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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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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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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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How This EdTech CEO Is Helping Africans Access Premium Tech Skills Relevant For The Future Of Work

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Eyitayo Ogunmola is the CEO of Utiva, a leading tech education startup in sub-saharan Africa and a technology education entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development And technology leadership. In this exclusive interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, He talked about his entrepreneurship journey, the Utiva brand and how they are helping people transition into roles in the technology industry in Nigeria and Africa. Excerpts.

Alaba: Tell us about Utiva and the role you play?

Eyitayo: Well, Utiva is a one-stop-shop for everything technology education. What we do is help Africans learn premium technology skills and then create paths to helping people transition into roles in the technology industry. If you think about this inform of a mission, I’d say that ours is to help Africans participate in the digital economy and benefit from the value that
digitalization gives to us as a continent.
One of the ways to think about this is to think about the population of the African youths.

According to research, by 2030 Africa will have one of the largest populations of young people that are ready to work in the job market, about 600,000,000 of them. And what we do at Utiva is to lower the barrier to entry and learning for so many young Africans that want to acquire technical skills. And also help them access new jobs.

Within 2 years, we have developed learning programs in some very specific areas of digital skill training. From Product Management to Product design to Data Analytics to Artificial intelligence to Digital Marketing. Our focus is to make the learning programs so interesting and attractive for people to participate. That is pretty much what we do at Utiva.

Now talking about my own role, I am the Chief Executive Officer, so what I do is to lead the team, lead the practice, and to champion the organization’s policy the way the organization is structured. So I typically will report to the board, I am the person that pursues the investors, also the one cheer leading and helping the stakeholders to get attracted to the brand Utiva.

Alaba: What was your startup capital and how were you able to raise it?

Eyitayo: Now the interesting thing about Utiva is that we bootstrapped from the very beginning. We didn’t raise a dime. I pretty much used my own personal savings to run Utiva from day one. And as a social enterprise, I will say that we have benefited so much from impact investing or social impact financing in the form of grants to subsidise our training.

So Utiva has been a bootstrapper from the beginning, we so much believe in bootstrapping to a point before we start using other people’s money to run the organization.

Alaba: What are the challenges, competition and how are you overcoming them?

Eyitayo: Well in terms of competition, I will say that we pretty much do not always see ourselves as competitors in the education space, we love to see ourselves as complementors. But there are other amazing companies and organizations that are playing in our space. There are organizations that are niched and are focused on different areas of technology education training, so I may not be able to mention names here but I will say that there are great organizations that are focused on training in programs. There are organizations that do not do training, they just connect people to the job market, there are organizations that are focused on digital skills training, some are focused on providing internships to people that have been trained.

So what we do which is like the competitive advantage that we have is that we are a one-stop shop for everything technology skill training. From Data to Product to Design to Digital Marketing to Growth Hacking to Artificial Intelligence and this is a value proposition that makes our students get very attracted to Utiva. Because they trust us and the trust is pretty much built around the fact that we have built several digital schools and they know that yes we really know what we are doing.

In terms of the way we also overcome the competition, we built Utiva to be very affordable. We lower the barrier to entry for Africans and we do not believe that you need to break the bank to learn a technology skill and that is one of the areas of the competitive advantages that we have. Another one for us is the post-training values that we offer our students.

We have built 3 different models around our post training value. One is the virtual internship. What this means is that at the end of every training program, you have the opportunity to work on multiple projects in the form of virtual internship. The second one is access to job opportunities. Our students gain access to different job opportunities because we have a large network of employers that are hiring through us. And the third one which I consider to be an awesome value is the fact that we are lowering the barrier to entry for those that really need help, speaking of people with disability. We actually just launched a training program that gives 500 people with disability an opportunity to learn digital skills.

These are some of the many values that we offer that makes people want to be a part of our learning program.

Alaba: How does your organization measure it’s the impact?

Eyitayo: So, there are three major ways of measuring impact for us and we are quite very intentional about the way we measure impact. So think about it this way, we measure impact, first by measuring how we are helping you as a student close the knowledge gap. So from the beginning, we want to know what you know, then at the end of the learning program we want to know what you know. So we see the knowledge gap and how we have been able to close it.

The second way we are measuring impact is how you have been able to take the knowledge from the class to practice and we do that within the 3 months virtual internship, we look at how our students have been studying using multiple analytical strategy to evaluate how our students are working on multiple projects and how they are able to juggle these projects and most importantly how they are able to translate what they have learned from the class environment to the real work environment through that virtual internship.

The third one is what employers are saying about our students, that’s like ultimate value. We currently have a 65% transition rate into new jobs and beyond the transition rate, we also look at how employers are getting satisfied with the quality of talents that are passing through Utiva because it is not enough for you to transition, we also need to know how satisfied these employers are with our students.

So, these are the ways we are measuring impact. How you are transitioning to new jobs and the values that employers are getting from the quality of students that pass through our programs.

Alaba: What is the future for Utiva and what steps are you taking in achieving them?

Eyitayo: I am going to be very brief about the future for Utiva because for us at Utiva, we are still in the execution phase. Our focus today is to deliver quality training for our students. But the future of Utiva is to help other educators become successful. The education space is an amazing space to play in and one of the things that we are doing is that we are helping every other educator to become successful in the future.

Beyond being a company that offers quality training, and helping young Africans transition into new jobs, we also want to help other educators to become better so that we can scale the value for Africans, I mean we can’t do it all, how do we even train 600,000,000 young people alone? So we want to replicate ourselves in other educators. That is the future for us.

Alaba: How is your business contributing to the development of the educational sector in Nigeria and Africa?

Eyitayo: Yes, yes! So let me explain a little bit about that. Our contribution is to replicate ourselves, so the way we think about this is that we want to be successful, we want to build successful models, we want to build a successful learning approach. We want to be successful and we want to help other educators to be successful. We want to help other educators to learn the right andragogy and the right pedagogy to become successful.

For us at Utiva, success is built around how much we are helping other educators in the educational sector to become successful. It is in view of this that we launched a mini project which is like a startup incubator for educators. And right now we have about 10 of them that we are coaching and mentoring and helping to access funding abroad just to scale success and that is the way we are thinking about that.

Alaba: How is the government policy supporting startups and entrepreneurs in Nigeria?

Eyitayo: I would say that there are two ways to think about this right, there are so many government policies out there that are structured around providing support to lots of entrepreneurs in Africa, so I will give you an instance, the creative industry loan. The creative industry loan was a CBN initiative that was built to support Nigerian startups. Let me give you another example, the Vice President launched multiple projects to attract investors and also to make the entrepreneurial ecosystem quite very attractive.

However, the policy is not the challenge, what the real challenge is the access. Because most of these policies that the government put in place are there and also the programmatic intervention that the government put in place are there. Where the problem lies is that most African or most Nigerian entrepreneurs do not have the capacity to access some of these opportunities. You know the CBN interest rate policy supports startups, supports entrepreneurs. They are there, but Nigerian entrepreneurs need to be supported in such a way that when these policies are enacted, the barriers to benefiting from these policies are lowered so that we can access them.

Also, the government needs to create an opportunity to talk to entrepreneurs. Beyond just creating policies here and there, the government needs t o talk to entrepreneurs every time. The more you talk to entrepreneurs, the more you are able to understand what works for them and create structures that can really support them.

Alaba: What advice would you give potential entrepreneurs who intend to start a business or invest in Africa?

Eyitayo: The Advice I would give is to start. Start fast and learn fast. I mean you cannot over-prepare for entrepreneurship in Nigeria because it is a totally different ball game. But start and learn very fast. That is the advice I will give, and I would say that think more global, build a more global product. It’s ok to build products for a Nigerian market, but build a global product so that you can benefit from the global dynamics.

Alaba: How does it feel to be an African entrepreneur?

Eyitayo: I think it’s a mixed feeling. Sometimes you are excited because of the opportunity, because of the market, because there are problems and where there are problems there are opportunities
and that is exciting. Then another one is like as an African entrepreneur, you are fighting too many unnecessary battles. We can really build a successful or a super successful African entrepreneurship ecosystem or build a super successful business landscape for the African market if African entrepreneurs do not always have to fight unnecessary battles.

Like you fight battles with electricity, you fight battles with bad roads, you fight battles with bad employees, taxation. You are fighting multiple battles that the government is supposed to fight for you so that you can focus on your core which is building business.

Alaba: How do you relax and what books do you read?

Eyitayo: I travel a lot. Although COVID-19 has really taken that opportunity away from me, because travelling is my thing. Then I read a lot of books around internal navigation, around leadership. That’s one of the things I have been studying so much. Beyond just the motivational leadership books, I read some core books around internal navigation. So one of the areas of books that I have been exposing myself to is biography. I have been reading the biography of some super successful entrepreneurs and I will recommend that other entrepreneurs also start to study biographies of other super successful entrepreneurs. Thank you!

Also Read Pineapple TV: Delivering Positive Impact And Instilling African Culture – Carl Raccah

P R O F I L E

Eyitayo Ogunmola is a Technology Education Entrepreneur with more than 9 years experience in Product management, international development and technology leadership. He has lived and worked in 4 countries and also led at the VP level of a consulting company.

Eyitayo founded Utiva, a leading technology Education company in Sub-Saharan Africa that helps Africans learn tech skills relevant for the future of work. Prior to Utiva, He worked in the International development sector, working on USAID funded tech projects. And also founded PM Hub, a boutique for product development.

He holds a Masters degree in business strategy, leadership and change from Heriot-Watt University. He is a MIT Solve Entrepreneur, 2020 Facebook Accelerator Leader, Halcyon Incubator Fellow, Global Good Funds Fellow; Chevening Scholar, Atlas Corps Fellow, 2019 Unleash Talent.

In 2019, Eyitayo was nominated for Future Awards Africa 2019 under the Education category and most recently is his nomination for the Tech Times Africa Awards under the CEO category.

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