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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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Kevine Kagirimundu: The Rwandan crafting eco friendly and fashionable footwear from recycled car tyres

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Kevine Kagirimundu, CEO UZURI K&Y

UZURI K&Y is an African inspired shoe brand and manufacturer established in Rwanda since 2013. The company was founded by two women entrepreneurs (Kevine & Ysolde) who met at the University while studying Creative Designs. The two young women simply believed that it would be ideal to gather knowledge and create a common mission. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola speaks with Kevine Kagirimundu is the Co-Founder and CEO on her entrepreneurship journey into sustainability and fashion, why she is preserving the environment, supporting community and creating jobs through her eco friendly shoe brand. Excerpts.

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

Kevine: My entrepreneurship journey started when I was a young girl, I used to re-sew grandma’s clothes, no money came from it, just passion. When I joined university I changed my major from “Engineering to Creative & Environmental built”, it was an important step to starting my journey, I was 19 years old and determined as I started  gathering ideas in a book, during that time I also met my co-founder Ysolde Shimwe.

Alaba: What attracted you into sustainability and fashion?

Kevine: I come from a creative family of painters, poets and writers. I loved hand making things and I thought that creating was really my passion, with that I really wanted to add a meaningful value that will bring positive change in my community; that’s why our company is part of the circular economy with a focus on waste management.

Alaba: What’s the inspiration behind your brand, UZURI K&Y and the problems it is set to address?

Kevine: UZURI K&Y is an African inspired eco friendly shoe brand with a vision to brand Africa as an origin of sustainable fashion items on the global market. It was established in Rwanda in 2013 by two university friends Ysolde shimwe & Kevine Kagirimundu with a purpose to solve the environment and unemployment issues in their community. 

The company’s core problem that it’s solving focuses on recycling the wastes of car tires where everyday in sub saharan Africa, over one million of them are dumped in landfills  and sometimes taking up space from inhabited and vulnerable neighborhoods. In addition to that, it takes up to 80 years for a rubber tire to decompose while polluting water, air and even become nurseries for mosquitoes that carry diseases. Furthermore, in Africa the youth makes  60% of the total unemployment rate and young women are more likely to be unemployed even more often than young men. 

In order to tackle these issues we craft viable solutions to recycle car tyres to make functional and fashionable footwear for conscious millennial consumers. The company is also currently running its own production facility, four retail stores and using ecommerce to reach international customers. It is also equipping the youth with practical and soft skills  to increase their potential of securing jobs or even creating small businesses. So far, 1,065 youth have been trained and among those 70% are women and 10 have started small businesses.

Alaba: How have you been able to attract customers and build the company till date?

Kevine: Our customers are women who seek shop eco products. Our strategy is to use storytelling via social media channels, we also set to offer a wonderful experience via our retail spaces.

Alaba: What challenges did you run into starting out?

Kevine: I would say there are 3 major challenges as we started: lack of skilled labour, dominated market with second hand and imports and access to finance.

Alaba: Are there other areas that UZURI K&Y is aiming to be more sustainable?

Kevine: We have confidence that we shall be able to brunch into a more diverse range of products, such as sustainable sneaker and even turning the wastes into more useful products.

Alaba: One of the things that stood out on your platform was your intense screening process for each item. Can you explain why you decided to go with this process and what it actually involves?

Kevine: We developed techniques and ways to safely produce our products and it has become our unique proposition. It is an advantage and very important to our customers.

Alaba: Is your brand gender inclusive? What is the importance of gender inclusion in the brand’s choices?

Kevine: Yes, it is important with a special focus on creating jobs for women who are often left behind in different fields.  Inclusivity is crucial for the entire world to fight gender inequality, we are proud to be part of this change.

Alaba: How do you feel as an African entrepreneur?

Kevine: I believe that entrepreneurs will be the key pioneers to changing the African continent, It feels like being part of a history book!

Alaba: Where do you see UZURI K&Y in terms of products and markets in the next 5 years?

Kevine: A household African brand, with a tremendous impact on the youth through skills transfer and entrepreneurship.

Alaba: Finally, what’s your advice to budding entrepreneurs, especially females in the sustainability and fashion industry?

Kevine: Trust yourself that you can do it! 

UZURI K&Y footwears

 

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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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