Empowering the Black Female Voice
Posted on March 24, 2015
I am a young black woman who self-identifies as a black feminist. I am inspired by the ideals of black consciousness, feminism, and pan-Africanism. Those ideals are the foundation for what I do on a daily basis as a young media entrepreneur who wants to tell the stories of Africans in general and African women in particular. The work that I do is about consciousness-raising, and ensuring that as young black people, we have the freedom and ability to realise our full potential in a world that affirms us.
Having succumbed to both the pressures exerted by my parents and a personal desire for job security, I studied accounting at Wits University. However, in my final undergraduate year, I realised my love for media because of its power in being able to change mindsets. I decided to leave the CA route and became a TV journalist at CNBC Africa. I decided that I would like to get an understanding of the corporate side of media, and went on to work in the office of the managing director of the ABN Group (the holding company of media businesses including CNBC Africa and Forbes Africa). During that period, I was thrown into the deep end and cut my teeth as the youngest member of exco. I also began writing for Forbes Woman Africa and Forbes Africa.
Studying accounting has actually been a blessing in disguise because I now have the rare combination of business acumen and creativity which is essential to running a successful media business. I straddle both worlds, whereas most media executives are either journalists or business people.
I became an entrepreneur because I wanted to scratch my own itch, which was to see more nuanced stories of black women in our mass media. Before I had the idea for my magazine, I had started to get ‘the itch’ to become an entrepreneur and try my luck outside of the predictable and cosy confines of corporate work. That meant that I began to make changes to my lifestyle so that I was ‘living like an entrepreneur’ for a couple of months before I eventually started my business. That meant I cut down on my personal overheads and became super frugal in order to start building up savings that I could use to start my business and to give me some ‘leeway’ until such time that my business would be profitable and could sustain me and itself.
Although I would have liked to start a print operation from the beginning, I didn’t have the capital or the years of magazine experience that would get an investor to want to give me 5 million Rand upfront. I decided to build my audience first and that my ‘minimum viable product’ would be an online version of the magazine. This has allowed me to build an audience, and refine my content and product offering at a minimal cost.
What really gave me the push to go and try something on my own, was an amazing experience that I had whilst working at the ABN Group. At the time, I had seen a gap within the market for local editions of international magazines, where currently, there are no black women-focused titles. When I pitched the idea to launch a local edition of an well-established international title, my management was fantastic and really let me run with it. With less than two years of media experience I was on a plane overseas to pitch the idea to executives at one of the most respected media brands in the world. Although it fell through in the end, I really got to deep dive into the business of magazines and understand how to set one up, and that really gave me the confidence to go and try it out for myself.
I founded Vanguard Magazine in April 2014. It is a multi-media digital platform that has a ‘black feminist agenda’ and it speaks to the lives of young, black women who are coming of age in post-apartheid South Africa. We reach our audience in a number of exciting ways – through our website, a weekly newsletter, weekly slots on regional and national radio, social media, as well as ‘in real life’ through events and panel discussions. Through our content and the platforms, we aim to make critical thinking and consciousness exciting and relatable.
What I am most proud of is the fact that the magazine has become a respected critical voice of young black women in South Africa. This is confirmed every time that I meet a reader and they tell me how they’ve been to dying to say what was said in a recent article, when we get requests to participate in panels or to comment on a recent event, when someone calls in to a radio show to engage with the topics that we are discussing, or when a respected writer sends an article pitch for the magazine. It reminds me that people are listening and watching what we are saying and doing carefully and that it is making a meaningful contribution to our national conversations.
The biggest challenge for any entrepreneur is the emotional rollercoaster that you will inevitably encounter. Ask any entrepreneur about the extreme highs and lows that they can go through in a day, week, month or year. To manage that and maintain personal sanity in the face of the many rejections and disappointments that are inevitable for any entrepreneur who is stretching themselves, I believe in having low expectations while continuously going for moonshots. For me, that means I am continuously trying out and pitching new and audacious things, but I don’t do it with the expectation that everything will always work out. That means that I can minimize my disappointment and maximise happiness, all while ensuring that I’m emotionally available to keep on going until something works.
To the entrepreneur in a similar position to me—don’t wait for the perfect moment, capital, partner or whatever else to start your business, or try a new project. The sooner you get in front of your audience to test out the idea, the better. The minimum viable product and iteration is your friend. All failure is information.
Panashe Chigumadzi, Vangaurd Magazine
Edited by Sharon Green, Editor-in-Chief