-dimensional. That as an African, I can be a professional travel photographer on a mainstream level. I’ve worked with many high profile publications (National Geographic, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, to name a few), yet I still get “Did you shoot that?” questions while my white male colleagues are revered with no questions asked.
My photography has been represented by National Geographic Image Collection for over years, I have contributed to the Nat Geo brand and magazines with writing and photography, and I’m one of the contributing photographers at National Geographic Traveller (UK). I am showing up and taking space as an African within travel media to represent as well as inspire the next generation of travel writers and travel photographers of African-descent.
Alaba: How do you feel as an African travel photographer?
Lola: As a professional travel photographer of Nigerian descent, it is extremely vital for me to show the world through my own eyes. That my voice and way of capturing the world is valid and relevant on a higher level too. Sometimes people react and interact with me in a way that’s different from the traditional white male travel photographer, and I can capture those special interactions on camera. This diversifies the stories of places we visually tell.
Alaba: What is your view on the travel and leisure ecosystem in Africa?
Lola: There are still so many untapped opportunities and stories we could be telling, including advocating for us to explore our own backyards a lot more. With people like Pelu Awofeso championing travel within Nigeria, PaJohn Bentsifi Dadson championing travel within Ghana, and Cherae Robinson of Tastemaskers, championing local niche experiences across the continent as a whole (just to name a few), I am excited about the deeper, more nuanced direction of travel and leisure within the continent.
B I O G R A P H Y
Award-winning Stockholm-based author and photographer Lola Akinmade Åkerström explores culture through food, tradition, and lifestyle for high profile publications such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, The Guardian, Lonely Planet, amongst others.
As a photographer, she has collaborated with many well-known brands – from Mercedes Benz and Dove to Intrepid Travel and National Geographic Channel. She is the author of two books – award-winning Due North & bestselling LAGOM: Swedish Secret of Living Well. LAGOM is available in 18 foreign language editions around the world. She is editor-in-chief of Slow Travel Stockholm and founder of NordicTB Collective which brings together the top professional travel bloggers and digital storytellers from Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.
She is the 2018 Travel Photographer of the Year Bill Muster Award recipient and was honoured with a MIPAD 100 (Most Influential People of African Descent) Award within media and culture. Her photography is represented by National Geographic Image Collection.
Interview with Monica Sekhmet Grant, President of Young Boss Media Inc.
Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Monica shares her entrepreneurship journey, humanitarian initiatives, book launch and the future for Young Boss Media Inc. Excerpt.
Alaba: Could you tell us about Young Boss Media Inc and the gap its filling?
Monica: Young Boss Media Inc. produces media that will empower under-represented communities to gain ownership over their image, voice and economic & political future. Hollywood and broadcast TV are under-represented in gender, age, ethnicity and sexual status. This lack of representation excludes certain groups from obtaining information and resources that have the power to enhance their ability to thrive in a challenging economy. Young Boss Media is on a mission to change that!
Our mission is to produce high-quality content that engages under-represented communities while building a multi-media network dedicated to social impact influencers and to cultivate an online and offline community of innovation, artistry, entrepreneurship and activism.
Alaba: What sparked your interest into the media space and how did you come up with the name?
Monica: By trade I was a community and labor organizer and I’ve always had a passion for economics. Around the age of 10, I started asking “Why are some people rich, while others are poor.” In America, the Old Boss is the plantation owner, the factory manager, the 9-5 hustle that drained your energy and only gave you enough money to make it back to work the next day. The Old Boss in media was the White Blonde Face with White Blonde stories that did not reflect my community but still dominated what we saw on television.
In 2015, I started producing shows in New York City for another entrepreneur name Bonnie Bruderer. I learned how to build a media network from her. On March 22, 2017, I launched my first talk show under Young Boss Media called Master Plan and the rest is history. We’ve grown into a global media network with 30 producers, hosts and interns producing content around the clock.
Alaba: Since the launch of your platform, what are your achievements? And how do you measure impact?
Monica: The greatest achievement is seeing my people happy. I get calls, texts, and emails everyday saying how powerful our shows are. I strive to make my ancestors happy. If they are pleased, then I am rich.
Alaba: Do you think luck played a role in your success story?
Monica: I got lucky being born in America, that’s about it. I worked for everything else.
Alaba: Did you venture alone? What was the hardest part in the early stages of the company’s growth?
Monica: Young Boss Media has 30 host, producers, and interns now but in the beginning, it was just me. I wanted to partner with people because that’s who I am by nature, but many people proved that they weren’t ready for the long-haul. I don’t believe in the get rich quick hustle. You put in the work every day, doing work that you love to do and then you sleep with a smile. That’sit. The rewards will come.
I learned to do things on my own and to trust my own vision. If I wanted something to be done, it’s up to me to do it. I prayed for the right people to come into my life and eventually they all did and at the right time too. I don’t’ let people stress me. I trust my instinct and if it’s not the right vibe, I keep it moving.
Alaba: How are you navigating the impact of COVID-19 in your industry? Are you post COVID-19 ready?
Monica: I love it, everything is virtual, and everyone finally sees the importance of independent media. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment since the 2008 recession and now that it’s here I’m calm cool and in control of my destiny. God bless all of those impacted negatively by Corona. We must remain safe and follow God.
Alaba: What is your plan for young media entrepreneurs especially the female entrepreneurs in terms of support?
Monica: Young Boss Media Activist Institute is a non-profit organization focused on increasing social justice activism and entrepreneurship via media training. We allow young people of color to produce TV shows, build websites and work behind the scenes of Young Boss Media. I teach our students how to be independent and not look for a job but instead they can be the one to create opportunities for themselves. I don’t baby my students. They must work for their respect. Entrepreneurs don’t take days off. They know that this is not a hobby. My students learn how to build an empire.
I give freely to all of my students regardless of gender or ethnicity but based on who they are I tell them the truth about what to expect in this industry. Women must speak up and not wait to be called on. They must learn to stop doubting themselves and to accept failure as a beautiful part of the process. Men must learn when to ask for input and not think that everything is about them. Every industry is becoming more women dominate, so they learn how to play well with others by working with me. For all of my students they must know that they can’t fool me. I’ve lived a full life and I know when you’re scamming and scheming.
Alaba: What’s the future for Young Boss Media Inc?
Monica: 24-hour programming of globally produced continent. We are looking for producers and hosts for our African initiative Young Boss Africa. I am also launching my 4th book, Mind Your Business and Prosper on August 17th, 2020. You can order it on YoungBossMedia.com
Alaba: Can you tell us about your humanitarian activities and your new book?
Monica: Humanitarian Activities:
Young Boss Media Activist Institute
Fight for Fight Campaign
Black Lives Matter
Climate Reality Corps
Organizing a Pan-African Credit Union in the Bronx
Organizing daycare workers, domestic workers, EMS workers and taxi drives into a labor union.
Mind Your Business and Prosper is the blueprint for business success. Written for students transitioning into adulthood, struggling to find their identity but are driven to have their voice heard and make an impact on the world. Monica proves that you don’t have to wait until you’re 50 years old to be successful. Instead, you can live an amazing fulfilled life right now.
Global Release is August 17, 2020.
Alaba: When are you coming to Africa and where would you love to visit?
Monica: As soon as possible. My DNA traces back to Kenya and Nigeria so those are first on my list. I also love and adore Senegal. I must get to South Africa, Ethiopia, Egypt and Mauritius as well. But honestly,I’ve seen so many beautiful pictures of Africa that I’m ready to spend most of my time country-hopping for the next year or two, recording and documenting my experience.
Alaba: How do you relax and fun fact about you?
Monica: I spend quality with my family, eating laughing and going to the beach. I enjoy talking to my Vice President Raphael about business ideas and him fully understanding my vision. We can’t take the people in our life for granted. They are special.
Fun Fact: I taught myself how to play the saxophone in college.
B I O G R A P H Y
Monica Sekhmet Grant is the true definition of a Young Boss. She’s been employing workers, building organizations, and producing her own products since her college days. A native of Ypsilanti Michigan but raised in North Augusta South Carolina, Monica studied business at Delaware State University because she wanted to understand how some people continued to get richer while others remained poor.
After college, Monica moved to New York City and made a career of empowering Black and Brown communities through life coaching and community organizing. “One builds personal power while the other build collective power. Each one is vital and should not be isolated.” Monica is an advocate for economic justice and fairness, for all communities especially her own. She believes that most men and women of African descent naturally desire to live in safe prosperous communities that support economic growth.
She has campaigned for workers’ rights with the Fight For $15 Campaign, the Service Employees International Union, and AFSCME International Labor Union. On March 22, 2017, Monica launched what would become the most rewarding project of her life, Young Boss Media. An idea to interview entrepreneurs from underrepresented communities quickly expanded into a television network consisting of young Black producers and hosts that never believed they would one day be on TV. Monica believes in giving people the opportunity to produce media that will uplift their community, even if their community is not hers.
Monica is currently based in New York City. On June 19, 2020, she announced the release date of her autobiographical, self-help workbook, Mind Your Business and Prosper: A Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Being Successful. Her goal is to provide mentorship to new entrepreneurs in a down to Earth manner that wasn’t available when she was a student. Mind Your Business and Prosper will launch globally on August 17, 2020. Young Boss Media is also expanding into Africa with Young Boss Africa, an initiative to highlight innovation among youth on the African continent.
Meseret Haileyesus – The Ethiopian Canadian Women Leader Creating Impact
Meseret Haileyesus, founder of the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (Image Credit: Meseret Haileyesus)
Meseret Haileyesus is a social justice advocate, change-maker, intersectional feminist, and entrepreneur. Founder of the Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) with a keen interest in addressing systemic barriers and other challenges that prevent women and girls from fully realizing their human rights. CCFWE is the only Canadian Nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of economic abuse and transforming responses to it.
Meseret works to influence public policy decisions that support domestic violence survivors to make a successful transition to economic independence. She seeks to fill the gaps for the development of new approaches to address economic injustice by reviewing existing systems, policies, and procedures in Canada. The Canadian Centre for Women’s Empowerment (CCFWE) highlights the issue of economic injustice through responding to national policy consultations and working with individuals in local and national government.
Born and raised in Ethiopia and now living in Canada, for decades she has worked tirelessly to advocate for women and child health around the world as well as economic empowerment for women and marginalized peoples. With a background in, midwifery, economics, global health, and Aromatherapy, she drives social change by advocating for high-quality and accessible sexual and reproductive healthcare for women on a global scale, with a goal of ending gender-based violence.
Her passion for gender equality has led her to spend over 16 years, working with various national and international non-profit organizations on dozens of projects centered on issues of HIV/AIDS prevention, poverty reduction, sexual and reproductive health right, quality of maternal and newborn health, and building community capacity to take action to advance social justice initiatives.
Past community involvement includes the Alberta Community Council for HIV/AIDS, Alberta Health Services, University of Alberta, Alberta Women Entrepreneurs, Laurentian University, Canadian Network for Society Network, Women in Edmonton, World Bank Gender Equality and Diversity in Customs & UN Women- Women’s Economic Empowerment, UNICEF, African Medical Research Foundation, Jpiego- affiliated with Johns Hopkins University, Johns Snow Institute and Ethioaid Canada.
Meseret is a member of multiple UN and World Health Organization programs, where she produces strategies to reinforce the reproductive health components for health sector reform programs in developing countries. She serves as an ambassador for World Pulse, a global network to amplify women as well as an ambassador for the RHEALYZ Global Empowerment Initiative Africa, a Nigerian organization that helps individuals, families, and organizations achieve Sustainable Development Goals. She is also President for Global Humanitarian Community, and Director for End FGM Canada Network.
Prior to relocating to Canada in, Meseret works on Maternal and child health programs particularly on Maternal Child Health and reproductive health rights, where she had the profound pleasure of assisting many marginalized pregnant African women through the amazing journey of pregnancy, childbirth, and new motherhood in Ethiopia. These experiences combined with her lifelong commitment to gender equality and women’s health and well-being led Meseret to found Maternity Today, an international non-profit organization that strengthens women and child health through superior advocacy, research, and education in developing countries.
Beyond her social justice and public health involvement, Meseret is also the owner of Nacre Organics, and an advocate with David Suzuki Foundation for the promotion of nontoxic green personal care products, “biodegradable plastic-waste free planet” and zero-waste packaging.
As a health and wellness industry entrepreneur, she is also a program advisor at Algonquin College’s Esthetician and Spa program. Nacre Organics is plant-based wellness and lifestyle brand she launched with her daughter that helps protect, elevate, refresh, relax, moisturize and groom the body and mind. Meseret’s mission is to create exquisite skincare, drawing upon her knowledge of Clinical Aromatherapy and natural skincare formulation, vitality, and wellness.
Nacre organics was born out of her determination to formulate and hand produce skincare with love, made with the finest, raw ingredients for radiant, blissfully youthful, healthy skin. She was also a co-founder of Novigo Natural Skin Care. A percentage of the profits are donated to support domestic violence survivors.
Meseret was named one of the 100 Most Accomplished Black Canadian Women and nominees for several awards. She is a proud mother of one beautiful daughter who inspires and motivates her every day.
Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds
Viero & Zistify Founders, Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude
Launching a food delivery start-up requires an entrepreneur to manage 4 aspects; Restaurants, Delivery Agents, Customers, and the most costly of them all, an application. Building a food delivery application can cost up to $60 000. There are also additional costs that need to be paid on a monthly basis to maintain and improve the application. “This is a major barrier to entry into the food delivery industry in Africa” said Basheer Phiri, the founder and CEO of Viero.
“Because of these high costs, we see a lot of food delivery Startups all over Africa serving the urban market, because it is big, and has enough customers to cover the development and maintenance costs and make a profit.” Basheer believes that food delivery Startups do not target township and non-urban areas because these markets need to be built from the group up, which means additional marketing costs and slower growth and adoption rates.
Therefore, coupled with the need to cover maintenance costs and the demand for growth and traction from investors, food delivery Startups prefer competing in the already established urban markets. This has led to high concentration in urban markets while non-urban markets remain relatively untapped.
“We saw this and realised that there was value that could be created” said Basheer. “After speaking to a few interested entrepreneurs, we saw that they could manage every aspect of the food delivery business, but could not afford to pay for an App. That is how Viero was born”
Viero is a SaaS Platform that enables entrepreneurs to create a food delivery web application with no code in 60 seconds. (Here’s how it works – https://youtu.be/1T9oxNtRDpM).
The platform built a standard food delivery application template and enables it to be cloned, rebranded and hosted through white-labelling. Entrepreneurs can use the application under a monthly subscription and have access to many features depending on their chosen plan. Entrepreneurs can also make changes to the layout and design of their app, all without any code.
Launched in South Africa on 1 June 2020, the platform has achieved amazing uptake thus far. 22 Apps in total have been created with 2 Food delivery Startups that are live and operating in South Africa and 20 other Startups preparing for launch. 108 orders have been delivered, with R4700 processed in transactions, 200 customer users, 16 listed stores and 45 delivery agents.
Viero was launched by UCT students Basheer Phiri and Hopewell Fakude. They met in their first year in 2018 as residents of Smuts Hall Residence at The University of Cape Town, when they were introduced by a mutual friend who noticed their passion for entrepreneurship. Since then, they have worked together on several Startups and projects.
Basheer and Hopewell are not new to the food delivery industry. In 2019, they launched Zistify, a food delivery start-up for the university market. Zistify delivers food ordered from food vendors on campus through it’s app to university students and staff.
Viero is in capable hands and is ready to disrupt the food delivery industry in Africa. Currently raising a $100 000 seed round to incorporate logistics into its business offering, to bring in more talent to the team, and to continue building and improving the platform.