Ojiugo Uche is curating authentic African narratives for generations to come

Work Life - Ojiugo Uche

Listening to Ojiugo Uche speak about her passion for languages made me think, “They don’t make them like this anymore.” Inspired by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “Decolonising The Mind” and pushed further by her National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) experience in the rural village of Elembelu, Kebbi state, Ojiugo’s purpose has always been geared towards decolonising the tongues of Africans. With Genti Media, Ojiugo Uche and her co-founders have realised a gap in African storytelling and are determined to fix it!

In this week’s #MCNWorkLife, we dive into the works and wonders of the amazing Ojiugo Uche. Join us as we flip through the pages of her multiple lives and dreams and discover what her mind is truly made of!

Tell us, who is Ojiugo Uche?

Ojiugo is a curious cat who is interested in way more things than there are hours in the day. I enjoy learning new things. Professionally, I have also lived many lives. From being an intern for research firms and consulting to agriculture and now media tech. I am curious about stuff, and I am always excited about learning. 

What was your childhood dream job, and how did it translate to your current work?

I’ve always had massive dreams since I was a child, and at some point, one of my dreams was to become a mechanised farmer. At another point, I wanted to be a forensic scientist. There was never really just one dream. In terms of how these things have led me to where I am, I would say they have helped me explore different professions, from agriculture to research and even lab work. 

I have dabbled in a little bit of everything. My interest in consultancy was piqued when I met a few friends from secondary school who told me about their work at PWC, Deloitte, and McKinsey. I started consulting in agriculture at Sahel Consulting before moving on to McKinsey and Company, where I also got exposed to various things. When it came to specialising, I had a recurring love for languages, which is where Genti came into play. 

What inspired you to establish a media tech start-up that showcases African audio stories in African voices and languages?

My interest in languages has always been one of the constants in my life. During my secondary school years, I stopped taking chemistry and biology in favour of studying French, a choice that marked a crucial point in my life, especially since my mother had to approve and support this decision. Igbo was my first language. I wrote French and Hausa as a compulsory subject in WAEC even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. But during my service year, I brushed up on my Hausa, which was a fun experience. 

One of the most defining moments for me and my relationship with languages was when I travelled to Costa Rica before university for a program at the United World Colleges, Costa Rica. There I was with people from all over the world, speaking their languages and getting to know them. During my stay, I picked up Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “Decolonising the Mind.” In this book, he talks about storytelling in African languages, and I was very transfixed by it. 

At 29, I decided to awaken my love for languages after trying various things, like consulting and researching and began to ask myself honest questions about African storytelling. Questions like “Where is the storytelling in our voices and our languages?” helped me figure out exactly what I wanted to do, and that was how Genti Media was born. A day before my 30th birthday, one of my brothers (who is, interestingly, my other co-founder) and I sat together to work out how we could create a company centred around telling African stories in African voices and, most significantly, how this would make financial sense. 

Was there any other underlying experience that further inspired the creation of Genti Media?

Several experiences informed that decision. As I mentioned earlier, reading Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o’s “Decolonising the Mind” had me thinking a lot about languages for a while. 

However, during NYSC, I taught in Alambelu, a village in Kebbi state, and it was quite a rural place. At the time, the community had limited resources, and teaching was difficult because the students were not learning optimally. This was because they needed to learn the language of their environment.

In my research, I found out that people learn better when taught in their environment’s language. Imagine being taught a subject you need help understanding in an equally unfamiliar language. It doesn’t work. I could see brilliant students failing subjects simply because they couldn’t speak the language I and my colleagues were teaching. That experience brought back my understanding of Ngugi’s book. While he explained the situation in theory, I saw and lived through it practically. Now you may wonder, “If that was the second experience that triggered Genti’s creation, why didn’t you start an Ed Tech company?” 

At first, I considered focusing on local language education, but that’s where the business part came in. On Genti, we not only have stories go up, but we also have educational content. It was also crucial for the business idea to make financial sense and pull in things that move fast, which are stories and then, later on, education. 

I’m glad to see your vision come to life. Holistically speaking, what exactly is Genti Media, and what does its creation mean for African literati? 

We have pan-African dreams, but we are starting here at home. Genti was conceptualised in August 2021, but we launched the product to the public a year later, in August 2022. Genti is a media company focused on African storytelling in our voices and languages. We are pan-African in vision and have started in Nigeria because that is where we are. Our flagship product, the Genti Audio app, is a web and mobile app available on the Google Play Store and Apple App Store. 

We have over 10,000 hours of audio content in 15 languages. It is a place where people can listen to audio stories, audio dramas, and many radio dramas, including shows on Igbo proverbs and poetry. We have podcasts with a focus on storytelling in African languages. We have the audio Bible in various languages as well. Given our vibrant oral tradition and history, a significant portion has found a home on the radio. However, accessing this content on demand proves challenging, as much still needs to be made available. 

We possess countless hours of material from BBC Media Action and ARDA Development Communications Inc. (DCI), formerly known as the African Radio Drama Association. Thus, we’ve carved out a niche to celebrate and preserve the treasures of African storytelling.

How many Nigerian languages are currently available on Genti? 

We have 15 Nigerian languages at the moment. Yoruba, Igbo Hausa, Pidgin, and English currently have the most content on Genti, but we generally have 15 languages. 

As a company that focuses on telling African stories in the African voice, what do you envision for the future of African literature, and how do you hope to achieve this through Genti? 

So, I don’t say literature because when you think literature, you think written works, but we work with African storytelling. The reason I make that distinction is because of the African oral tradition and the history of African tradition. When you think about it, writing is a technology for putting things down for posterity. While there is original orthography, our culture of storytelling is typically oral. 

For the future of storytelling, I hope it becomes more accessible to people across various spaces by using digital audio technology to create a one-stop shop or repository for African stories. By doing so, we are increasing the proliferation of more content in digital form and enabling the creator economy in that space. 

Additionally, an opportunity my cofounders and I have been spending time on recently is how the extensive local audio language archives we have at Genti may be used to enable and develop artificial intelligence language models for underserved languages.  This can also have wide-ranging implications for education since many existing high-quality online courses can be converted to local languages. The opportunities and possibilities are exciting, but they are still in the early days.

That’s amazing. With two other co-founders on the team, tell us about the tech part of the creation of Genti

Finding a technical partner was one of the most complex parts of our journey. By the end of 2021, we had started pulling content but needed someone on the team who was tech-savvy. We decided to go with a dev shop in India. At the same time, we got a dev lead, but it didn’t work out with them. Moving on, we pushed a lot of things to the dev shop. We knew it wasn’t sustainable and needed someone in-house, so we kept searching. In the end, we found our current CTO, and we’ve been working together since February 2023. So far, we have seen much growth and change, and it has been great! 

You lean significantly towards exploring languages and getting to know how humans interact. What is that all about, and what fuels your curiosity for languages? 

My interest in languages stems from a place of idealism. Sometimes, I engage in Hausa lessons on Genti and tune into Hausa broadcasts when I’m not actively participating in courses. Genti allows me to execute my fascination for languages. I’m curious about the origin of languages and words. One thing that has helped me lean into it is the realisation that everyone is curious about something. For many people, it comes from nature; for others, it’s nurture. Whatever it is, it sparks interest in them, and, incredibly, we all have those interests that give a spark when we hear about them. 

As the CEO and Co-founder of Genti Media, you are partly or wholly driven towards education and the knowledge that technology offers now and in the years to come. What do you envision for the future of African storytelling, and how do you hope to achieve this through Genti media? 

I hope to see more of what I’m already doing—more African stories in diverse languages. This is the first time we’ve seen this, partly because many people need to learn how to read and write in their language. What I hope for is more stories in more languages. 

As a woman in the media industry, what do you think is the most prominent challenge women in your profession face when advancing their careers?

I haven’t experienced any significant issues, like discrimination, when I’m working. However, during meetings with my brother, who is also a co-founder of Genti, there is usually an immediate assumption that he is the CEO. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a challenge, but it is a big pet peeve for me. 

Moving on to more personal questions, how would you describe a day in your life? 

My day starts with a little movement in the morning. I tidy up my room and set up my desk for the day because I work from home. In the afternoon, I move around so I’m not sitting all day, and then towards the evening, I try to unwind by going to see my nephew, and I make calls with friends and generally try to make sure everyone is okay. I take walks while I listen to a news story or something on Genti. 

What motivates you the most when it comes to creating and working up ideas? 

My vision for the future motivates me the most. The future impact has grand potential, and we’re doing something unique that can change the landscape of audio storytelling, even with educational content, as well as the opportunities to make this financially viable for us and our creators. I come back often to the why.

What brings you the most joy in your life?

Two things do it for me: dancing and rich conversations. It’s about how music informs the movement. With rich conversations, I feel loved and cared for to be heard and seen. I also feel honoured to be able to see and care for someone in the same ways they care for me. Those rich conversations can take many forms, but I truly value them. 

How do you prioritise your physical and mental well-being, especially as a remote worker?

So, last year, I started tracking movement, and sometimes, I try to get to certain levels on my Fitbit. The more restrictive it is, the less progress I have with it. So, movement is the goal, and I try not to have an all-or-nothing approach when it comes to workouts and being active.

With my mental health, sometimes I get overwhelmed with the work I have on my desk. So, movement helps me feel centred and brings me back to base. Another thing that helps is journaling through difficult emotions. 

What do you like the most about the work you do at Genti?

It is sourcing content or finding people who work in that space so we can collaborate. In having a business, there are so many things that can take your time and effort. So, finding people within the space keeps me excited about my work. 

Another close second for me is teaching and people development. Having a team and teaching what I know while I learn with them is actually great. 

Tell us about the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and how you dealt with it.

After working as Head of Research at BudgIt, figuring out what was next for me was an issue. It was challenging because of the uncertainty. Because I had so many interests, there were so many paths I could take, and that felt scary for me. 

In contrast, what would you say is your most significant achievement so far? 

For me, it was getting one million minutes of listens on Genti. It showed that my idea was real, and when we did our highlight in 2023, it was emotional for us on the team.  

What would you change if you were to do things differently in your career? 

If I’m being honest, I would leave things the way they are if I had the option of changing things. However, there have been times when I could have done something differently. For instance, as a creator, I would’ve opted for a conventional job, and during that time, I would have built myself up as a local language creator before doing Genti. The thing about that is that I wouldn’t have started Genti when I did. Knowing what I know now, I would still have Genti, but I would do a lot of financial things differently and be more focused on the revenue earlier. 

What advice would you give to someone looking to start a career in media tech? 

I would say to start and stay anchored to your “why.” Also, remain anchored to the finances because you must always focus on the benefits. 

Can you give us a tip you swear by for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

Move!!! This doesn’t always mean exercise. You don’t need to be in the gym constantly. Just move around often. Also, prioritise sleep. Three hours of work can be done in 20 minutes when you’ve had enough sleep. 




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