It is a given that gaining positive and consistent coverage in the media — either in print, broadcast, or on the Internet — has a great impact on the work that individuals, groups, and organisations do. To a great extent, it is capable of getting their stories to a larger audience. But then, other benefits abound.
In 2015, a young Beninese who understands that the media is capable of shaping people’s opinions decided to start writing the stories of talents and creatives in Africa in order to inspire youths to dream. She discovered that young Africans are sometimes held back from pursuing their dreams because they are yet to find someone who has done the same.
“Thus, Irawo was born, which means ‘star’ in Yoruba. The mission back then was to be a gigantic repertoire of African talents. Today, Irawo is a brand that connects African talents to the opportunities they need to achieve their professional dreams.” – Mylène Flicka, founder, Irawo.
A passion-driven team
As an 18-year-old fresh graduate of international relations, Flicka ran Irawo as a digital community. On the platform, she blogged about innovation, talents in Africa, tech, and politics. Simultaneously, she served as a mentor at EtriLabs to empower girls through digital skills. With the collective efforts of Flicka and other creatives spread across the globe, Irawo could boast of more than 30,000 users with over 300 published articles within 3 years.
The team identifies talents mainly through social networks and recommendations from the community, and tells their stories without a fee. She believes that properly representing these personalities in the media will help young people find role models among them, and this is where Irawo stands out.
“Irawo is different because it stimulates excellence and emulation, and directly attracts young talents by giving them exactly what they are looking for: quality content, role models who look like them, speak their languages, live their realities,” Flicka reveals.
Irawo has a particular focus on francophone African nations. And Flicka explains that this is so because talents within the regions are not as recognised as those in the rest of the continent because of the language barrier.
Early strides and progress
Flicka funded Irawo with her scholarship money in 2015 and bootstrapped the initiative for the first 2 years. While still running as a blog, the startup received a $2,000 grant from Tekxl, a startup incubator in the Benin Republic in 2017.
Now with a website, it has become a platform that revolves around branding, selling products, and advertising events and programs.
In what appears to be a mild variation of Irawo’s initial model, the startup now partners with organisations seeking to connect with talented and influential young Africans.
“We partner with brands such as Facebook, MTN or Havas Group and also connect talents among them and to [other] brands interested in their creativity.”
Despite little beginnings
Flicka measures Irawo’s successful strides by the acknowledgments of people who have been featured on the website and gotten ‘breakthroughs’.
“We have revealed more than 350 talents whose notoriety increased by at least 60% when they appeared on Irawo. This exposure allowed them to find partners and potential customers, and to seize opportunities and also to be taken more seriously,” Flicka explains.
She further describes how the platform, “allows young creatives to promote and monetise their talents, and better train themselves to meet market standards.”
Interestingly, subscription and access to these resources and practical guides to achieving professional dreams are free. She believes providing that opportunity affords them the opportunity to contribute to Africa’s development.
According to Flicka, in almost five years, over 40,000 aspiring young talents aged between 18 and 35 have subscribed to the platform. In addition, website readership has expanded beyond the Benin Republic. It is now visible in Togo, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal, France, and the United States.
“We have reached more than 1.2 million people in 118 countries in the world and promoted more than 350 talents.”
Giving this relatively strong userbase, Irawo gets its revenue through advertisement, and paid programs and training.
Flicka named funding and insufficient support from investors as circumstances capable of causing a setback for the business. But operating a flexible business model and adapting it to the seemingly underdeveloped ecosystem has proven to address the challenge.
Apart from that, the effects of government regulations on the Internet coupled with expensive browsing data and low-quality Internet connection is quite unhealthy for a startup running in the digital space.
At first, this restricted the startup’s reach since its audience was mainly Beninese. However, it was able to overcome this when it began exposing its content to other regions and, thus, increasing influence.
In spite of these hitches, Flicka is confident that Irawo has the potential to be a one-stop platform for any African talent that wants to get the spotlight. And she believes that it is achievable in a short time.
“Within three years, we want to become the first destination for 3 million young creative entrepreneurs and talents, and everyone who needs visibility and career opportunities. We are on a mission to train 5000 young creatives with skills that meet market standards and help them monetise their passion.”
Apart from francophone countries, the startup also has eyes on other Africa regions.