Representation matters: the MBA startup creating African stories
Representation matters: the MBA startup creating African stories
We meet a Cambridge MBA alumnus creating children’s books that address the gap in the market for African literature for the very young.
Oladele Olafuyi, (MBA 2017) and his wife Louisa
Kunda Kids is a dynamic content creation studio that is innovating at pace to “inspire the next generation.” Based in London, its mission is to champion better representation of African history and culture in children’s stories.
Just six months after their launch in November 2020, the company’s first series “Africa’s Little Kings and Queens” is already on bookshelves in six African countries, the UK, USA, and Canada. More books are in the pipeline, together with songs, animations, teaching resources and an online platform “that all kids will enjoy.”
Assessing the diversity deficit
The founders of this impressive entrepreneurial enterprise are, Oladele Olafuyi (MBA 2017) and his wife Louisa, an Innovation Specialist at Unilvever. They began “dabbling” with story ideas after struggling to find books with Black characters for their young son Ire Kunda during the UK’s first lockdown in March 2020.
Oladele was still working as Marketing Manager (Africa) for financial services company World Remit and developing Kunda Kids at the same time.
“I’m Nigerian, and Louisa is Ugandan, so we want Ire to grow up knowing his heritage. Africa is after all a continent of more than one billion people with a remarkable history, so it shouldn’t be ignored,” says Oladele.
Coming from a culture where “storytelling is part of our DNA”, Kunda Kids Co-founder, Oladele remains astonished at the acute gap in the market for children’s adventure stories about African places and characters.
Further investigations reinforced the couple’s concerns over the extent to which ethnic minority characters are under-represented by mainstream publishers.
Recent research shows that in 2019, while one third (33.5%) of children in UK schools were of minority ethnic origins, only 5% of children’s books had an ethnic minority protagonist. Just 2% of books published in the UK featured a Black main character.
“This is a very real and longstanding issue,” says Co-founder, Louisa Olafuyi.
The turning point
Children’s stories need Black representation,” says “Oladele.
“We know that when children see diverse characters in stories from an early age, they are much more likely to accept people from different cultures and races when they grow up. When they don’t, a limited interpretation of the world can lead to problems of ignorance, prejudice and racism. That’s what we have to fix to build a better society.”
The turning point for Louisa and Oladele came with the murder of George Floyd in police custody in May 2020. Rather than writing stories just for their son, the couple decided to draw up a roadmap for change using Oladele’s MBA skills set and their combined marketing experience.
“It just broke our hearts to see what was going on in America,” says Oladele. “We decided there and then to launch a venture that would provide high quality diverse content to inspire kids across the world.”
“It was the inspiration for us to do something for the next generation and our son,” adds Louisa.
“We want to reclaim the narrative and normalise positive and progressive stories. Africa’s history doesn’t start and stop with slavery,” she says.
The couple have been focusing on historic fiction around influential leaders from Africa’s past like Queen Yaa (Ghana), Mansa Musa (Mali), Queen Kitami (Uganda) and Shaka Zulu (South Africa). The next series of picture books is based on African monuments and empires.
An MBA supporting entrepreneurship
The jump to entrepreneurship and publishing came with a tight deadline to launch. To realise Kunda Kids’ ambitious vision, Oladele invoked the collaborative ethos and critical thinking skills of the MBA programme.
“The Cambridge MBA has played a huge role in making the startup possible. It gave me the drive to be an entrepreneur, as well as the skills I needed to succeed. My MBA was a year of transformation.”
“For example, we wanted to launch before Christmas and yet we also knew it was almost impossible to write and illustrate four picture books within five months. But it was my experience working on the Cambridge Venture Project that had taught me how to put in a system where different individuals come together to deliver a great product.”
An editor from Ghana, Krystle Appiah, and two up-and-coming Nigerian illustrators, Isabelle Irabor and Tiolu Yoloye, were recruited to join Louisa and Oladele at the start of the project. The development of each book was then structured “like an assembly line”.
Innovations around the illustration process have been particularly successful in keeping costs down and “halving the time it can take an established illustrator to finish a book,” the couple say. To promote further collaboration within the ecosystem, Kunda Kids intends to support other self-publishing authors of diverse books by offering its illustration services at reasonable prices.
The Cambridge Judge network stands out as another ‘crucial’ link in this exceptionally fast paced turnaround. “Friends in my MBA 2017/18 cohort offered us support on market strategy, pricing and editorial content.”
“The most priceless thing about having a Cambridge MBA is the network. I’ve had classmates marketing the books with so much passion. I’ve also been encouraged by the acceptance and positive response of everyone in my cohort,” says Oladele.
Positive disruption rewarded
Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so far. Just weeks after the launch, Kunda Kids won the Black Young Professionals Network Pitch 2020 event. The first book written, “Mansa Musa Builds a School” features on The Independent newspaper’s recent list of the “12 best children’s books with empowering Black characters”.
Later this year Oladele will join the UK’s first Accelerator programme for Black Social Entrepreneurs. As one of the five cohort chosen for the programme he will receive the resources and connections to grow Kunda Kids and make an even bigger impact.
The next chapter
After a fulfilling, but “crazy year of juggling”, Oladele plans to work full-time on Kunda Kids in the second half of this year. With a dozen new projects being considered for development, the company’s potential to scale up is strong.
Books and teaching materials are now being adapted for schools in the UK and Nigeria.
“We want to get these books into schools because we believe they will be very useful resources to start having conversations around diversity.”
An online platform is the next milestone on the Kunda Kids’ roadmap. Leveraging Oladele’s MBA Concentration on Digital Transformation, content is being developed in different formats for children, parents and teachers at affordable subscription rates.
Another key priority is to have Kunda Kids books translated into African languages to achieve one of the couple’s top goals, reaching a Pan African audience.
Looking to the future, Oladele says “We are still early in our journey, but we are confident we are building a transformative company as we share amazing stories all over the world”.