JCDecaux Celebrates Hopeful Narrative on Africa at the Vatican

The African continent and its people are typically portrayed through the conflict, poverty and disease that millions of its people experience.  In September, thanks to JCDecaux, residents and tourists in the Eternal City of Rome had the opportunity to experience an alternative narrative – that of highly competitive African entrepreneurs on a mission to change Africa’s fortunes through their innovative business ventures.

The campaign was generously supported by Jean-Sebastien Decaux, member of the founding family of the JCDecaux advertising empire. With annual revenues of over $3 billion and a daily audience of over 800 million people in 80 countries, JCDecaux is the world’s largest outdoor advertising company.  The campaign in Rome included 4 metro stations, 14 billboards and 100 bus banners around the Vatican. “I wanted to give visibility to the Alliance and to the Harambeans. I wanted these young entrepreneurs to feel proud of what they’re doing – young, black African entrepreneurs investing in their country – which is not something we’re used to seeing.  I also wanted Africans living abroad to be proud of the innovators showcased on billboards and buses, so they can see the impact entrepreneurs can have in Africa and expand their sense of what is possible on the continent,” said Decaux. 

Harambeans who were in Rome to attend the fifth biennial Harambeans Vatican Forum, were overwhelmed to see the dignity of Africa and its people restored through widespread subway and bus advertising, showing what Harambeans are achieving in their home countries and encouraging others to ‘invest in Africa’s innovators’.  “There was a sense of presence. The Vatican and Rome at large knew that Harambeans were in town – it was a bit of a Harambean invasion of the Eternal City. The campaign not only celebrated Harambeans and their ventures but gave our guests and the general public an opportunity to engage with them and a sense of the significance of our gathering,” observed Harambeans founder, Okendo Lewis-Gayle. 

Photo: Left to Right, Anis Kallel H’19, Jean-Sébastien Decaux, Margaret Nyamumbo H’09

Jean-Sebastien Decaux has been doing business in Africa since 2011. He has seen the continent mature and has gained an appreciation of the needs of its people.  “I am passionate about Africa and get this special ‘true’ feeling whenever I arrive and spend time on the continent,” he noted. “Having seen the fundamental needs of many people across various countries, as a responsible company we had a role to play by enabling projects and entrepreneurs in Africa to launch and increase their impact in communities.  An entrepreneur is a believer who has faith in his product and the impact they can have on society. Harambeans, entrepreneurs for Africa, are fundamental right now and I am honored to do what I can to elevate their status.”  

Haweya Mohamed H’18 was one of the Harambeans featured in the campaign.  She realized the diversity of African entrepreneurs early in her career. Hailing from Somalia and with a focus on the unique regions of Francophone Africa, she co-founded Afrobytes as an organization that bridges the gap between foreign investors and African businesses. As a result, Afrobytes now hosts the most influential tech event in Europe dedicated to the African tech industry. The company is based in Station F, which is the biggest start-up campus in the world, and their events are attended by groups such as Alibaba, Google and Facebook. 

Kwami Williams H’14 is the founder of MoringaConnect and was also featured in the campaign. His collaboration with small farming families stemmed from noticing the failures of a development project that had left farmers with hundreds of moringa trees and no direction on how to use them. The leaves and seeds were valuable and nutritious – a true “superfood”. Williams began research on how to cold-press the seeds of the moringa tree so that the oil could be turned into product. He also set about developing a plan to restructure the supply chain so that farmers in Ghana could receive the economic benefits of harvesting moringa trees. His disruptive innovation created a new market for farmers to sell their raw product and has enabled over 3 000 farmers to build sustainable farming businesses. 

JC Decaux’s vibrant depiction of Africa and Harambeans at the Vatican, helps explain why the Stanford Social Innovation Review recently described Harambe as the “guiding light” for investors “eager to get involved in an unpredictable and often opaque African start-up scene.” It is our hope,” Lewis-Gayle remarked, “that in partnership with magnanimous supporters like Jean-Sebastien, the Harambean guiding light will shine bright on ever more African innovators to enable and accelerate the growth of their bold dreams for Africa.”

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