Interviews

“We shouldn’t wait for the West to catch up”

The founders of New Comma on redefining what constitutes ‘global’ creativity and amplifying African creative talent.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director

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Natalie Narh and business partner Nigel Atta-Mensah are on a mission. With the beta launch today of  New Comma - the social media platform for African Creatives - the duo aims to create the world’s largest community for African Creatives. 

Narh, who is a creative at Ogilvy UK and Atta-Mensah, who is also a photographer, are bringing their distinctive creative lens to building a creative ecosystem from the ground up to amplify and connect local and diaspora African talent. The community is open to any creatives of Black and African heritage as well as agencies and global industry leaders who can support the talent. 

As the industry looks to build back better in the wake of the global coronavirus crisis reappraising what constitutes ‘global’ marketing in the first place; as well as creating the space to amplify new talent is rightly at the top of the business agenda. New Comma provides a platform to shift that talk into action and investment.

Creative communities 

According to New Comma, by 2030, young African’s will make up 42% of the world's youth population. Yet the duo point to the fact that they remain underrepresented in all aspects of the creative industry. 

Narh and Atta-Mensah bonded over their early exposure to the wide range of creativity happening across the African continent. “There were a lot of really creative people doing a lot of excellent work,” explains Narh “There were all these brilliant people doing excellent stuff and we really shed a light on that  with the Cool Kids Project.” 

The Cool Kids Project was a creative endeavour which began in 2018 and amplified the creative work of young Ghanian creative talent by mocking up cover images of stars from across the region on magazine covers such as ID, Vice and Vogue.

According to Narh the project explored how the world would react if those people got that recognition. As well as really speaking to the fact that it simply wasn’t there yet at the time. It is testament to their vision that it manifested to reality; with one of their chosen musicians subsequently appearing on the cover of Complex magazine; bringing new depth to the mantra ‘be the change you want to see in the world.”

“We want New Comma to be a space where African creative talent is recognised and rewarded.”

Natalie Narh, Co Founder, New Comma

Be the change you want to see

With an eye firmly on that change comes New Comma; the next stage of their creative journey. 

In the wake of the pandemic the duo realised that it was hard to know what was really going on in Ghana and conscious they were often going to the same people they connected with through the Cool Kids Project, they increasingly thought about the tools these communities weren’t accessing. 

As Atta-Mensah explains: “LinkedIn and the Dots aren’t prioritising talent from these communities and we saw an opportunity to put their work out into the world and connect.”  This is where New Comma came to life - an online social platform to connect and learn from. 

Narh adds: “We want New Comma to be a space where African creative talent is recognised and rewarded.” She points to the fact that often in Accra talent wasn’t fully acknowledged until it received attention from the West.

It's a state of play the duo want to challenge, as Atta-Mensah declares:  “We shouldn't have to wait for the West to catch up. New Comma is about redefining what an international standard of creativity is.”

“We are really about genuine connection building, we aren’t displaying follower counts. The ethos is really about people sharing their work, being their authentic self and participating in discussions in a meaningful way."

Nigel Atta-Mensah, Co Founder, New Comma

A space to be yourself

The duo are clear that New Comma is focused on authentic connectivity, not competition, that can come hand in hand with social media. Narh says: “A key shift that has happened over the past decade is that through social media people are finding the space to be who they are.”

Atta-Mensah notes that the team is not taking the traditional route favoured by social media channels; one that is all too often rooted in a seemingly unending quest for validation. “We are really about genuine connection building, we aren’t displaying follower counts. The ethos is really about people sharing their work, being their authentic self and participating in discussions in a meaningful way."

Bridging the value gap

New Comma is also focused on economic advancement and the duo are clear for Africa’s creative scene to truly become the high value sector it deserves, it requires collaborative action, as well as intellectual and financial support.

It’s an advancement that is beginning to happen and Narh points to the growth of influencer marketing Natalie explains that agencies and brands are starting to see there is talent on the continent to tap into. Yet she notes that there are tensions surrounding pricing and the team hopes that New Comma will help to level the playing field. 

She says: “A lot of our creative economies exist in informal markets. But we need to see the value in African creators and make sure we set the price appropriately.”

At a time when the Coronavirus crisis has reminded the industry that many of the barriers to global collaboration were entirely imagined, there is a unique opportunity, As Narh explains:  “The shift to remote working will be of big benefits to our audience, as it makes companies more trusting of talent from the continent.” 

Learning, listening and the story that never has to end

The name New Comma is rooted in the belief that we are all part of a wider story, and with a ‘New Comma’ that story never has to end. 

It is this open-hearted and restless approach which underpins the entire ethos of the business. In place of the ‘move fast and break things’ mantra that accompanied social startups gone by is a dedicated and thoughtful approach to inclusion. New Comma may be in beta, but it already includes an easy to access mentorship scheme, connecting creatives in Africa with creatives in London. “We know it's difficult for creatives entering the industry to find a mentor,” she explains. noting that she hopes the digital mentoring will help break down these barriers.

Over the past year the team has spoken to almost 200 people across the continent to really understand the challenges and build an authentic ecosystem for New Comma. The founders are acutely aware of the different experiences across the continent and the power of active listening. 

It’s this ongoing drive to test, learn and listen which underpins the New Comma ecosystem. As Atta-Mensah explains: “Making sure we are getting all the different perspectives is crucial.” As he adds: “The need is dire. The world has been turned upside down and it's still a big challenge for creators to get the access they need.”

Today’s beta launch marks an important milestone for the duo who have both focused on ‘getting it out into the world, not getting it perfect’. 

Yet in a marketing ecosystem in which, particularly when it comes to diversity and inclusion, talking about change has become a proxy for meaningful change, the act of doing is in itself an act to be celebrated. Because you can’t level the playing field if you don’t even let the next generation of creative talent onto the pitch in the first place.
To find out more and sign up for New Comma visit: www.new-comma.com

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