“My passion, since I returned to the continent, is really to champion African culture.”
This was said by Alex Okosi, managing director of media giant Viacom International Media Networks Africa, during his keynote speech at The Anzisha Prize Awards Gala last week. Born in Nigeria, Okosi left home at age 12 to receive an education in the US. He was later able to attend university with a basketball scholarship, and received strong grades. Through exposure to various internships, he managed to secure a job at MTV, and worked his way up. In 2005 he was responsible for launching the music channel MTV Africa on the continent, and today oversees Viacom’s Africa subsidiary, which includes a number of channels such as Comedy Central and Nickelodeon.
According to Okosi, he has been passionate about showcasing African culture to the world since being exposed to many of the misconceptions surrounding the continent as a teenager in the US. And after getting a job at MTV, he knew he wanted to bring the channel to the continent.
“For me it was my way of showing this vibrant youth, culture, music, and all the great stuff that our young Africans, like me at the time, had to offer.”
Now, having achieved his dream, Okosi shares his advice to other youth on the continent pursuing their passions.
1. Seize every opportunity
Years ago Okosi was lucky enough to be introduced to Viacom’s global CEO, who suggested they meet for lunch sometime. While some might shy away from the invitation, he did not.
“I emailed him, called his office and got a lunch,” recalled Okosi. “And when I sat down with him, he started asking me questions like what my passions are. I thought this was my shot [and said] I wanted to bring MTV to Africa – it’s the only place in the world where we don’t have an MTV business.”
It was this interaction that paved the way for turning Okosi’s dream into a reality, and he advises others to take advantage of opportunities that come their way.
2. Be accountable, take responsibility
Young entrepreneurs also need to take responsibility for the success of their businesses, noted Okosi.
“Don’t ever be tempted to blame someone, or the environment, for your challenges. Look beyond that. See the glass as half full rather than half empty and really drive to make sure you own your future.”
3. Test your solution thoroughly
Those that put out a product or service should also make sure they’ve done everything possible to make sure it is a success. “It’s important you have a plan. It’s important that in that process you are never winging it,” he emphasised.
“Test your products, services and innovations. Really test them over and over. Make sure that at the end of the day they are going to work and, as you set out there, you give yourselves a great chance to succeed.”
4. Respect and uplift
Africa consists of 54 countries, with numerous languages, cultures, religions and ethnic groups.
“You are going to be dealing with people across this continent and it’s really important to respect all the people you work with – your partners and your communities,” he noted.
“And work hard so that what you create and produce – your ideas – really uplift the continent.”
5. Beware of complacency
“Don’t ever rest on the laurels of what you created today because there is always somebody else trying desperately to create more, do something better,” he advised.
“Make sure you are always tweaking your idea and serving whatever constituencies you want to serve better and better on a day-to-day basis.”
He added that innovation in the business world is key to success, and young entrepreneurs need to keep investigating new ways to do something better, before a competitor does.
6. Collaborate with others, ask for help
“Be collaborative. Work with other people,” Okosi continued.
“Don’t be afraid to share your ideas. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make sure you find people that know more than you do – and work and collaborate with them to ensure you really get the best product and services out there.”
7. Be accessible
And finally, once entrepreneurs have found success, they should be accessible to those they serve – the customer.
“Because that is an important part of being successful,”