Zain Verjee: Africa has more to offer the world

Zain Verjee

Story highlights

  • Former CNN anchor left the company in 2014
  • Verjee has aKoma, an Africa focused digital media platform

Zain Verjee is the co-founder and CEO of aKoma Media, an Africa focused digital media platform. She was previously an anchor for CNN International. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

(CNN)There's an African proverb I love: "if you think you're too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito."

I had reached a stage toward the close of my career at CNN, where a big idea buzzed around my head. Start my own digital media company and focus on African content.
    But what would I be without CNN or another brand alongside my name? Who would stick with me and who would simply disappear? Were my ideas too ambitious, too unrealistic? I wanted to make a difference.
    But I would be one person, with no powerful infrastructure around me. Would I be too small?
    Former CNN anchor Zain Verjee left the company in 2014
    I needed a new personal challenge. I felt I had flat-lined in my growth at CNN. It had been almost 15 years and the dramatic upward swing and relentless pace had ebbed.
    I wondered, what would be an be even greater mountain to climb next after working for an incredible global news network, like CNN. I joined at 25 years old in Atlanta. I was now turning 40 in London.
    I found my answer at ground zero of the start-up world.
    I had no clue how to start a start-up. I read, I listened, I learned, I asked questions, and became a sponge again, absorbing everything new, exciting, and filled with potential.
    I was re-energized. I needed control over my life, I wanted to be the decision-maker of my own destiny. I wanted to test adventurous ideas, that are difficult to do in a large corporation. In a start up, I could be nimble and give myself permission to fail. I wanted to open new conversations, new connections, different experiences and a fresh way of looking at the world.
    I have been travelling home to Kenya, multiple times a year. My family has lived in Nairobi for more than 100 years. Each time, I observed how the media environment and the economic landscape was transforming drastically around me.
    It was eventually I who was static, out of touch and old school. I wanted to change that and to bring untested ideas to the fore that could disrupt the media space.
    While I was at CNN, I was often asked to offer insight and information on various African countries, investment opportunities, travel tips, the best food joints, views on political developments, and cultures.
    I realized, there was no one specific digital space that could authentically be claimed to be the voice of Africans, where I could direct any curious questions. So, what if I created that?
    I was afraid. I could not go it alone. I'm not a coder, I am not a product person, I don't have a digital toolkit or the tech chops. I needed a partner in this. But who?
    In a series of serendipitous events, a phone call led me to Chidi Afulezi, a former Turner/CNN colleague, a product executive, with a similar vision and passion for Africa.
    He's scrappy, he's got heart and nerves of steel. I've learned how to listen more, how to prioritize better and determine when to step back. We have slogged for two years and finally launched our first iteration at akomanet.com
    We want our stories to be part of a narrative shift on Africa
    Chidi and I want the stories we tell through aKoma to be part of a global narrative shift in the world. Every African is fed up of the negative stereotypes of Western media tends to portray (not always but often).
    Every African is sick of reminding folks that Africa is not a country. We acknowledge that Africa, like other continents, does have its woes and they should be appropriately reported. But the Mother Continent has more to offer and aKoma is already showing the world that.
    I am inspired by how we are discovering new talent through our open source platform and through our new Tribe content studio. I'm excited that we are now nurturing talent: hosts, cameramen and women, photographers, writers, animators, filmmakers and editors.
    We concluded an incredible six month paid fellowship program called Amplify with 25 creators in Kenya, Nigeria and Rwanda with backing from the MasterCard Foundation. aKoma is very proud of the fact that we try to pay talent what they are worth. We want to demonstrate greater value to the work African storytellers create.
    Africa has more to offer and aKoma is already showing the world that
    We are bootstrapping this thing, and it's tough. We are battle hardened but we keep getting up to fight the next day. We love the possibilities a wide-open field brings. Our gritty team's enthusiasm and commitment inspires me.
    And yes, I'm asked all the time, 'do you miss being on TV?' No I don't. I love what I am doing. It gives me meaning and a space for my own ideas and opinions.
    My mum tells me, "there's a time and a place for everything" and this is a new time and a place for me, a new kind of growth. New passions and desires.
    My father tells me to "be brave and be bold." Each day I remind myself of this. I then believe in impossible dreams, and reaching the unreachable star.
    I'm sure I'll find a mosquito there too.