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Next Narrative Africa: Akunna Cook and Changing the Narrative about Africa One Story at a Time

By Caleb Onyeabor/Exclusive to The African Times/USA

In a world characterized by the constant barrage of information and narratives, the power of storytelling stands as an enduring force for change. Within the realm of media production, Next Narrative Africa has emerged as a beacon of hope, poised to reshape the way the world perceives Africa. I recently had the privilege of sitting down with Akunna Cook, the visionary CEO and Founder of Next Narrative Africa , to discuss the company’s mission, its drive for a narrative shift, and its commitment to creating economic opportunities for the black community.

At its core, Next Narrative Africa envisions a world where storytelling becomes a catalyst for change, a tool to shift perceptions, and a driver of economic progress. The company’s mission is to build a global community of change agents who use storytelling as a vehicle to reshape how the world experiences Africa. This transformation hinges on the creation of narrative-shifting entertainment that delves into socially relevant themes, including democracy and governance, inclusive economic growth, gender and racial equity, health, and climate.  Next Narrative Africa pursues its vision through a multifaceted approach.

Firstly, it is a multimedia entertainment production company that specializes in crafting compelling narratives about Africa and people of African descent. This endeavor extends to producing content that challenges existing stereotypes and offers fresh perspectives. This company is dedicated to building a fund that supports Black diasporan storytellers who are actively working to shift the narrative about Africa and people of African descent. By fostering talent and amplifying underrepresented voices, Next Narrative Africa is creating an ecosystem rife with creative potential.

At the helm of this ambitious company stands Akunna Cook, a distinguished diplomat, lawyer, and strategist. Prior to founding Next Narrative Africa, Akunna led Africa policy at the U.S. State Department, where she served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs. Her journey also includes a role as the inaugural Executive Director of the Black Economic Alliance, showcasing her ability to effect change across private, public, and non-profit sectors.

Akunna Cook’s passion for reshaping the African narrative is deeply rooted in her multi-sector track record of success. A proud graduate of Howard University, she holds a master’s degree from Harvard University and a law degree from Yale Law School. Her unique blend of experiences, coupled with her Nigerian-American heritage, fuels her drive to produce entertaining and socially impactful African stories for global audiences.

In our insightful conversation, she shared the inspiration that fueled the creation of this groundbreaking company. Drawing from a rich background spanning over two decades in the policy arena as a career diplomat and her involvement in running an NGO, Akunna pinpointed the pressing need to create economic opportunities within the black community. It was during these years of experience that she recognized the immense power of media as a force for change. Her deep appreciation for the influence of media was coupled with a sobering realization – the detrimental impact of negative media portrayals on the black community.

Akunna elaborated on the profound challenges faced by black communities, including difficulty attracting investments and garnering support for black-owned businesses, all stemming from pervasive negative media stereotypes. Her return to government service coincided with a remarkable upswing in African arts, exemplified by the global success of genres like Afrobeats and amapiano. To Akunna, this moment presented a unique opportunity to harness the transformative potential of these burgeoning cultural movements. All these sparks put together, ignited the creation of Next Narrative Africa

Talking about its goals and projected impact, Akunna emphasized the central role of social impact in the company’s mission. In the next five to ten years, she envisions the Pan-African television industry achieving the same level of global recognition and influence as Afrobeats and she wants the Next Narrative Africa to drive this great leap forward. However, her vision extends far beyond mere entertainment. She is resolute in her desire to reshape the media narrative about black Africa by widely distributing works and content that influence positive African images. Quality is paramount for Akunna, as she believes it is not just about entertainment but about the impact which includes the desire to fundamentally alter the tarnished image of Pan-Africa perpetuated by the mainstream media. With her extensive experience and an array of strategic partners, she remains confident that this ambitious goal is within reach. The Next Narrative Africa also aspires to elevate the African TV industry to prominence and the top of the global TV chain, opening doors for individuals of African descent to build wealth, and winning global recognition for the works of African TV.  It is the social impact of the company that resonates most deeply with Akunna. She envisions an Africa where narratives are rewritten, opportunities are abundant, and the voices of the marginalized are amplified. This company is not only about shaping the future of African media but also laying the groundwork for a more inclusive, equitable, and empowered Africa that the world is yet to fully experience.

Challenges are inevitable especially for companys like this. Unsurprisingly, funding is a major challenge. Acknowledging that Next Narrative Africa is a newcomer in the field, Akunna candidly highlighted the challenges of attracting investors and investment opportunities. She emphasized the importance of spearheading conversations that generate interest in the company, recognizing that this is essential for securing the financial backing required to bring their vision to fruition. Establishing quality partnerships is another key challenge that Akunna and her team are actively addressing. Demonstrating the demand for narrative-shifting content and identifying target markets are integral aspects of overcoming this challenge. Leveraging their experience and cultivating strategic alliances, they are navigating the path toward securing partnerships that align with Next Narrative Afriica’s goals and values.

Moving on to collaborations, Akunna emphasized the significance of quality over quantity. Next Narrative Africa is discerning in its choice of partners, seeking like-minded entities that share their vision and commitment to social impact. She stressed the importance of understanding industry players and fostering conversations that lead to meaningful collaborations. In their pursuit of partnerships, Next Narrative Africa is dedicated to organizing events that not only facilitate business-driven relationships but also promote sustainability and the common goal of reshaping the African narrative.

In addressing the question of supporting creators, particularly within the black diasporan and African markets, Akunna talked about how talent discovery is a big challenge in the arts and entertainment world but however, Next Narrative Africa is poised to solve this problem by plugging in to communities. They have a democratized view of opportunities and are taking extra steps on how to find these talent because unlike other companys, the Next Narrative Africa has a special focus that gives them a competitive edge.

When asked about if she believes that that transformation of the African image in media will take time,she shared that she doesnt believe that the transformation that they hope to see with this company will take time because even though the harm to the African image by the media is a product of many years, it will not take many years to reverse that trend looking at the rapid adoption and evolution of technology. 

For the Next Narrative Africa, change starts with changing the way Africa sees itself before changing the way the world sees Africa. Part of the future vision of Next Narrative Africa is to play a useful role in revolutionizing the television space.

Technology will make that change rapid. Through Next Narrative Africa, Akunna wants to produce the African best films and stories while helping other creators make money with their ideas. She hopes that through this company, the media portrayal of African communities will be reshaped in such a way that it opens up opportunities for members of the black community. Lastly, she hopes to transform African media, create that social and economic impact and pass the baton to future generations. 

What sets Next Narrative Africa apart is not only what they aim to achieve but how they go about achieving it. They stand as a unique company in their commitment to challenging and transforming the African narrative through media. Akunna recognizes that Next Narrative Africa  cannot achieve its ambitious goals alone; they need partners, collaborators, philanthropists, innovators, strategies, and the support of African governments seeking to attract tourism investments, among others.

This visionary company with the power to reshape not only the media landscape but also the perception of Africa itself.

It represents a beacon of hope for a brighter future, where narratives are rewritten, opportunities are unlocked, and generations are inspired to create a better world. As Akunna Cook passionately articulates, the journey may be challenging, but the destination holds the promise of a transformed Africa that the world is yet to fully comprehend. Next Narrative Africa invites all who share this vision to join them on this transformative journey toward a more equitable, inclusive, and empowered future.

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