Didi Akinyelure: Driven by dreams
Didi Akinyelure is the 2016 winner of the BBC World News Komla Dumor Award. The award identifies Didi as a future star of African Journalism. Didi will commence a three-month placement with the BBC in London at the end of August. Didi Akinyelure graduated from the University of Nottingham with a 2:1 degree in Chemical Engineering. After graduation, she accepted a job in the UK financial sector, working in the Asset Management division of major organisations, such as Barclays Wealth. After five years in the sector, she relocated to Nigeria, where she accepted a role in the Asset Management division of Investment Bank, Oceanic Capital. After two years, she left to start her broadcasting career with CNBC Africa, where she anchors and produces CNBC Africa’s morning show, “Open Exchange West Africa”.
You recently won the BBC World News Komla Dumor Award. Did you ever expect to win such a prestigious award?
I tried to be as positive as possible. I applied last year, but didn’t get through. This year, I was more prepared. I decided to be myself throughout the application process and not someone else. I wanted my love for journalism to shine through and it did. I was, however, shocked, when I got the call that I won. When I consider the fact that hundreds of journalists across Africa applied and I won, it’s surreal!! Looking backing at the start of my career as a journalist four years ago, I never expected to get to this point. Journalism was a steep learning curve for me because I did not study it and started my career in the financial sector. I am glad that I never gave up, when I had tough days. This award proves to me that I chose the right path.
How do the works of Komla Dumor inspire you to tell African stories?
Komla told the African story with a lot of passion and in a truthful and balanced way. He changed the way the African story was told. Watching him and listening to him, you could tell that he loved what he did every single day. You could tell that he was a great guy, who got along with everyone he met. He found the right balance between being approachable and putting his interviewees at ease, while ensuring that the facts that needed to be heard were heard. He was an accidental journalist, jus like me.
I am honoured that I have been chosen to continue the legacy of an amazing African journalist like Komla. He loved telling business stories and this is an area that I love too. I hope to carry on the work that he started; showing Africa, as it really is— the good and the bad. Like Komla, I want to contribute to changing the perception of Africa in the international community. I want to tell the stories about the warmth of Africa, the strength of Africans, and the resilience of Africa.
Josephine Hazeley, Deputy Editor for BBC Africa, once compared you to Dumor. Did she overreach in her comparison or underrate what you can achieve in the future?
It’s always daunting, when you’re asked to step into the shoes of someone who left an amazing legacy. It’s an absolute honour to be compared with Komla Dumor. I didn’t apply for the Komla Dumor award just for the sake of it. I truly saw a connection between his story as a journalist and mine; his approachable manner and love for his job and mine. I hope that like him, I am able to inspire hundreds of people through the stories I tell. I have always been myself and I will continue to be who I am.
You will be joining BBC on a three-month placement in September, as part of the reward for winning the award. What are the personal targets you set to achieve during this period?
I hope to learn a lot. I am not perfect at my job. I started this career path barely four years ago. I hope to be a better presenter, a better producer, a better editor, a better researcher and a better storyteller. The BBC, I hear, is the best training ground and I am looking forward to taking it all in. I also get to tell an African story to the BBC’s global audience. That for me is the icing on the cake!
What is the motivation behind your career switch from investment banking to broadcasting?
It happened accidentally. I never planned it. I never dreamt about it. I wanted to tell African stories and the best way I knew how was through the real estate market. I developed a love for property investment and decided to create a documentary called “A Place in Africa” showcasing the opportunities in the real estate market in Africa. I created a pilot and pitched to CNBC Africa and was offered a job. That’s how I got into journalism. As a financial journalist, it helps if you have a financial background, so I guess there was that link.
Did you feel inhibited by self-doubts, considering that you read Chemical Engineering and had no prior experience as broadcaster when you were first employed by CNBC Africa?
Every single day! Journalism was probably the hardest move I made in my career, but it turned out to be the most rewarding. Two weeks after I started at CNBC Africa, I was literally thrown on live TV. It’s the scariest thing. You’re in front of millions of people, who expect you to perform. They expect you to ask the right questions and follow the news or the markets everyday (in the case of financial journalism).
I doubted myself for a long time and still do sometimes. It’s a natural trait. Whenever you’re faced with a new experience, there is always self-doubt. However, I have learnt to push through the fear. Once I started to be myself and not anyone else, I saw that it made all the difference. I fell in love with my job and it started to feel less like work and more like I was having fun.
Like anything new, it’s a process, it takes time and on live television, you don’t have the luxury of making mistakes. However, you learn to accept that no one is perfect. You see that your imperfections are part of who you are and that is what makes you shine.
What informed the perspectives of your stories? And how do your personal narratives influence the way you report?
I work in a very specialised area. With financial journalism, my job is to inform the viewers about the activity in the stock market in West Africa, the fixed income and forex market, West African economies, politics and to discuss the news that moves the markets. That’s what I do on my live show every morning. However, I am particularly drawn to business stories— stories about entrepreneurs. Thus, I created a segment in my morning show specifically to inspire others through the unique stories I feature.
Personally, I am driven by the stories I tell. Perhaps I am drawn to these stories because I started this career path aiming to be an entrepreneur. I wanted to create my own Real Estate television content, in spite of the fact that I had no television experience and no funding from a sponsor. Like a lot of the entrepreneurs I meet, all I had was a dream and I was driven. I knew I had to make it work and I made it work. Now, I have this amazing career and I also have my real estate content coming up at the end of this month. The show is sponsored by Landmark Africa. So, I guess it took a while but in the end, everything fell in place.
Judging by your experience on ‘Entrepreneur of the Week’, a show you anchor, what do you think are the bane of female entrepreneurship in Africa? How do you think these can be solved?
Nigerian entrepreneurs face a remarkable amount of challenges; from lack of access to 24/7 power and difficulties in getting access to funding to the difficulties in accessing forex to the hike in the price of food products and fuel shortages. The list goes on, yet somehow they make it work. The entrepreneurship segment caters to all and not just female entrepreneurs.
However, I find that I am particularly drawn to the stories of female entrepreneurs. All entrepreneurs face challenges, but in many cases, women find it harder. As women, we need to support each other. We need to mentor each other. How does a male or female owned start-up find collateral to present to a bank, as security for a loan? I love to ask entrepreneurs the funding question because a lot of times, there is a gap in the story and this is what budding entrepreneurs want and need to hear.
Family and career: how have you been able to manage both to the point of winning the BBC World News Komla Dumor Award? Which of these two will you sacrifice, if you have to?
Family always comes first. My job gives me a lot of flexibility, which is great, when you’re a wife and a mum of two young kids. I have always been a good organiser. People talk about how, as women, our careers suffer, when we have children. Interestingly, my career really took off after I had children. I was three months pregnant, when I was offered the job at CNBC Africa and I initially turned it down because I felt it was not the right time to start a new job, and certainly not the right time to appear on live television every day. My husband encouraged me to give it a try and thank God I did.
Who is Didi Akinyelure? What defines you as a woman?
I am driven. I know what I want and I work to get it. Once I put my mind towards a task, I achieve it. As a woman, I am strong. I do not let anything put me down or derail me from my goals. I do not follow the masses. I do me. I walk on my own path. I treat people the way I want to be treated. I am all things through Christ, Who strengthens me.