Credit: Kati at xilophotography.com

In 2012, Ife Kohossi had just graduated from university and was finding it difficult to get a job as a nutritionist in the Republic of Benin.

After a few internship programs that didn’t turn out as expected, she considered setting out on her own. The rising prevalence of obesity in her country was a source of great concern and a confirmation that there were people who needed her skillset: teaching people to eat better and live healthier lives.

A few years later, Kohossi came in contact with Irawo, a platform that helps Africans monetize their unique skills. “She didn’t know how to use a Facebook page to create a community,” Mylene Flicka, the founder of Irawo said to me.

After going through Irawo’s program which taught Kohossi how to use online tools and market her business better, she has since gone on to build her business, Ife Nutrition, over the years to a point where she now earns about $2,000 per month from teaching people to eat better and live healthier lives.

The passion economy in Africa

In the past few years, the internet has facilitated the rise of the passion economy. Simply put, the passion economy is a new wave of niche communities of people who are monetizing their skills. 

The passion economy allows individuals to turn their passions into livelihoods; whether it’s running online classes, selling digital books or copywriting.

In all this conversation about the passion economy, there’s little said about platforms helping African creators like Kohossi monetize their skills. With 200 million people aged between 15 and 24, Africa has the largest population of young people below the age of 30 in the world. 

Flicka told me that Irawo, currently on its 8th training cohort, has trained about 200 creators. Anyone can sign up for Irawo’s training programs, with the least program costing 60,000 FCFA ($100) and the most expensive program costing 1,950,000 FCFA ($3,500).

Beyond the training, the participants are connected to mentors and they become part of a large community that continually provides useful tools and education. Irawo started in the Republic of Benin and now caters to Africans in french-speaking countries around the world — proof that there’s a growing interest from African creators. 

Once the creator figures out how to use social media, the next step is to sell. While anyone can sell on social media these days, there are dedicated African e-commerce platforms focused on helping creatives monetize their skills.

“Many of these people do not know about these existing platforms and how to leverage them,” she said.

Back in 2015 when Mylene Flicka started Irawo there weren’t many platforms made by Africans enabling Africans to monetize their talents, now there are a number of them.

African e-commerce Platforms powering the passion economy 

Within the past five years, Africa-based platforms like the Flutterwave Store, Paystack Commerce, Africreators, Afrikrea and Selar have sprung up and are helping millions of Africans sell their products and services.

“We’ve helped creators all over Africa process $650,000 worth of transactions in the last 12 months.” Douglas Kendyson, Selar founder, told me. 

Based in Lagos, Nigeria, Selar is helping Africans monetise their skill, knowledge, and content from anywhere in the world. It currently has 30,000 registered users and about 6,000 merchants.

It’s an e-commerce store builder for creators to sell almost any digital product. Selar is free to use and only takes a transaction fee that ranges from 4% to10% depending on the currency used.

When I asked Kendyson how big he thinks the market is and whether it’s sustainable to be an African creator, he replied saying,  “The more I work with a lot of creators, the more I see how transformative it is.” 

He goes on to cite an example of a creator on Selar who in 2018 was selling $5 to $10 ebooks but in 2020 has grown to sell coaching services at $1,500.

“Of course, not everyone gets to that point but there are many stories of creators putting in the work and doubling their income,” he chipped in.

Kendyson believes being a creator is just like any other career path; it’s sustainable and could have exponential growth as long as creators keep giving value.

Outside giving value, he added that building an audience as a creator is the next important thing. 

He mentioned an author who made a million naira ($2,070) within a month selling a digital book on design. She’d never written a book before but she had built an online community.  

“There are people who just start from nowhere and just make it. Those are the outliers if we’re being honest. The point of the passion economy is that anyone can make some form of disposable income one way or the other,” he said.

One issue that haunts African creators is pricing. Explaining this, he gives another example of a Kenyan who started selling farming manuals at $0.62. Seeing that the price was low, Kendyson had to convince him that it was okay to double his price or even increase it to as much as $10 because there were Nigerians willing to buy it at that price. When the merchant finally increased his price to about $3 his sales didn’t drop.

African creators tend to underestimate the value they’re bringing to the table.

Paying for extracurricular activities 

When Angie Madara and her business partner Matt started Growd in May 2019 it was spurred by the desire to create a better learning environment for their kids. After the 5-month pilot program, it was clear that this was something others needed in Kenya.

Growd is a platform that works with parents of children below the age of 14 years to find, design and match them to co-curricular activities such as music, sports and arts that improve their child’s academic performance in Mathematics, English and Science.

Where do African creators come in here? Growd’s community of 20,000 customers is powered by 270 instructors who teach these co-curricular activities.  The business works like this, Growd puts together the activities that would be best suited for a child and then relies on its network of instructors to deliver. The instructors set the price, the students choose which instructor to learn from and Growd takes a commission out of the amount paid. 

These instructors aren’t employees but partners who are passionate about what they do, Madara even said some of them aren’t keen on the income. They just want to build a reputation. 

Currently, 270 instructors take an average of 2 classes per week and there are 16,000 customers active monthly on Growd making enquiries.

While things have picked up well, Madara noted that extracurricular activities aren’t a big deal in Kenya even though they improve the academic performance of kids.

Due to the nature of activities, there are both face to face classes and virtual classes. For now, 70% of the classes are online. 

The students can sign up for a term (3 months) or pick specific dates during the term, but since the Growd model is still new, people tend to cherry-pick. They typically pay for one class until they’re convinced that the tutor can deliver. 

Madara gave an example of an art teacher who teaches kids how to paint. He started with only 2 kids per slot but now has a full class of 25 kids per slot. It’s difficult to quantify by how much the income of tutors can go up but Madara says people are making good money. 

There are two commission options for the instructors: a lower band where Growd takes a 7% commission and a higher band of 30% commission. What’s the difference? If instructors opt for the higher band, Growd helps promote their services for free within the platform – a paid service – and there are plans to offer loans to them in collaboration with financial institutions. 

One surprising thing Madara noticed when she started Growd was that while she expected the instructors to be mostly blue-collar workers, it turned out that it’s a mix of blue-collar and white-collar workers.

Citing examples, Madara said there’s a manager at an insurance company who teaches kids financial literacy, there’s also another person working at a tech hub who teaches kids to code. 

An online class is priced at an average of $2 per hour while physical classes are priced at $8 – $10 per hour. On average, with 100 students each month these instructors can get 20,000 KES ($200) from putting in 4 hours a month.

A significant amount in a continent where 85% of Africans live on less than $5.50 per day. 

With youths accounting for 60% of Africa’s jobless population, the rise of the passion economy and platforms enabling African to monetize their skills is closing the unemployment and poverty gap.

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