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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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Black Canadians making travel safer for women by helping them rent spaces from other women with Femmebnb

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Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng

Femmebnb Inc. Co-Founders, Yaa Birago and Diana Obeng (Source: Yaa Birago)

Dismayed by her solo travel experience in 2017, Yaa Birago made it her goal to curate a safe space where like-minded women travel enthusiasts can come together to plan, book, meet, talk, and share everything about travel. Softly launched amidst pandemic, Femmebnb Inc. is the first-ever social networking short-term vacation rental service powered by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) travel assistant that is at the forefront of reshaping ‘Women’s travel experience’, once the world reopens.

After being sexually harassed in-front of her airbnb apartment in Rome, and receiving no support from her male bnb host, Yaa Birago – CEO and co-founder of Femmebnb Inc., felt unsafe and unpleasant for the rest of her trip. This is exactly what was told to her when she announced her solo travel to her family – it’s unsafe! With this experience and the urge to change the travel horizon for women, the idea of Femmebnb sprung in her mind.

The validation of a need to have a platform and community that is solely for women travellers & hosts came from a survey initiated by Femmebnb where over 229 women shared that they would feel more secure knowing their host is a female, and that the rental is booked via a platform that deeply understands these concerns. This is the reason why Femmebnb has already received over 3000 registrations by women from 60 countries on the platform despite the travel industry being on hold due to COVID-19.

Source: Yaa Birago

“Being a hodophile, I was extremely disappointed when my solo travel to Europe turned out to be a nightmare as I faced sexual & street harassment. Upon receiving no support from my male bnb host when I discussed the incident with him, I realised that a female host would have naturally been more emphatic. This, combined with the help I attained from a female companion in France with whom I had merely chatted on Facebook before my travels, affirmed that we need to curate a safe social networking vacation rental space for only women where common concerns can be addressed and resolved together. This embarked the idea of Femmebnb in 2017. After 3 years of persistence and determination, fused with technology, creativity and research, we have finally launched and are ready to change ‘her travel experience’.  – Yaa Birago, CEO & Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc.

When Yaa proposed the idea to an old ally Diana Obeng, she jumped in right away to co-found the company with her.

Diana Obeng, Co-Founder, Femmebnb Inc. – “As a woman, I shouldn’t have to hope and pray that my safety is not at risk when I am planning to travel solo in a new country, but unfortunately, that’s the first thought that comes to mind. I cannot downplay that women fear their safety over every other concern related to traveling alone. Hence, when Yaa proposed the idea of curating a safe space for women travelers, I jumped on board in a heartbeat. We are determined and have invested every bit of our soul into this project and I am excited to help reshape ‘women travel experience’.”

Femmebnb is an exclusive membership platform, ensuring that every member on the platform is vetted. The verification process consists of 5 steps: email, phone, government ID, property documentation/utility bill and/or video verification. The on-site personality video feature facilitates trust and credibility between the host and guest. For the time being, a one-time subscription fee of $4.99 has been waived off the platform, making it free for all to register!

Source: Yaa Birago

A portion of every transaction made on the site for bookings goes towards providing menstrual equity, menstrual hygiene education and menstrual products to girls in Africa as a means to help eradicate period poverty.

(By woman/women, Femmebnb Inc. means anyone who identifies as a woman, non-binary, gender-fluid or non-conforming (womxn).

 

Yaa Birago’s Short Bio

Source: Yaa Birago

Yaa Birago is a tech entrepreneur, Co-founder and CEO of FemmeBnB Inc.; the first social networking vacation and short-term rental platform that allows women to rent their spaces to other women in hopes of maximizing safety, peace of mind and comfort, along with AI- Powered Travel Companion to help women plan their trip from start to end. She started the company to provide safe space and peace of mind for women travelers after she had a terrifying experience as a solo traveler in Rome.

Yaa holds a B.A degree in Criminology and Sociology from the University of Windsor but her passion for tech, women and children advancement led her into the Information Technology and Non-Profit sector for the past 11 years. Yaa is also the Co-Founder and President of Hands of a Hero Foundation (HOHF), a non-profit organization that provides mentorship, leadership, and career development programs for youth and children in Canada and Ghana. Yaa was a recipient of Global Impact Award and Women’s Courage International Award.

She was named as a Black Canadian Role Model and Top 100 Black Women to Watch in Canada. In addition, she was selected as Top30 under30 Pioneers by FOG and in March 2020, she was recognized as WOCStar Woman to Watch. Moreover, Yaa was recently recognized as the TOP 20 Women CEOs in Vacation Rental Tech by VR Tech and the Top 25 Women in the Travel Industry by TravelPulse.

Yaa is passionate and enthusiastic about travel technology, women travel safety, sustainable travel, and improving women’s travel experiences across the globe.

 

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Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant creating the French Experience with an African twist

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Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)

Most times when you think of a French wine expert, especially in Bordeaux, a strong-willed, driven and passionate Black Woman doesn’t come first to mind.

Chinedu Rita Rosa is making waves in the Bordeaux wine community. As a Nigerian Black Woman in her 40’s, she is a rare and long-overdue sight in the wine industry. Over the past six years, she has built a home in Bordeaux with her two teenage daughters and French husband.

For over 20 years Rosa has been active in the wine industry, though she came into the wine business by chance, as an unofficial adviser to her late husband selecting wines for importation into Nigeria. Originally working as a banker, wine did not become her profession until the passing away of her late husband in 2008 who was a Lebanese businessman.

In 2008 she returned to Nigeria and worked with her late Husband’s Friends in XO Wine Store as a Manager where she was in charge of organizing various wine events, teaching wine appreciation, and increasing the selection of wines from all over France. She did all this with minimal professional experience. She likes to put it into simple terms that anyone could relate to, “ I learnt while drinking on the job!”

With Nigeria being a beer-drinking society it was not an easy sell for wines, when she first started, although it was a delightful process, Rosa mentioned. She witnessed, ChiChi (as she is fondly called by her friends) mentioned. She witnessed, seeing the shift of peoples’ opinions about wine, especially when she found the right wine to pair with a client’s palette. Meeting people and discerning their taste and discovering their wine preference is an art that she is passionate about.

“As the years went by, it became much easier to match wines with clients taste” said Rosa. It was during this time that she also acquired knowledge of wine importation, wholesales, retailing and grassroots marketing strategies due to the distribution network of XO Wine stores.

After her first year, Rosa knew this was a profession that she would like to pursue, she continued studying, tasting and enjoyed experimenting with wine tasting pairings. She turned her wine education into a social circle with clients and friends who were also wine lovers. For her, these were some of the most rewarding best moments of her wine career.

Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa (Photo: Roger Das)

She discovered how African foods reacted to different grape varieties and from different wine regions, not forgetting Champagne. She boosts “ If you haven’t tried eating àsun or suya with red wine, you must; it is not to be missed”

It was important to ensure sure that all her knowledge of wine and the industry was accredited, which led her to Bordeaux, where she learned about the technical side of winemaking, regions, and styles. Chinedu found herself the only black and African student for the entire term of the course. In the first step of her official wine studies, received a certification from the school of wine in Bordeaux “Ecole Du Vin.” She is a true believer that the best wines come from Bordeaux.

A fabulous wine lovers group was established in the spirit of the numerous tastings and to date, it exists in Lagos exclusively for members of the XO Family.

Continuing her wine education journey in Bordeaux was a dream and when she decided to re-marry and move to France there was no second-guessing where she was going to call home. Chinedu says,” Naija women are born Entrepreneurs.”This drove her ambition and she ventured into media marketing, blogging, and vlogging in the wine world of Bordeaux, and she also created a networking community where she is the president of like-minded people and entrepreneurs from all over the world that has settled in Bordeaux. The Bordeaux Business Network has over 1000 members and is a thriving support community for expat entrepreneurs.

In Bordeaux, Chinedu has become known as the black lady who is invited everywhere and also hosts a lot of events (not unlike in Lagos!) due to her professional commitments. She attends most wine and entrepreneurial events in the Bordeaux metropolis and is easily distinguishable as a black businesswoman with a glowing smile.

Does this bother her? She has mixed feelings on the subject, Chinedu takes no issues with being the ONLY anywhere, it is a testament to her African upbringing after all. “‘Naija no dey, carry last,” she says. and Being yourself and standing out is important, but she is driven to encourage other black entrepreneurs and young people to come into this profession, where she believes the possibilities are endless.

Chinedu is a distinguished WSET (Wine & Spirits Education Trust) certification, holder. Her wine knowledge spans the process of winemaking to marketing and exportation. She had envisioned that there would be more people of color in the wine industry with her qualifications that she could connect with on a cultural level but she is still left searching. She hopes that this will start to change soon.

Bordeaux-based Nigerian Wine Consultant, Chinedu Rita Rosa and friends (Photo: Roger Das)

As the founder of VINES BY ROSA, an import and marketing company based in Bordeaux she now collaborates with amazing brands, representing them in African Markets. Some of her most notable representations include: CHATEAU DAUZAC, MARGAUX GRAND CRU CLASSE, HINCH IRISH WHISKEY, NINTH WAVE GIN, LGI WINES. These brands are Winemakers that tailor to the African Market specifically creating labels and even Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne.

Always thinking about the future Chinedu wants to continue to build on her passion, education, and dedication, increasing the quality of wines and spirits being imported into Africa and propelling wine appreciation in the continent. She is on a mission to demystify the art of wine tasting and bring good wine to every table at the right price. In the process of this journey, she hopes to inspire other black men and women to join the wine industry and looks to the day where she is not the, I am almost always the only professional BLACK (Woman) at tasting events and business functions, especially here in Bordeaux. “I want to change that,” she ends.

Taking it one- step at a time to secure long-overdue space for aspiring Black women in the wine industry, through the success of Vines By Rosa, she hopes to inspire more people to take their passion and dreams forward.

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Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care is bringing petcare to your home

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Vetwork Inc Founders, Abdelreheem Hussein and Fady Azzouny (Source: Vetwork)

Pets today are considered family members, best friends, confidants, and so much more. Taking care of them requires more than just love and dedication, but also the right knowledge to recognize when something is not right. Vetwork Inc, MENA’s leading startup for animal care industry one country at a time and its mission is to make pets healthier, pet owners happier. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, Fady Azzouny Founder and CEO of Vetwork Inc talked about his entrepreneurship journey, his vision for petcare with Vetwork and the future plan. Excerpts.

 

Alaba: Why did you start and what’s the passion behind it?

Fady: Petcare should be easy, as it stands its full of inefficiencies for both pet parents and vets. Instead of a crowded clinic with a waiting time of 30-45 minutes, vets come to you at home at the time you choose. Rather than try to muster up a massive amount of money to fund a clinic, vets can practice their services without any initial cost and make extra money to live a better life.

The vision of regulating the petcare industry involves a lot of innovation, our dream is to use the available technologies to make everyone’s lives easier and right now we’re on the right track.

 

Alaba: What is your background?

Fady: I graduated as a veterinarian, but I consider myself an entrepreneur. I saw some problems in the veterinary market while I was still studying and started a bunch of projects, with a few of them turning into medium sized companies. My initial problem was the absence of technology in my solutions, with Vetwork I think we can really achieve my vision of making petcare easier.

 

Alaba: What are the problems you are solving and what is your value proposition?

Fady: Its simple, we are solving the problem of finding a good vet by selecting our vets from a pool of more than 1000 annual applications. And the problem of waiting in the clinic through Home visits available 24/7. Also, we are addressing Vets problems of low wages and salaries by offering them easy access to extra income.

Vetwork is reliable, affordable and available petcare.

 

Alaba: Tell us more about the process, users, business model!

Fady: As we stand the process is the same across Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate (UAE). We onboarded more than 300 vets across these three countries. These vets help us cater to our customer’s needs. A pet parent can log into our website or app and request a service at the time of their choosing. A vet will be assigned and introduced to the client.

The vet will then arrive, conduct the visit and deliver a detailed orientation on the tips and tricks of petcare. Our medical records also allow us to follow-up with our pet parents to make sure that everything is going according to plan and their pet is getting better.

 

Alaba: What are your main challenge?

Fady: Since we promise to deliver all your pets needs to you, finding the right groomers, trainers, vets and boarding facilities is always a challenge due to our strict onboarding guidelines.

 

Alaba: What is your achievements and coming plan?

Fady: After launching in three countries our plan is to start expanding further into the MENA region and build our presence in the countries that need us the most. Our tech infrastructure allows us to launch in any country in a matter of days and we plan to take advantage of this to test markets and become your pets partner anywhere in the Middle East.

 

Alaba: Do you think the ecosystem support you?

Fady: Ideas and mentorship, we’re always happy to learn and listen to other people’s ideas on how we can make petcare an easier process. We try our best to promote pet adoption since a lot of shelters are full of pets that need a home. Access to people with a wider audience can surely help us deliver our message to the people that need us the most.

Visit Vetwork

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