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Lola A. Åkerström: Award-winning Travel Photographer of African Descent Exploring The World Through The Lens

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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.

Photo credit: Liam Neal / Intrepid Travel

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.

Photos from Jokkmokk, Arctic Sweden

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.

Also Read: Interview With Oyetola Oduyemi On The END Fund, Impact Philanthropy And Sustainability in Africa

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.  

Visit: Lola AKERSTROM

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Shaun Duvet on The Unit Group and the Impact of COVID-19

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Shaun Duvet, Founder and CEO at The Unit Group (Source: Unit Group website)

The impact of Covid-19 is changing the way organisations operate and do business about the world. The entertainment industry is not exempted as it’s adjudged the second affected industry after the aviation, travel and hospitality industry. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola, Shaun Duvet the Founder and CEO of The Unit Group shares his brand story and the Impact of Covid-19. Excerpt.

Alaba: Could you tell us about the Unit Group and the gap it’s filling since you launched?

Shaun: The Unit Group was established  in 2017 as the holding company for my various business interests which include: COCO, GoldBar and Souk (my venues), Ultra South Africa, Corona Sunsets Festivals, Anything Goes, AG Virtual, Bella Bookings, Salute, Jet Black & Paradise Springs. These businesses cover all functions of entertainment marketing, management, hospitality, sponsorship and eventing from design, to staffing and artist booking, to production and everything in between.

The gap we launched The Unit Group to fill was that of a true understanding of marketing in the entertainment space. So many brands want to play in this space because the audiences are so receptive and the engagement so high, yet so few of them truly understand it. We felt that we had the marketing know-how, and a deep love and knowledge of not only this space, but the global players within it. 

Alaba: What services does your company offer?

Shaun: The services offered range from throwing small corporate events to festivals for 50, 000 pax; to sponsorship strategies, virtual events; to full spectrum design, photography, videography; artist, model and staff bookings; marketing, and PR strategies and much, much more. 

Alaba: How has the market responded to your offerings?

Shaun: We have seen a huge uptake in clients that previously came to us just to make the party happen, now asking for marketing, creative and strategic advice. AG Virtual, which launched this year, has also seen the likes of AFI (African Fashion Week) approach us to do their full virtual production.

Alaba: The steady rise of South Africa’s entertainment industry has  increased competition in the country. What’s your company’s advantage?

Shaun: My 20+ years of experience and my years behind the decks. I live and breathe music and entertainment which enables me to understand what the market wants and keep abreast of global trends. I also have incredible teams in place that keep our work fresh and relevant, and the machine in constant motion.

Alaba: Kindly share some of the challenges faced, especially in this dire time and how you overcoming them? 

Shaun: The challenge of this year is obvious – no events, no DJ’s, no dancing! That’s our life blood. We have managed though to stay busy by diversifying what we offer and working more strategically. Helping brands activate within the highly connected urban youth market in an authentic and resonant manner. Some of our venues are also still operational, and the festivals and events teams are taking some much-needed down time before the parties start again, which we know they will do with a renewed energy when we’re out of the current COVID crisis.

Alaba: Technology is disrupting the entertainment industry across the globe. How’s your company adapting to the use of technology?

Shaun: As mentioned, we have launched AG Virtual which is doing well. But we have always been at the forefront of event and entertainment technology in our work. Our audience demands it. 

Alaba: How does your company contribute and set new standards in the South African entertainment industry?  

Shaun: I regularly write and speak on industry channels and give back to the industry that way. We also ensure that we are constantly raising the bar with the work that we do, meaning that more people around the world sit up and take notice which will ultimately benefit the whole industry.  

Alaba: What’s the future for the Unit Group and are you post COVID-19 ready?

Shaun: We cannot wait for life to return to “normal”. Down time was nice, but we’re rested now and it’s time to work! 

Alaba: How do you relax and what keeps you going? 

Shaun: I have 3 young kids so relaxation is scarce, but they certainly keep me going

Alaba: What advice would you give to entrepreneurs and investors coming to South Africa?

Shaun: Come! Don’t be afraid. There is risk, yes, but the rewards are also so great. We live in such a special place and I really believe in the future of this country.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

B I O G R A P H Y

Shaun Duvet, CEO and Founder of The Unit, South Africa’s leading entertainment-based holding company, a combination of enterprises, individually built to make brands better. Shaun is also the CEO and Founder of Anything Goes, the branded entertainment agency, aligning campaigns, properties and music tours with international brands and artists across the continent.

He is the co-Founder and Director of ULTRA South Africa, which brings 50,000 dance-music revellers together every year to see some biggest names in eEectronic Music. He is the partner and producer for Corona Sunsets Festival South Africa, which over the last 5 years has seen over 40,000 fans join together across three cities to celebrate the sunset.
He is a co-owner and operator for COCO, one of SA’s premiere nightclubs, think celebrities, Ibiza-style go-go dancers, Hip Hop MCs, and a parade of sparkler-topped bottles, this alongside it’s sister GoldBar, an elegant bar annex to COCO.

Shaun Duvet is a board member and proud supporter of Bridges For Music, a non-profit organization that utilises the power of music to uplift communities through creative education. Recently, partnering with Defected Records on a new imprint Sondela Records all of whose profits will channel back directly into the charity.

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Viola Labi: The multi-hyphenate creative strategist building an eco-luxury fashion brand in Africa

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Viola Labi is a multi-hyphenate creative, premium retail Strategist and Founder of WOVEN, a design-led fashion enterprise.

With over a decade of experience and a proven track record in the global luxury retail space, Viola has worked with renowned international brands such as Burberry, ZARA, Loewe, CELINE and Valentino and has caught the attention of media powerhouses such as Vogue Business, Essence, Forbes, BBC and CNN International, as one to watch.

Born in Canada with Ghanaian parentage, Viola is culturally plural and holds reverence to fashion’s interaction with humanity; asserting that it permits people, irrespective of their cultural and social affiliations to unite. It is this fundamental belief and her relocation to Ghana that inspired WOVEN, a ground breaking brand which seeks to herald a new direction for eco-luxury retail on the African continent.

Viola said, WOVEN was birthed from a personal journey to Northern Ghana. “I witnessed my own reunification to elements of rich Ghanaian culture through textile creation at the diligent hand skilled Artisans. Despite language barriers and unfamiliar grounds, I felt at home. I spent more time with women creating textiles and found myself being stitched together in areas I didn’t know needed mending, areas like self-identity and purpose.”

Cowry Basket (Image Source: WOVEN)

“Looking back, I guess you can say we weaved symbolic exchanges of knowledge and cultural practices and this inspired me to creative WOVEN. Although the entire assortment of products are literally woven, the company name speaks to a higher purpose of coming together as Humanity.” She said.

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

The Brand’s mission is to actively work towards uniting the fashion value chain into a cohesive whole by showcasing the creative talent that pervades throughout the African continent; while emanating the diversity of culture, history and skill, much like yarn being formed into a unique tapestry. 

Cowry Basket (Image Source: WOVEN)

WOVEN has the honour of partnering with 150 esteemed Artisan weavers in Ghana to create sustainable, functional, home furnishing products. It’s design principles and execution promote inclusion and seek to disrupt fear-based stereotypes by creating products, made in Africa, that are par with those of global standards.

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Emalohi Iruobe, An Attorney and Founder of Tribe XX Lab Empowering Female-led Startups

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Emalohi L. Iruobe Esq. is an attorney, adjunct professor and social entrepreneur. She is the founder of Tribe XX Lab, the first and only co-working, wellness and incubator space exclusively for female entrepreneurs and female led startups and companies in Lagos. Tribe XX Lab offers an open-plan office, private offices, events, networking, yoga, a nap room, conference room, reference library, pop up restaurants and wellness retail.

The fundamental idea is to create a place where women are able to present a professional front for their business as well as network, get training, access to funding opportunities and help each other. With a general focus on self-care and balance, the space also partners with brands that retail wellness and selfcare products in order to meet the other often overlooked core need of women in business-wholeness.

Prior to founding Tribe XX Lab, Emalohi was an adjunct professor of Business Law, Business Research Methods and Legal Analysis and Writing at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, USA for several years before moving to teach Business Law and Data Management at LIM College in Manhattan, New York. Afterwards she taught Expository Writing at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA before founding Aimanosi Lingerie; a dynamic brand focused on promoting body positivity and selflove in African women. She has a Bsc. in Finance and Banking from Lincoln University, PA and a Juris Doctor from Villanova University.

Before delving into full time entrepreneurship, she practiced law in Pennsylvania and New
Jersey working in Commercial litigation, as well as working as the Manager of Project Implementation in the Kwara State Public Private Partnership office in 2013. She comes with over a decade experience in entrepreneurship, law, education and business.

About Tribe XX Lab

Tribe XX Lab is a civic space for complex conversations, critical contemplation, learning and action to prevent all forms of violence and oppression against women and girls. The goal of their work is to change the perceptions of women and their role in society as well as lead conversations and interventions that PREVENT violence against women and girls in the first place. They do this through the use of digital and social media, conversations, XX-CEED Virtual festival, game theory and art.

Through their work, they are particularly looking to provide support to survivors of Gender-based violence, promote greater public engagement in preventing violence against women, increase public awareness of the intersectionality of oppression women face, create social projects that encourage the extermination of rape culture.

Since inception, they have successfully carried out several survival supports programs, prevention panels and have received a grant to prevent gender-based violence against women and girls in universities in Nigeria as well as provide psychological support to victims of GBV in institutions of higher education from Oxfam/Voice.

Emalohi also launched ‘I GO TALK’ ​a​ ​Nigerian​ ​Pidgin​ ​phrase​ ​which​ ​simply​ ​means​ ​I​ ​will​ ​not​ ​be​ ​silent,​ ​I​ ​will​ ​tell​ ​on you.​ It ​came​ ​in​ ​as​ ​a​ ​crucial​ ​response​ ​to​ ​the​ ​sexual​ ​violence​ ​that​ female students ​ in Nigerian​ Universities face.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​clarion​ ​call​ ​from​ ​victims,​ ​survivors,​ ​and​ ​women​ ​in​ ​general​ ​to​ ​the​ ​perpetrators​ of ​sexual​ ​abuse​ ​and​ ​to​ ​the​ ​general​ ​public,​ ​that​ ​they’re ​here​ ​to​ XXterminate, silence ​and​ ​provide​ ​support​ ​to​ victims.​ ​This​ ​is​ ​a​ ​motivation​ ​for​ ​victims​ ​of​ ​sexual​ ​abuse​ ​and harassment ​amongst​ ​University​ ​students​ ​to speak ​up​ ​and​ ​also​ ​a​ ​mode​ ​to​ ​create​ ​awareness for ​students​ ​on​ ​their​ ​rights​ ​in​ ​line​ ​with​ ​the recently signedd​ ​Sexual​ ​Harassment​ ​bill.​

After ​the​ ​BBC​ ​Documentary,​ ​Sex​ ​for​ ​Grades​ ​rocked​ ​the​ ​whole​ ​of​ ​Nigeria​ ​in​ ​October​ ​2019,​ ​the​ ​long​ cloaked ​truth​ ​about​ ​the​ ​oppression that ​young​ ​women​ ​face​ ​in​ ​the​ ​hands​ ​of university ​lecturers​ ​started​ to ​come​ ​to​ ​light.​ ​For the ​longest​ ​time,​ ​young​ ​women​ ​seeking​ ​higher education ​have​ ​been​ ​preyed​ ​upon​ by ​several academicians ​high​ ​in​ ​power​ ​and​ ​have​ ​been oppressed,​ ​victimized,​ ​and​ ​helpless.​

Also Read Closing The Gender Gap: An Interview with Dream Girl Global (DGG) Founder, Precious Oladokun

Starting from the 25​th​ of October to the 31​st​ of October, they are kicking off the first edition of I GO TALK Youth Summit, the largest gathering of university students across the country to build collective power and voice in the fight to end Sex4grades and sexual harassment in Nigerian Universities.

Tribe XX Lab is laser focused on promoting gender equality, deliberate living, transformative leadership and community development through the design and delivery of trainings, workshops, seminars, collaborative partnerships and data gathering.

Visit: Tribe XX Lab & I GO TALK

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