Zahara Chetty is the founder of the African Futures Academy who is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together. In this interview with Alaba Ayinuola of Business Africa Online, She shared her entrepreneurship story and how she’s equipping the next generation with 21st century FutureSkills. Excerpts.
Alaba: Could you briefly tell us about African Futures Academy and the gap its filling?
Chetty: The African Futures Academy is all about creating spaces for the youth in Africa to explore themselves and the problems they want to solve to create more equitable, conscious futures for all. We are a movement, creating awareness and resources to enable the next generation to think about the future in ways that are different from the past that we inherited. We develop teaching and learning aids, programmes and materials to help equip the next generation with our identified 21st Century FutureSkills.
Our work is more about long term systems change than it is about startup culture. We want to create a sustainable business, but ultimately, we want to change the thinking culture in our society. We are collaborating with professionals in many different industries to create lasting impact and bring about change.
Alaba: What are the set milestones in terms of goals and impact?
Chetty: The objective is to get resources to influence and teach FutureSkills that are necessary for the Fourth Industrial Revolution to as many young people as possible. Because many of the kids in Africa, especially rural communities, do not have access to online learning and digital technology, the skills we need to transfer can be shared via many other media such as books and games that can be used individually and in the classroom. This is where we are starting and the content will be translated into various African languages as needed. June 2020 – December 2020;
• Launch AFA.
• Awesome Africans series awareness campaign.
• Workshops, Training October 2020 – May 2020.
• Development & Launch of FutureSkills Workbook for Kids in Africa June 2021 – 2023.
• Development & Launch of FutureSkills App and Board game projects.
Alaba: Can you tell us about your journey in entrepreneurship and edtech?
Chetty: I have been working in Education since 2004, first as a teacher and Head of Department and then I resigned to work in the Software industry, where I worked with education companies such as Pearson Education and ZAD Group in Saudi Arabia. I’ve also been researching trends and changes in the technology industry and noticed a disparity between what was happening in the world and how the education system is failing to prepare students for that reality. I started the African Futures Academy as a space to explore how we might address that gap for the next generation in Africa. We are not following traditional startup or silicon valley models.
We think Africa needs its own voice and uses its own cultural problem solving methods to build more equitable futures underpinned by sustainable business practices and an African philosophy.
Alaba: What are the challenges faced in growing this brand and how are you navigating through in this dire time?
Chetty: I think anything new that doesn’t follow the traditional models of operation has to forge its own path, and that is always a challenge. We are not in competition, we are here to aggregate and collaborate efforts across the spectrum to get the maximum benefit for the people that matter the most. Our ethics and philosophies are core to our operations. We are about humanity centred design and practising what we preach. If we want the next generation to be people with visions of the future that are sustainable, prosperous and equitable, we have to lead by example. This often means going against current norms and expectations of how businesses and new ventures operate.
The edtech sector is currently booming and digital learning solutions have risen due to the global pandemic.
Alaba: How is your brand unique from competition?
Chetty: We create spaces and opportunities for exploring FutureSkills. Our online learning platform is just one of our channels with which we can reach the general population. We are platform agnostic. Our FutureSkills will be adapted for various scenarios and contexts e.g. books, board games, mobile applications as well as the online learning platforms and webinars or whatever type of technology is required or available in future. We believe that technology is just a tool to enhance human functioning. The tools might change as we venture into the future, but the intention to develop human potential will always remain the same.
Alaba: How do you see the future of edtech in South Africa and the rest of Africa?
Chetty: I think we need to move away from the idea that we can just take the broken model we have now and give it a digital flavour. Replicating the classroom experience online is a big no-go. We need trans-disciplinary insights into everything we design and build going forward, and the education system requires input from various collaborators across the spectrum in order for it to develop the right skills, values, attitudes and knowledge in its participants.
We also need to remember that this is Africa. We can’t just bring working models from other countries and implement them here. Infrastructure and basic human needs are not being addressed. We have to take that into account. Our ed-tech needs to be developed alongside and as a part of the social system in its entirety, not as a separate thing. The entire point of education is to enable the next generation to be fully functional and contributing members of society.
If society is changing so rapidly, we need to equip the next generation with new knowledge and skills just as rapidly. Somewhere along the way, it looks like we have lost the plot around human societies and how they function and we focused mainly on the technologies that we created. We need to bring back the balance between humanity and technology.
Alaba: Do you think e-learning is changing the life of professionals? How?
Chetty: e-Learning has been around for decades. Companies have been using it for training for many years. It’s nothing new. We’re actually moving away from traditional LMS’s to more social, mobile, micro and gamified learning. Learning is becoming ubiquitous. This is how it should be. Learning needs to become intrinsically linked to life experience itself. The idea that we have to sit in a classroom or take special time off to learn something is becoming incongruent with how we actually live and work.
We need to learn all the time, just by interacting with the world around us. I am looking forward to see how this unfolds with the use of new technologies in the future.
Alaba: How does your organization measure its impact and what is the future for African Futures Academy?
Chetty: We are seeking to influence a movement of change in the way we perceive education and skills to enhance the ability of the next generation to handle change and the Future of Work. Within the next 5 years, we want to reach 1 Million young people in Africa and equip them with FutureSkills competencies, using various channels and socio-cultural contexts.
By equipping the next generation with these core skills, attitudes and values, we will be able to create more opportunities for community-based problem solving, entrepreneurship and job creation using new technologies. We want a generation of changemakers who are not sitting around and waiting for the governments to fix everything for them.
Alaba: What would be your advice to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Chetty: I would say that we are at a point in time where you just need to be brave and forge new ways ahead. Now it’s not about looking for existing models and replicating them. We need new ways of solving old problems with positive, collective futures in mind. It’s not about playing it safe, it’s about experimenting with the new and being able to change things while you are building them. You have to be quick on your feet.
Alaba: How do you relax and what is your favourite tourist destination in Africa?
Chetty: I love what I do so I don’t feel like I need to take a break from my life. I incorporate as many things as I love into the work that I do and the life that I live. However, I love to travel and experience new places. I think every country in Africa has something unique to offer in terms of its culture, its
people and its practices. I am always fascinated by that when I travel anywhere. I think South Africa is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and Mpumalanga’s Panorama route is probably one of the best visual delights I’ve experienced.
P R O F I L E
Zahara Chetty is a Polymath and works as an Educationist, Writer, Facilitator, Fashion Designer and Conscious Design Coach whose work integrates trans-disciplinary insights from various fields of Psychology, Anthropology, Computer Science, Education, Business Management, Strategy, Design and Spirituality. She offers an approach to Strategic Design that is integrative and holistic, helping CEO’s, entrepreneurs and organisations navigate complexity for more Human-Centred, Conscious Strategy and Effective Problem Solving.
Her unique methods provide guidance to deeper levels of self-awareness, moving from ego-centred perspectives on leadership, product design and business development, to a more authentic expression, service, and alignment.
She has been teaching, training and facilitating workshops since 2004, both in the classroom, in the boardroom and online. She currently works remotely with individuals and teams around the world to help them make the move towards co-creating more equitable futures for everyone.
As the founder of the African Futures Academy, she is committed to collaborating and exploring new ways of bringing FutureSkills to the next generation of young people in Africa, to enhance their abilities to consciously co-create a lighter, brighter future together.
Zoe Adjonyoh, the Ghanaian Irish Chef, Writer and Activist revolutionizing African Cuisine
Zoe Adjonyoh, Founder at Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen (Source: Zoe Adjonyoh)
Zoe Adjonyoh is on a mission to bring African food to the masses. Born to a Ghanaian father and Irish mother, the writer and chef from South-East London deepened her understanding of West African cuisine after a trip to visit her extended family in Ghana. Described by the Observer as “the standard bearer for West African food” and named by Nigel Slater as ‘one to watch’ bringing immigrant food to Britain. She was named one of “London’s hottest chefs” by Time Out and most recently has been included as one of ‘The 44 Best Female Chefs in the World’ by Hachette Cuisine France. She became a judge at “The Great Taste Awards” in 2016, which is known as the “Oscars” of the food industry, and in 2018, she won the Iconoclast award at The James Beard Foundation.
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Zoe began by selling Ghanaian food outside her front door during the 2010 Hackney Wicked Arts Festival to ‘make a bit of pocket money’ after returning from traveling across The United States. After the popularity of the stall she set up selling peanut stew outside her front door, Zoe went on the host many supper clubs in her home consistently selling out.
Zoe has been making waves in the international food scene ever since. Zoe has taken her fresh interpretation of classic Ghanaian flavours to pop-up venues across London, Berlin, Accra, Russia and New York, and is a leader in the new African cuisine revolution. Along with her world-renowned supper clubs, Zoe launched her first fixed restaurant space in 2015, at shipping container community project Pop Brixton.
In 2017, Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen became a roving private dining, street food, wedding and events company, which Zoe ran alongside her chef residencies. The brand is a prominent force in the festival community around the UK, including Camp Bestival as part of The Feast Collective, and came runner-up as ‘Best Street Food Trader’ at the UK Festival Awards 2017.
Revolutionizing West African Food
Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the first modern West African Restaurant in the United Kingdom. Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen was the epitome of social, relaxed and affordable dining – where guests gather to enjoy Ghanaian favourites, notable for their heartiness and spice, alongside Zoe’s contemporary West African creations.
In 2014, Zoe began writing her debut cookbook titled ‘Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen’ and was released in 2017 by
Octopus Books. The first modern West African Cookbook to be published in the United Kingdom. Due to its demand the publishers decided to re-release of the cookbook in November 2020 and is the process of working on her second book.
Visit Zoe’s Ghana Kitchen
Coco Olakunle, the Nigerian Dutch photographer passionate about humanity, inclusion and diversity
Coco Olakunle is a Nigerian Dutch photographer with a background in Human Geography based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Her cultures and lived experience are constant sources of inspiration. This produces a photography style that can be seen as a crossover between documentary and fashion, where she always try to highlight the importance of the subject’s identity and background. During her work time, she likes to create a space where the subject feels comfortable and at ease being themselves and letting their personality show. Coco finds that when the subjects in her work feels comfortable, it is felt in the overall process and in the end product.
Her work revolves around people and the personalities they embody: Coco uses her camera as a way to engage with humanity and peacefully open the doors of full spectrum inclusivity and representation. She’s constantly creating spaces for her subjects to express themselves and discover who they are. The subject is always the starting point but what you see in the image is actually a snapshot of her vision: how I want to see us.
“For most of us, 2020 was a tough year. At the beginning of the year, all my jobs were cancelled. Being in lockdown and not being able to work forced me to rethink my skill set. I wasn’t able to practice photography though photoshoots, but I was able to share my experience as a freelance photographer with others. During that time, I got the opportunity to be in front of the classroom multiple times at various art academies, including one I had been previously rejected from as an applicant. To me, this proves that there are different tracks and ways to achieve your goals. Talking to the next generation of visual artists about my work and the philosophy behind it was a new experience for me. It was refreshing to bring other perspectives to the table, especially not coming from an art academy myself. I feel a great responsibility bringing new perspectives into these institutions and guiding students in finding their visual identity and translating it into their creative work.” Coco said.
One of my absolute highlights from 2020 was shooting the cover of ELLE magazine’s September issue. This was super exciting because I got to focus more on the fashion side of photography, and it was such an honor to have my work on the cover of such a big magazine. I look forward to doing more work in the field of fashion, where I can bring my photography style and cultural background to the table. I am constantly inspired by so many great African photographers, some of which are Nigerian, which makes me even more proud. Seeing all the creative work that comes from the continent inspires me from a distance, and even more when I am there.
Coco aim to get back to Lagos, as soon as possible. She said, “Creating in the motherland is very personal for me because it’s a way for me to connect with and learn more about my culture and my people on a deeper level. Being on Nigerian soil gives me a different type of creativity and inspiration from within and I love working with my people when I am there. My camera is like a passport that gives her access to new people and stories which I love bringing back with me and sharing.”
One of her personal projects is a documentary fashion series about her family in Lagos, which she sees as a personal exploration of her Nigerian culture and an exciting challenge. The idea for this project stems from when she was young. “I dream about Nigeria a lot and created my own image of how it would look in my head, and how my family would be. This visualization is my starting point for this series, blending my own vision with what I see when I am there. This project is a way for me to connect with my heritage and discover more about Nigerian culture, and, through that, myself.” Coco said.
In terms of personal development, she hopes to explore different sides of photography she is less familiar with. Coco is excited to master the physics of lighting, because she believes light is how you paint a picture. She loves learning new things in general, making the entire process to be a fun one.
“The past year brought me a lot of new opportunities and new perspectives which I am grateful for, and hope to take with me further into the next years. For the new year, my focus will be on sharing and creating supportive environments where other photographers can connect with and uplift each other.” She said.
A few weeks ago, Coco organized a ‘Creative Catch Up’ for a small group of creatives to reflect on the past year and share ideas for the next year. With good food, music and a table filled with (photography) books this get together turned into a supportive environment where they shared project ideas, thoughts and insecurities. Something she thinks they as freelancers should do more often.
Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF) Entrepreneurship Programme Application Opens
The Tony Elumelu Foundation (TEF), Africa’s leading philanthropy dedicated to empowering African entrepreneurs, opens applications on its TEFConnect digital platform (www.tefconnect.com) today, January 1, 2021.
This year’s intervention prioritises the economic recovery of small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) and young African entrepreneurs, following the Covid-19 disruption to economic activities.
To address the unique challenges arising from the pandemic, lift millions out of poverty and create sustainable employment across the continent, the Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Programme will empower 1,000 young African entrepreneurs, selected from the 2020 cohort. The Foundation will also open applications to an additional 2,400 young entrepreneurs in 2021, in collaboration with global partners.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation, which celebrated ten years of impact in 2020, is empowering a new generation of African entrepreneurs, through the TEF Entrepreneurship Programme. Successful applicants receive a world-class business training, mentorship, non-refundable seed capital up to $5,000, and global networking opportunities. The Programme is open to entrepreneurs across Africa, both new start-ups and existing young businesses, operating in any sector.
CEO of the Tony Elumelu Foundation, Ifeyinwa Ugochukwu stated, “The Tony Elumelu Foundation now more than ever is demonstrating our commitment to unleashing the potential of young African entrepreneurs, the key to Africa’s long-term economic transformation. The pandemic has created challenges across the continent, but we know that with the Tony Elumelu Foundation’s tried and tested Programme, we can execute the largest Covid-19 economic recovery plan for African SMEs and break the cycle of poverty in Africa.”
The Tony Elumelu Foundation’s $100million Entrepreneurship Programme, launched in 2015 to empower 10,000 entrepreneurs over 10 years, is now entering its 7th year and has empowered to date, over 9,000 young African entrepreneurs from 54 African countries.
Prospective applicants should apply on the digital networking hub for African entrepreneurs, www.tefconnect.com
Source: The Tony Elumelu Foundation