Saturday, November 24, 2012

Preaching Afri-Love

By PATRICIA WANJALA

Imagine Africans who love who they are, as they are, and so love each other and the environment that nurtures them.

Confident and assertive, they are engaged in charting their growth and celebrating success on their own terms.

Imagine all who are inspired by Africa sharing their passion through mutual empowerment and collaboration. I call this feeling Afri-love and I have had it for as long as I can remember.

When I left Kenya to pursue higher education in the US, I gained an even greater interest in where I came from.

I was constantly meeting Africans from all over the world. I observed that, diverse as our homelands were, we had a lot in common.

Especially a love for the lands that were so much a part of us, no matter where we happened to be.

A passion for Africa

After I completed my bachelor’s degree in communication and design, I worked as an art director in two agencies — NYC Digitas and UNION.

I felt that my work did not really resonate with my values, so I decided to follow a different route.

I enrolled for my master’s at the London School of Oriental and African Studies. They have an amazing library which to me was like a giant playground.

All these books, journals, magazines, and newspapers from Africa — including our very own Weekly Review.

I loved every minute of it. I was not sure exactly what I wanted to do when I graduated.

My masters degree in African studies seemed totally unrelated to anything. At this point, I was pursuing what I loved.

What kept me going was a combination of confidence in my diligence and faith that the way forward always becomes clear when you stay true to yourself and what you love.

I knew that my education, experience, and ambition would enable me to “land on my feet.”

I found employment at a sustainability communications agency in London called Futerra.

I spent three years there, using design to encourage sustainable development but left because I wanted more control over my time and more freedom to do my own projects.

For a while, I had grappled with the idea of creating a brand that represented the Afropolitans in the diaspora and at home.

Going solo

I started freelancing and moved to a cheaper city, living off my savings. Going from a steady salary to unpredictable and sometimes delayed payments definitely took adjusting to.

In retrospect, it was such a useful experience because I learned that I can live on a lot less than I thought. Plus, because it was for a good cause, I never felt deprived or resentful of my choices.

It really helped that I found a like-minded business partner who was also a friend.

Andrew Mugoya and I joined forces to create our own agency — Asilia. As the name Asilia means in Kiswahili, we wanted to create a brand that was genuine and honest.

All our projects had to stay true to our company credo: “Passion pays in many ways and you shall know them by their passion fruits.”

We have to believe in what our clients do. When they share our values, their passion for their work becomes infectious and we create the best result.

As such, the biggest challenge has been sticking to our guns and initially losing some clients because of it.

The first year Andrew and I did not pay ourselves a salary — everything went back into Asilia.

In our second year, we tripled our turn-over and have been steadily growing since. Coincidentally, many of our clients either have a lot of African work or are from Africa.

Idea-monger

Andrew and I are both from Kenya and we plan to move back home, so setting up in Kenya was an obvious step.

Running a business in two countries has worked out great. Thanks to technology, we talk every day and our team of five full-time and one part-time staff work hard and collaborate on each project.

In two years, we have handled 70 projects, with clients in Kenya, UK, US, Somaliland, South Africa, Switzerland, and Egypt.

We are still reinvesting our profits in the company to fund our growth plans and also to enable us to spend time working on our individual projects.

For example, every member of our team is entitled to work on a self-initiated project for one afternoon a week.

In keeping with my love for all things African, I run a blog called Afri-love.

I call myself an idea-monger. I use painting, graphic design, illustration, writing, and workshops to tell stories that honour the beauty in Africa.

My blog explores the connections between creativity, self-love, and growth for Africans and those inspired by the continent.

Afri-love is a community of creativity, knowledge, passion, and ideas.

Establishing Asilia has enabled me to devote myself to furthering my love for the continent and to pursue my other loves, although not always at the same time.

I create T-shirts, prints, and paintings which I sell through my Etsy store Ubeauquitous.

All my different activities have reinforced each other. For example, Asilia often receives enquiries from people who visit Afri-love; the T-shirts have led to further collaborations on client projects, and design clients have commissioned art work.

My communications design background and African studies experience are both being put to use wonderfully in my Asilia and Afri-love activities.

Long-term objectives

I have always been an idealist. When I discovered just how many of us are out there, devoting our lives to creating the change we imagine, I felt less need to contain my passion.

The most simple, seemingly common sense thing that I remind myself of over and over again is: if I do not like the situation I am in, I can change it.

I have the power to do something, however small, to get closer to making the vision of how I want to live a reality.

It is so easy to lead a “normal” life, where everything seems prearranged and there is no need to worry about disruptions to the schedule.

You might look at other people who seem to have a much easier time because they have not decided to take the leap that you have.

Keep in mind your long-term objectives — you could have it easy now (and complain all the time) or you could be fulfilled long-term.

If you really do love what you are doing, that passion will get you past the obstacles.

And when you surrender to your passion wholeheartedly, all manner of opportunities tend to come your way.

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