Often described by colleagues as fun and easy-going, Ojoma Ochai takes her work seriously. The creative and digital economy expert sits on the board of several companies and projects, including CcHub, the Expert Panel on Diversity and Cultural Expressions, and BTrust. She considers herself to be intensely curious, and it is this curiosity that has shaped her professional journey for the past two decades.
Ochai has spent the past 20 years working between the creative industry and the tech sector in Africa and has created a space for herself at the intersection of these two fields. Now, her work revolves around providing support to tech startups that are building for the creative industry.
Beginning as an arts and administrative assistant in 2006, Ochai rapidly moved up the ladder at the British Council, and in May 2010, she became director of arts in Nigeria and West Africa. By 2018, she was director of programmes in sub-Saharan Africa, where she started working on creative economy projects across the continent. According to Ochai, her background in tech made her particularly curious about how technology was impacting activities in the creative sector and social space. So she delved deeper into exploring that, one research paper at a time.
This curiosity eventually brought her to the doorsteps of CcHub, where she is excited about making emerging tech mainstream, among other things.
Ochai and two other Nigerians—Khalil Nur Khalil and Obi Nwosu— sit on the board of BTrust, a bitcoin non-profit set up by Twitter’s founder Jack Dorsey and rapper Jay-Z to support bitcoin development with a focus on Africa and Asia.
She regards her work at BTrust as transformative, and the entry point into her journey into that space was curiosity. In 2017, while working at the British Council, she commissioned a study on how arts and culture practitioners were leveraging tech in their practice. Driven by curiosity, Ochai dove head-first into a research rabbit hole until she eventually landed on the most fascinating answer: bitcoin.
“I was fascinated by the opportunity in blockchain and bitcoin,” she shared. Before then, she’d had minimal interaction with the digital currency, and although she’d bought some in 2013, she had no sense that it was going to be a big thing. “If you’ve been in the creative industries, you’ll know that there were a lot of issues around licensing, royalties, payments, and cross-border remittances, and I got fascinated by the opportunity in blockchain [and consequently bitcoin] to solve that,” she said.
And so, when, in February 2021, Jack Dorsey put out a tweet looking for three board members for BTrust, she signed up.
The entire process included four rounds of interviews and an essay, where she hesitantly shared her theories on how the creative economy could leverage Bitcoin to grow. This impressed Dorsey because, in November 2021, she was sent a Google Meet link for the final stage of the screening process.
“I don’t think I knew it was the last stage,” she recalls. “I just got on a Google Meet, and there I am, on a call with Jack Dorsey. How is this my life?”
That same year, Ochai left her job at the British Council to cofound the creative economy practice at CcHub. This pivotal decision came after she analyzed the creative industry and digital economy in about 94 countries, which made her realise that it was getting more difficult to distinguish between the creative industry and the digital economy, as their value chains were intertwined.
Ochai already believes in the core purpose and direction the previous leadership at CcHub had established: providing support to founders building tech-based solutions for social impact.
“There won’t be a dramatic shift in how the company runs,” she shared over a call on a Friday afternoon. “Much of my effort will go towards staying on track rather than charting an entirely new course.”
She, however, shares that she will be building on the current foundation to expand further thematically and into more countries across the continent.
Expanding thematically means that CcHub will be paying special attention to emerging tech like blockchain, artificial intelligence(AI) and intelligent automation (IA) with their main focus being how to mainstream it into the current work being done.
“If these emerging technologies like AI, bitcoin or blockchain, are going to revolutionise the world, then we can’t just be interested spectators. We have to be participants,” she shared.
Currently, the company supports 24 startups across Nigeria and Kenya, with its main focus being edtech. It is running an accelerator for startups to receive up to $100,000 in non-dilutive capital and six months of acceleration. CcHub also has its eyes on the creative industry and is backing early-stage startups like Nollydata which aggregates service providers in Nollywood, and Orange VFX, a visual effects company.
“We’re consuming, and it’s great, but who on the continent supports the people building the tech for creative industries?”
Outside of emerging technologies and the creative economy, another area Ochai is looking to bring mainstream is climate and environment. She believes that builders in the ecosystem must pay attention to how issues like climate change can impact other outcomes like health and the economy and find ways to innovate around that. CcHub will also be supporting founders in building solutions to adapt or mitigate the changes currently happening due to climate change.
In December 2023, Ochai was named MD of CcHub following its founder and former CEO Bosun Tijani’s appointment as Nigeria’s minister of communications, innovation and digital economy. For twelve years, Tijani led CcHub from a small innovation centre in Yaba, Lagos, to becoming one of the most noteworthy tech hubs on the continent, with centres in Kenya and Namibia. Now, Ochai, who shares that she has always been a CcHub fangirl, has stepped in to lead the company, with a staff strength of about 200.
Predictions for the creative and digital economies
According to Ochai, one of her biggest predictions for the digital economy and creative industries is the emergence of more robust business models for our content industry, something quite different from the linear business models we have now.
“You make content, you stream it or you take it to the cinema,” she shared. “[However], I feel like we haven’t maximised the opportunity for the IP assets that we’re generating in our content industry.”
Intellectual theft is still a huge problem in Nigeria despite the IP laws available. The majority of the population has remained ignorant of these laws, and this, coupled with the country’s weak legal system, has affected the growth of the creative industry.
Another forecast she gave for the creative economy is the advent of infrastructure investment or more specialised services around the creative industries. Nigeria’s creative industry employs some 4.1 million people and is projected to contribute $100 billion in 2023.
“We’ll see more companies build for the creative industry around support like agents, talent managers, and other service providers. Think about insurance, or pensions—all of the things that make an industry work.”