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Ogojiii: Africa's cutting-edge design & innovation uncovered

Ogojiii Magazine

OGOJIII is a new international magazine offering news and inspiration on pan-African design and innovation, as well as news from the continent and around the world. Published biquarterly, it is a fascinating read,

The project is the brainchild of Jens Martin Skibsted, an internationally-acclaimed Danish designer and design philosopher. We caught up with Jens to find out more about the company, his inspirations for starting it and his views on why design is so important for Africa's growth. 

What is your story? Where did the idea for Ogojiii come from?

I was the Vice-Chair of the World Economic Forum’s Think Tank on design and innovation. I could see that some of the world's most cutting edge stuff was coming from Africa and yet nobody was paying attention.

I noticed that even on the continent, designers were only working in silos - each within their own field, whether that be architecture, digital, crafts or fashion; and each within their own nation or linguistic zone. Even the academics and practitioners were not in touch.

At the same time, the pan-African elite media were either Paris or London centric, or an internationally licensed product. So there was a gap. The world’s biggest design revolution was not being covered – and not by Africans. Something had to be done.

Why have you founded it? Where did you get the interest in Africa from?

My wife happens to be African so the Africans at the World Economic Forum kind of adopted me as their own. Which meant I had the necessary contacts to make it come true.  When I brainstormed about the idea, the team was African. When we founded the company, most of the shareholders were African. The operational team is also mostly African. And obviously, the journalists are too.

It also meant that although the offices are in Jo’burg - 184 hours’ drive by car without traffic (according to Google maps) from my office in Copenhagen - it’s not so far from our home in Zimbabwe.

Jens Martin Skibsted

Jens Martin Skibsted, founder of Ogojiii.

What are you trying to achieve with Ogojiii and what can readers expect from the magazine?

With a population and middle class that will radically increase within the next decades, the African continent is set for a surge in consumerism, fuelled by substantial economic growth.

Forecasts put Africa’s GDP at $2.6 trillion by 2020 and by 2040 the continent will have the planet’s largest labour force. This growth will be accompanied by smart, sustainable and frugal design solutions that drive innovation and the future of our planet as such. 

Ogojiii is the magazine that will capture the zest and depth of these drivers of innovation and provide our readership with a platform to enjoy African ingenuity, spur on design-led ideas and acquire new global perspectives. 

What is your long-term vision for Ogojii?

We want to create a truly pan-African media platform. We need to develop as our business does. So for now it is print only. Soon we’ll be digital. Then in French. Then in several African languages.  We want to connect the creative community, inspire, and also over time, empower designers and makers of Africa that will be part of the continent's future wealth and health. One of our main goals is to make Ogojiii a conversation and project starter. People should read the magazine to get ideas and be inspired – and in that way stimulate innovation on the continent.

Is the name ‘Ogojiii’ symbolic – does it mean anything?

Ogoji in the West African Yoruba language means the number 40 and the two ii's at the end are Roman numerals to complete the number 42 - which represents the cycle of the Akan calendar - an ancient African calendar with eight months to a year. Our initial plan was to publish an issue every 42nd day and therefore name the magazine 42, but due to logistical challenges we've had to adjust to publish bi-monthly instead.

Why is design so important for Africa’s growth?

Design is so much more than just classical design. Design is about creating solutions in every industry and Africa, as the world’s most interesting continent in terms of innovation, is brimming with smart design in many different sectors.  

The development guys (eg. UN, Rockefeller Foundation) believe that design thinking is the most powerful tool at our hand. We can’t continue in a classical “aid” track, we need to turbo-charge and empower. Design thinking is a tool for such. But even ordinary marketing driven design is incredibly important. African nations at large need to own a bigger chunk of their value chain. They need to productize their coffee, diamonds, cars, apps etc. for the world to consume. Design is the discipline that will allow this to happen.

What are some of the most transformative innovations you have witnessed in Africa in the last decade?

It's almost impossible to name them all, but the way the continent has leapfrogged any other part of the world in the usage of cell phones and cell phone technology is staggering. The connectivity it creates is growing by the day along with new innovation.  Another area to watch is infrastructure – missing infrastructure spurs new development and ideas in areas such as solar tech, water tech and even drones.

Do you have any favourite African designers? 

No, I have many. I would rather not single any one out. If you want to simplify then the African design stars can be lumped into 3 categories.

  1. The homeboy with success that caters to the local upper class. They tend to make stuff for rich Africans – it will often be pretty Western inspired, but adjusted so it works in a local setting. Issa Diabate is an example of such from architecture.
  2. The exported talent. The smart kid that went to a top university in US or EU (or BRICs) and uses African iconography to make hip African design mainly for foreign markets. David Adjaye would be the most recognized proponent within architecture. 
  3. The local innovator gone international. These guys spot indigenous techniques that can be further developed and used in different contexts to make new designs. Francis Kére is the best example from architecture.

These are to me the most interesting if they succeed, because they can operate in and outside the continent and show how universal African ingenuity is.

Read more about Ogojiii on their website, where they offer monthly subscription or single copies to buy. 

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