Interview with Mimi Kalinda: On telling Africa’s growth story

Vera: Congratulations on your book ‘Talking to Africa’ exploring PR approach to major African markets. Why and how do you see the strategic importance of PR on/for the continent?

Mimi: Thank You so much! Africa has taken center-stage in terms of expansion and attracting global investors. The growth story presents a vast number of opportunities for the PR and marketing field which will aid in the economic growth of the continent. Even though Africa is experiencing unprecedented economic growth, many challenges remain. My firm, Africa Communications Group (ACG) understands that as “Africa rises”, people across the continent are looking for brands and organizations that bring tangible solutions to meet the challenges they face. We are passionate about doing good, and even more passionate about our clients changing the world one initiative at a time. Based on our research and insights, we advise clients on how to create Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives or strengthen existing efforts for maximum social impact in the communities in which they operate and do business.

Additionally, no one knows the African market like the people of Africa themselves. Therefore, if Africans provide PR services for African organizations, this means a culturally attuned strategy can be put in place for the client.  Countries in Africa have different cultures; what works for Nigeria might not necessarily work for a Kenyan market. Therefore, ACG is a communications partner in the African context; we understand African sensibilities and dynamics.


Vera: You explore in the book the cultural dynamics of 4 countries- Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa, 4 countries that are hubs on the continent but quite diverse in nature. Why did you choose these countries and how replicable are what works in these countries for the rest of Africa?

Mimi: The insights in the book are indeed replicable. There are a lot of similarities on a Pan-African scale although each country has its specifics.  Any brand looking at doing business on the continent should take a culturally-attuned approach. The key ingredient of the four countries featured is that they are all emerging markets and what the rest of the world can learn from them is that a country can make mistakes with regard to its economy, but can learn from them and make better financial decisions.


Vera: Talking about a collaborative spirit which you espouse, how’s Africa doing on that and how can that be enhanced?

Mimi: We’re already working on that! Take for example the fact that the AU (African Union) has implemented the “All Africa Passport” that will grant visa-free access to all 54-member states and pretty soon, any African that holds a passport can travel visa-free to their fellow African countries. The AU is doing a fantastic job in its efforts to making travel easy, simple and affordable. This is an important step towards boosting business, trade and tourism.


Vera: You’d be aware of what many consider to be a wrong depiction of Africa. Why do those negative stories persist and what can be done to change that?

Mimi: Africans must contribute not only to the shift but also to the ownership of Africa’s reputation. These kinds of negative stories persist generally because Africans do not have the capacity to speak up and share the African story for what it is. That is why my goal is to uplift and represent as many African voices as possible in the plight of changing the African narrative.


Vera: Some have questioned whether Africa is indeed rising. What’s your assessment?

Mimi: Africa is indeed rising- slowly but surely. Africa has seen unprecedented economic growth and political stability over the past decade. There is no doubt that the continent is experiencing a shift that will take it beyond mere “potential”. For this to happen, however, we need to create a critical mass of strong leaders from various fields (science being one of them) to ensure the continent’s transformation. If our leaders can capitalize on these hidden gems of the continent, Africa will be unstoppable in terms of growth in all sectors.


Vera: The youth bulge is as some say a challenge especially with jobs being so scarce. What’s your take or how the youth population can become an advantage?

Mimi: Unemployment is a huge factor in Africa. However, the African youth need to learn how to become self-starters. This can be done by encouraging them to engage in a spirit of entrepreneurism in order to foster a more empowered Africa and boost the continent’s economy. Programs such as the African Leadership Academy’s Anzisha Prize showcase some of Africa’s entrepreneurial minds and talent. Additionally, as an advocate for African youth development, ACG is contributing to the professional development of a new generation of narrative game-changers. My team consists of young storytellers who are curious and passionate about leaving their own legacies behind and envision a world in which an African passport commands as much respect as a European one. I put my experience and skills at their disposal to achieve this goal. There is nothing or no one that is full of passion and hope quite like the African youth and I believe that their ideas are what will propel Africa to greater heights.


Vera: How do you envisage Africa as a brand in the next decade as a destination for business?

Mimi: A one-stop shop for all things innovation.


Vera: Your passion for Africa transcends PR to innovative scientific training in your work with AIMS (African Institute for Mathematical Sciences). How might progress in science expand Africa’s voice globally?

Mimi: Science shows itself as a form of Innovation in Africa. Some of the freshest and most innovative ideas come from young African minds.  One of the biggest innovations to come out of Africa is mobile money transfer and I believe the technology behind it could not have been possible if it wasn’t for science.


Vera: You were raised outside Africa and have travelled across the whole continent. What would you say is Africa’s best kept secret in terms of business?

Mimi: Africa is at a tipping point and the difference between the continent making strides or regressing into being what the Economist once called “the hopeless continent” is the quality of thinking of its people- the African people are what makes this continent unique: their determination to overcome obstacles, their tremendous creativity, their ability to innovate with very little means at their disposal, and their undying hope that the future will be better than today.


Mimi’s profile

Mimi Kalinda is a communications consultant and Director of Communications for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a network of Centres of excellence incubating STEM education for Africa’s brightest students. Previously, Mimi worked as the Africa Director of FleishmanHillard, responsible for managing FH’s engagement with affiliates in Africa as well as identifying and developing partnerships in new markets. She also worked for Weber Shandwick, where she led pan-African business development efforts and managed social impact accounts, including the Innovation Prize for Africa and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. From 2003 to 2006, Kalinda worked in New York City as a content producer and filmmaker with Director Spike Lee, and she was the first African woman to host a show on MTV in 2000, based in London. Mimi is the Rebranding Africa Champion for Africa 2.0 and a New York University graduate. Mimi is author of Talking to Africa’ exploring PR approach to major African markets’’.


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