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Branding Beyond Stories: Blessing Abeng is on a Journey to Empowering Africa’s Tech Talents

Branding Beyond Stories: Blessing Abeng is on a Journey to Empowering Africa’s Tech Talents

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Blessing Abeng has founded organisations such as Startup Grind Lagos and Einsteinette Limited, a branding and communications agency for startups…

By Sybil Fekurumoh


Origin Stories

In an article written by Blessing Abeng, there is a photograph of her in a science laboratory. A much younger version of Abeng as a Biochemistry student is draped in a lab coat and safety gloves. We are privy to Abeng as she possibly tries to document her observations from an experiment in the lab. There, I imagined, was a self-assured young woman, with big plans to change the world through science, never an uncertain person worried about her prospects.

Blessing Abeng
Blessing Abeng

Blesssing Abeng wanted to become a doctor, as I could have imagined, as many children in African households aspire, to fit the blanket of “professional” careers that are ingrained in impressionable young children. But Abeng’s ambition was borne out of an altruistic desire to save lives after watching her father recover from an illness. I picture the young Blessing Abeng in awe of the doctor’s skill and knowledge and resolved to do the same for others. Abeng did start on that course, studying Biochemistry to lay the foundation for Medicine later. She soon realised, however, that she had a penchant for marketing and communications. She had found her goldmine, and that made all the difference. Her career trajectory changed course, and she went on to study Branding and Communications at the Orange Academy.

But there’s more to Branding than telling stories

As a teenager, Abeng excelled just as well in the Arts as she did in the Sciences, and her fluidity in both divides, – competing in maths competitions, debates, and so on – offered her a fine balance of creativity and logical reasoning. Abeng considers this quality of merging both creativity and logic as being adaptable. “Creativity and logic are one of the biggest things because you are telling stories but you are not just telling stories because you have stories to tell,” Abeng tells me with the poise of one with a wealth of experience on her shoulders. This is evident in the way Blessing Abeng interacts with her audience, leveraging pop culture and social media, and breaking information into bite-sized forms in a way the audience can relate with. She could create a lesson on branding using the popular Game of Thrones, or give lessons on the upside of failure using an anime series called the Record of Ragnarok to drive her points home.

To Blessing Abeng, there’s no one size that fits all, but more about finding what is unique to each brand and their customer base, and understanding what works for them. “Businesses need to make a profit, break even, or survive, so you first have to do your research and understand how the industry works in the first place. One also has to pay attention to how customers would react to a product.” But this is no revelation. She continues, “So how do you tell the customers what they want to hear without losing any validating experience of the brand? And how do you speak as a brand without invalidating the experience of a customer?” There is a momentary pause as she lets me ponder on this question.

(Read also: Ten Must-have Tools for Branding Your Fashion Business)

The winning formula is, “no risk, no reward”

Abeng has founded organisations such as Startup Grind Lagos and Einsteinette Limited, a branding and communications agency for startups. She has helped build two successful platforms, first, as CMO and co-founder of Disha, a tech startup that helps creatives showcase their works. Disha has now been acquired by Flutterwave. Abeng is now the director of communications, and co-founder of Ingressive for Good (I4G), a platform that is making techies out of young talents across Africa and the African Diaspora.

In all of these successes, I assume that Blessing Abeng is driven to take risks, calculated ones at the least. But she acknowledges that making changes can be daunting, and undertaking new projects can be just as challenging. However, a mantra that helps her through the self-doubt is that courage is not the absence of fear, but doing it afraid. “I’m not a risk-taker who is not afraid,” she corrects me, “but one who is definitely afraid but doesn’t mind feeling the fear to get to the other side.”

As she explains the need to start when you are, Blessing Abeng recollects the beginning days at I4G, when sourcing for donations was a laborious undertaking. Even when launching the platform was a gamble with uncertain outcomes, they decided to launch, anyway. Blessing Abeng still considers each challenge as an opportunity to experiment, and she makes sure to always document her process. “We are big on repeatable success, and I find that some people do not replicate success, not because they are bad, but because they did not document the experience while going through the process.” Like any good scientist, documenting a process helps her make observations on the areas that can change or are susceptible to change, as well as the areas that remain constant in re-duplicating successes.

Transforming young African talents, one tech talent at a time

The success of I4G is not understated. Co-founded by Maya Horgan Famodu, and Sean Burrowes, with Blessing Abeng serving as director of communications, I4G is an ed-tech non-profit platform that is enabling young Africans with tech skills, allowing young talents to transition into tech and the digital space. Since its launch at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in July 2020, the platform has become a part of a cultural and social movement that is creating opportunities for young Africans to transition into tech. I4G helps young people access these opportunities through micro-scholarships and technical training, in tech and tech-related fields such as software development, tech marketing, product design, data analytics, and many more.

There was a dearth of talent, especially young talent, to fully position for opportunities within the tech ecosystem. This inspired the birth of I4G. Blessing Abeng shared the painstaking difficulty African founders experienced in searching for younger talents from the continent. “Founders cannot build alone,” she tells me. “We realised that the actual problem was that when venture capital firms provide funding for founders to build their startups, there was difficulty in finding technical talents to join these founders.”

It became clear that it wasn’t that people did not want to venture into tech, but that these young people either did not know how to, or couldn’t afford to. “This was a defining factor for us because these young people did not have the resources to pay for the robust training to become the talent that companies needed.” I4G considered their work as an investment into the tech ecosystem, ensuring that the training offered met global standards where recipients could work anywhere in the world. As digital technology is consistently changing how humans interact with machines, this transformation offers young people the ability to quickly adapt. I4G is in the middle, catalysing and facilitating this change.

(Read also: Can Artificial Intelligence Change the Face of Africa?)

What this means for women in tech

I4G also tries to create an environment where everyone is represented. It is providing for, and assisting women, too, to garner tech skills. By this, Abeng challenges the notion that the lack of representation of women in the tech industry was because women show little or no interest in the field. She argues instead women’s participation in tech is due to a lack of opportunities rather than interest. “Women are over-mentored and advised all the time. What we need is we need strong education and actual support. We need organisations that empower and fund women so that they can get to the next stage of their lives. So that even when they are the first to be in an organisation, they would be able to pave way for other women,” her debating abilities become evident as she speaks as if sparring with an opponent. To drive her point home, she tells me of the first I4G 1000 women in tech program organised in 2021, where over 17,000 women applied. There had to be a vigorous screening process as the mass turnout could not be accommodated at the time.

Blessing Abeng admits also that there is progress in better representation of women in workplaces. “Beyond tech, women would apply for roles when they see platforms that make that available and most industries are making headway in making this happen.” So far, I4G has partnered with platforms such as Coursera, DataCamp, Facebook, MasterClass, Geneza School of Design, Alphabet (Google), Entry Level, and many others. At present, I4G, in collaboration with Meta, is running a scholarship in Marketing. The platform has extended its reach to Africans in over 190 countries, with beneficiaries from all countries in Africa and other Africans in the Diaspora.

(Read also: Six Women at the Forefront of Tech in Africa)

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It’s all about community

As a social impact platform, I4G adopts a community-driven model in the way the platform interacts with its beneficiaries and online communities that allows for a seamless learning process. I4G has foreseen the struggles of learning in isolation, especially when learning remotely. “Learning can be lonely, just like building on your own can be lonely,”Blessing Abeng begins. “We knew that most of the people we would be targeting probably never even heard about tech or never felt like they could build a career in tech, so we want them to feel safe, supported, appreciated, and celebrated… Our organisation was created to economically empower Africa and that can only happen when the youths are economically empowered, but nobody can empower themselves alone.”

Next stage

Blessing  Abeng is ever keen on adventure and trying out new endeavours. She tries to live in the present just as much as she prepares for the future, living guardedly in a way that ensures continuity of survival. Blessing  Abeng may be learning a new language today or bungee jumping tomorrow, what is constant is that she is creating and implementing new strategies and ideas.

Blessing Abeng

Today, Blessing Abeng is a leading branding and communications expert, who is assisting brands in uncovering their distinct identity and effectively conveying it through the art of storytelling. She has mentored audiences in branding, communications, and entrepreneurship, and worked with several brands such as Dark and Lovely, Heritage Bank, Light Camera Africa, Victor Ehikhamenor, and Lemi Ghariokwu, among others.

Blessing Abeng’s contributions to digital transformation have not been without recognition. She was recently recognised as one of the United Nation’s 100 Under 40 Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD). In August 2022, she won the African Achievers Award for the Young Achiever of the Year category in the UK. In March of the same year, she won the Woman of the Year: Branding and Communications for Herconomy.

Platforms like I4G have created a cultural movement where young Africans can be optimistic about their prospects, and Blessing Abeng considers her service as a contribution to improving living conditions for young Africans. “Every time we create something impacting the world, we’re contributing and making it possible for someone to dream and build on top of something that has been made,” she says. Blessing Abeng keeps in mind that at the start of any project, she’s building the next big thing for Africans, and creating organisations that people would aspire to work with and to work for. Blessing Abeng’s impact in branding, communications, and tech has proven that there are more ways to save a life than with a stethoscope.

 

Sybil Fekurumoh is a senior writer for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.

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