Africa’s women have a long history of overcoming obstacles to feed needs. So it’s a no-brainer that modern women all over the continent are stepping up to the plate, shattering glass ceilings and finding enterprising ways of feeding the digital globe’s need for local content. Today, we feature Mimi Kalinda, the final story in our three-part series.
Mimi Kalinda: MD of pan-African PR and communications agency Africommunications Group, author of Talking to Africa: Considering Culture in Communications for a Complex Continent and director of communications for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences.
A global citizen born in the DRC of Rwandan heritage, Mimi Kalinda grew up in South Africa and cut her teeth in US media, graduating with a degree in media studies from New York University. She spent three years as a film production assistant in New York before becoming the first African woman to host a show on MTV Europe, in London. While at MTV, a chance meeting with someone at a global PR firm in Tanzania sparked her interest in the industry.
“What excited me about this sector was the fact that you could tell companies’ and individuals’ stories in a way that met their business or personal objectives for growth,” says Kalinda. “You could shape perceptions more tangibly and create tools that would allow you to measure impact. I joined the firm and focused on social impact accounts, which spoke to my personal fascination with social change and how media contributes to this. I have been hooked on PR ever since.”
Pioneering a mind-shift
By the time she’d co-founded Africommunications with former telecoms consultant Addis Alemayehou two years ago, Kalinda had built up an impressive portfolio, having worked on key accounts for multinational PR companies FleishmanHillard and Weber Shandwick. The greatest challenge the company has had to overcome, says Kalinda, is in pioneering a mind-shift for the industry.
“One of the challenges an agency like ours faces is building credibility in an environment where, previously, global agencies from the US or Europe have been seen to be the only ones with the capabilities to deliver results on a pan-African scale,” she explains. “The landscape of the industry is such that African-owned firms usually work with local clients, whereas Western agencies cover the whole of Africa. Therefore, we are playing in a space where we’re saying ‘we’re an African communications firm with the same capabilities as a Western firm and we can deliver results in all African countries where our clients want to do business’.”
An active advocate for African growth who spearheads ownership of a positive narrative for the continent, Kalinda authored Talking to Africa to highlight the need for stakeholders on the continent to recognise that Africa is not homogenous – and argues for developing and implementing communications strategies attuned to local audiences. This, she says, is getting easier for multinationals to grasp.
Africa is not a country
“Many people have contributed to the ‘Africa is not a country’ mindset shift and continue to do so. For our clients, the proof is in our results. When we produce communications strategies and implement them in a way that is culturally sensitive to the diversity of the continent, we have more positive outcomes and clients are more likely to take our counsel the next time we work on an account.”
Headquartered in Johannesburg, the continent’s first African-owned pan-African PR firm has partners and affiliates across the continent – and a growing client base that Kalinda accredits to her team. “They are champions of Africa’s development and passionate about PR. We have a network of partners and affiliates across Africa, from Cairo to Harare, who are always available, willing and ready to produce PR campaigns for our clients which are world-class and have measurable impact.”
With women across the globe making their mark on various spheres of industry and society, Kalinda has pertinent messages for young aspirants: “Strive for excellence because it’s a deterrent to prejudice. Be open and willing to opportunities. Absorb and learn as much as you can from people who inspire you. And finally, have a legacy outlook from the start: what is most important to me is to exhaust all my talents and ensure that I contribute a few bricks to building the kind of Africa my children and other Africans can be proud to call home.”
Honours and Awards
- Kalinda received a One World Media Award for RienQue La Verite, a TV programme advocating HIV/Aids prevention and an end to violence against women in the DRC
- Kalinda received an Emerging Producers Bursary from the World Congress of Science and Factual Producers.
- She’s been nominated for the Women4Africa Awards 2016 and was a finalist in the International African Woman of the Year category
- Kalinda is a 2017 Desmond Tutu Leadership Program Fellow
- She’s on the board of the Africa Brand Counsel and has been named the Rebranding Africa Champion by Africa 2.0
This story was first published in our Africa Annual.
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Lucinda Jordaan is an independent writer, researcher and editor with extensive experience in all media, covering various fields from academia and finance to education and lifestyle.Her articles have appeared in several award-winning publications, locally and internationally, and she has contributed to various books and online sites, including The Media Online.