Change is afoot, and the world is transforming faster than we could have ever imagined.
With that, clashes are emerging: the ideal of globalization vs. the reality of porous borders; a vastly different industrial landscape vs. a lack of jobs for youth; a rise in prosperity vs. a rise in poverty, and many more.
There is a society of entrepreneurs, innovators and disruptors across the world who have taken these clashes in stride, approached them as opportunities, and who have created paradigm shifts in their respective fields. The need for the ideas and perspectives cannot be overstated. We have seen a rising number of international conferences, more creative and incisive social media use (see the success of Facebook Live,) and we are at a point in history where idea sharing is at its highest.
However, this process is still dogged by many of the problems we see in established industries, and still reflects the biases of the last 50 years. As an East African speaker bureau, we recognize the growing interest in perspectives coming out of the continent, but we see the simultaneous bias that has corporations and event organizers offering far lower (or no) speaking fees to exceptional African speakers and artists. We have written about how damaging the remuneration gap is; when African perspectives are undervalued, the entire world is short changed.
Furthermore, the expectation that African professionals should absorb the cost of this bias is untenable. Sacrificing compensation in order to break the visibility boundary is unacceptable; it is time for international event organizers to overcome the expectation that African speakers and artists should ‘feel lucky’ to be heard. From our vantage point as a booking agency, game-changing entrepreneurship is underserved by an outdated approach to African perspectives.
Recently, AS+A speaker and Ethiopian entrepreneur Bethlehem Alemu, founder of soleRebels and Garden of Coffee, was approached to speak at an event; the company – which didn’t want for funding – asked her to address the migrant crisis in Europe and unemployment at home, but said they didn’t have a budget for her presentation.
Alemu, who started a workshop on her grandmother’s land with just five employees in 2004, now runs the world's first global omni-channel consumer brand in an emerging market, and has single-handedly created a vast number of jobs. Alemu is uniquely placed to talk about job and creation, and more so to address how to create sustainable change and stem migration through creating opportunities at home.
While she was in the start-up phase, Alemu was one of the first to speak up about reversing the tide of migration and incentivizing people to stay at home, and she has since spoken in depth about 'creating prosperity' rather than ‘alleviating poverty.’ This perspective wasn’t necessarily warmly received at the time, but has now become the norm. Tackling poverty and unemployment in Africa to reduce migration to Europe has become a cornerstone of EU policy, and a major talking point at conferences and committees alike, and yet the unwillingness to pay somebody for their expertise on the subject still prevails.
If those that are changing the reality on the ground aren’t adequately engaged to change the conversation we will miss out on the opportunities that this time of change offers us, and we will all be worse off for it.