#LLA Interview – “Excellence is not innate, it is cultivated with effort and supported by passion.” Mimi Kalinda
Mimi Kalinda’s love for Africa is clearly unparalleled. It has constantly fueled her passion to empower Africans into seeing the big picture and taking up more leadership roles, whether in enterprise or politics. In this amazing interview, she shares with us her goals and valuable leadership tips for African women.
Tell us about yourself and what you do.
I am a proud mother of three, two boys and one girl. Originally from the Congo (DRC) and Rwanda and raised in South Africa, I am the Co-Founder and Managing Director of the Africommunications Group (ACG), a pan-African public relations and communications agency based in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also the Director of Communications for the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences (AIMS), a network of centres of excellence incubating STEM education for Africa’s brightest students while searching for the next Einstein in Africa. I love to read and I wish I could find more time to go to the gym!
Amazing! How did your love for PR, Comms and Media begin?
As a communications professional, I believe my responsibility is to empower Africans to tell their own stories, cultivate thought leadership to be able to counter the stereotypical narrative and images of Africa, and eventually contribute not only to the shift but also to the ownership of Africa’s reputation by Africans themselves. My career path has not been straightforward. I found myself in PR/Communications after years in front of the camera (as an MTV VJ!) and then behind the scenes as a producer. Eventually, a global PR firm approached me to work on a short-term project that involved reputation management and I was hooked.
You worked with Spike Lee on the film ‘Inside Man,’ what did you learn from that experience, and what did it teach you about yourself?
It was amazing to see such a giant of cinema show up on set every day. The biggest lesson I learned is that excellence is not innate, it is cultivated with effort and supported by passion. Even one of the greatest filmmakers of all times is constantly working at becoming better at his craft. Understanding that, had a major impact on me.
You are a very accomplished woman, what drives you?
Undoubtedly, my children… and the ability to give Africa and Africans alike a platform to better themselves. I have recently started working on an AU Reforms campaign and it gives me great joy to have the opportunity to work on such an important project that is bound to change how African countries relate to one another and to the rest of the world. These are some of the things that drive and inspire me to be and do more for Africa.
You are originally from the DRC and Rwanda, but raised in South Africa, would you say that your multi-cultural heritage has been a benefit? And in what way?
It has definitely been a benefit. Being able to speak multiple languages opens up many doors of opportunity, not just in terms of work opportunities but for human connections on a bigger scale. I also believe being multi-cultural makes one less judgmental or assumptive about human behavior in a cultural context.
What inspired your steps to co-found Africommunications Group?
I regularly write and speak about how shaping Africa’s narrative positively is vital for the continent to fulfil its potential. I have always been interested in testing the media’s ability to shape narrative. In particular, while living abroad, I became increasingly intrigued by the idea that Africans not only could and had to reshape Africa’s external image, but that Africa’s transformation could only start with Africans revisiting the stories they tell themselves about who they are. I am exploring and testing the concept through PR/comms.
What differentiates ACG from other PR & Comms Consultancies, why should prospective clients choose you?
ACG is a pan-African communications agency that understands the requirements of the local and pan-African client, and those of global clients, and can service both with the highest regard for international best practices, with a deep understanding of stakeholder sensibilities. We offer complete and culturally attuned communications services to private, public and non-profit sector clients in the African market, with a focus on Francophone and Anglophone Africa.
I am also contributing to the professional development of a new generation of narrative game-changers. My team consists of young storytellers who are curious and passionate about leaving their own legacies behind; they envision a world in which an African passport commands as much respect as a European one. I put my experience and skills at their disposal to achieve this goal.
Excellent! So how would you rate the experience so far, running your own business?
Challenging but rewarding.
You were recently selected for the 2017 Archbishop Tutu Leadership Fellowship programme. Tell us about that, and how it makes you feel?
The Tutu Fellowship is a tremendous opportunity to meet, collaborate and exchange ideas with some of Africa’s most forward-thinking leaders, who are having tangible social impact in their spheres of influence. It is an absolute honour to have been selected in the 2017 group of Fellows. It is a life-changing experience and it has already positively affected every aspect of my life. Most importantly, it has made me more self-aware, something every leader should strive to be.
You’re much known for advocacy of Africa. What, in your opinion, is the unique thing that makes Africa distinct from other continents?
Africa has seen unprecedented economic growth and political stability over the past decade. There is no doubt that the continent is experiencing a shift that will take it beyond mere “potential”. For this to happen, however, we need to create a critical mass of strong leaders from various fields (critical thinkers and problem solvers) to ensure the continent’s transformation. Africa is at a tipping point and the difference between the continent taking forward strides or regressing into being what the Economist once called “the hopeless continent” is the quality of thinking of its people- they are what makes this continent unique: their determination to overcome obstacles, their tremendous creativity, their ability to innovate with very little means at their disposal, and their undying hope that the future will be better than today. If our leaders can capitalize on these qualities, Africa will be unstoppable in terms of growth in all sectors.
In your own opinion, in what ways can more African women be encouraged to aspire to positions of leadership?
We have to dream bigger dreams for ourselves and believe that we have the potential to make them come true. That is the starting point. Secondly, we have to look at precedent- history has a lot to teach us and role models abound if only we take the time to look back at who came before us. Also, we are already leading in various aspects of our lives. Leadership is not only required in the boardroom. We lead families, small communities, associations, etc. Leadership is required of us in different circumstances.
Talking about leadership, what outstanding thing, in your opinion, sets a leader apart from the crowd?
A leader, I believe, should have the following qualities:
Have a vision and make peace with the fact that the realization of that vision may outlive him/her. Be self-aware: you cannot lead unless you know yourself, strengths and weaknesses included. Think of “us” instead of “me”. Leadership is not worthy of the name when it is egocentric.
You just released your book – Talking to Africa. What’s the one message you’d love your readers to take home from it?
“Talking to Africa” reviews how understanding the cultural dynamics of four major African markets (Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa) can lead to the development and more successful implementation of communications strategies that are results-driven. The take-home message is, when communicating to Africans, do your homework, do not underestimate cultural dynamics, and do not stereotype or make assumptions.
Who are some of the African female Icons that inspire you?
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Winnie Mandela, Noella Coursaris, and of course all the ladies of the Tutu Leadership Program!
Words of advice for upcoming female entrepreneurs?
We need to stand firm as African female entrepreneurs and form a support base for each other. If we stand together, support and celebrate each other’s achievements, we will definitely be a force to reckon with. We also have to have a commitment to hard work and excellence.
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