Wolff Olins' Ije Nwokorie on what Africa needs to harness its creative energy

9 February 2015

As CEO of Wolff Olins, Ije Nwokorie is well-versed in the creative landscape; the forces that shape it and in turn how it shapes our world. Describing himself as “born in the US, bred in Nigeria and enlightened in England” he also has a global sensibility that sets him apart from many of his peers.

Ahead of this year’s Design Indaba conference in Cape Town, we asked Ije (whose talk was one of the highlights of last year’s event) to share some thoughts about creativity in Africa and how it’s being harnessed. You can add your thoughts using the comment thread below.

To find out more about Design Indaba and see the talks from last year you can visit the website here.

Ije Nwokoire, CEO Wolff Olins

African life bursts with creativity. Every day brings many opportunities to invent new ways to do things – start a business, educate your children, cross the street. Which is another way of saying when things don’t work, creativity is not an option, it’s a necessity. And let’s face it, too many things just don’t work in Africa.
The critical systems that make life liveable (and predictable) in much of the rest of the world, are either decrepit or non-existent in most of Africa. Poor rail networks, shoddily equipped classrooms and shambolic healthcare infrastructure force millions to get creative just to survive.
On this seemingly hopeless canvas, some of the world’s most creative people – African all of them – are doing amazing things. From Safaricom to Jumia and from Nollywood to Nairobi, Africa is bursting with a creative energy that the rest of the world could learn from.
Three themes stand out:
1. Shorn of legacy systems, Africans are inventing new systems that the rest of the world could learn from in logistics, money and entertainment.
2. With an ambitious and exploding base of young talent, African firms are designing distributed leadership models that empower creative people, something western companies, caught up in the Industrial Age, need to study and learn from to remain relevant.
3. And with new-found channels, African artists and craftspeople – musicians, film-makers, fashion designers – are bringing new forms and expressions to a world desperate for something new.

So what’s needed next? Two things:
First, Africa needs a design sensibility. Design of all sorts is still largely seen as a downstream aesthetic endeavour, not the user-led practice of creating elegant solutions to real problems. Without this, African creativity will fail to put utility into products, services and experiences that people depend on and love.
Secondly, Africa needs a coherent design ecosystem, so that technologists can collaborate with musicians, financiers with service designers, entrepreneurs with ethnographers. That ecology just doesn’t exist yet. Without it, Africa’s creative efforts will remain less than the sum of its many wonderful parts. All of which makes Indaba one of the most important things happening in Africa right now.

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Rob Alderson

Rob joined It’s Nice That as Online Editor in July 2011 before becoming Editor-in-Chief and working across all editorial projects including itsnicethat.com, Printed Pages, Here and Nicer Tuesdays. Rob left It’s Nice That in June 2015.

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