Africa has a population of over 1.4 billion people. Interestingly, it is the youngest continent in the world, with 60% of the entire population aged below 25 years. This makes it the hub of the future workforce and a hotbed for technological innovation. While many African governments grapple with poor unemployment rates, weak economies and depreciating currencies, the tech economy is helping to fill in the gaps, creating innovative solutions.
The African tech ecosystem has experienced tremendous growth since the year 2020. The sector has attracted investments worth billions of dollars to the content within the space of 4 years, with its highest record of over $4 billion registered in 2021 across 355 funding deals. It has over 8,000 startups and they have created close to a billion jobs – both technical and non-technical roles. Between 2020 to 2021, Africa recorded growth in professional software developers from 690,000 to 716,000. More so, the tech ecosystem has created thousands of non-technical jobs for people. Like the role of a storyteller.
Although the tech sector has recorded growth in tech writers, it has few grounded storytellers. Storytellers are like sculptors. They help to shape the narrative of a people, culture or entity. And that is what Felicia Omari Ochelle does for African tech companies.
Felicia Omari Ochelle is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of TechPR, a Lagos-based public relations agency. TechPR helps clients, especially African tech companies, better tell their stories to local and international audiences. In this interview with Ventures Africa, Ochelle shares how her childhood passion for storytelling led her through diverse leadership roles to become the CEO of TechPR.
Briefly introduce yourself.
My name is Felicia Omari Ochelle. I am a media and communications professional, leader, and purpose-driven individual. I’m currently the CEO at TechPR Nigeria, a Lagos-based public relations and communications firm that helps technology companies tell their stories to global and local audiences. I was born and raised in Zaria, Kaduna state, and spent over 20 years in Northern Nigeria. In 2014, I moved to Lagos state where I went from starting as a new-to-journalism business writer at Ventures Africa to leading the newsroom as Online Editor within 14 months. Since then, I’ve spent the last decade building a career in media and communications. I’m also very passionate about Africa’s creative sector, global security and diplomacy, and ending the pandemic that is gender-based violence.
What childhood events helped to form your perception of life and eventually shaped your career path?
Now that I think about it, I was sure I would become an award-winning Hollywood actress back in the day, and to date, I may still nurture dreams of being part of the cast in a blockbuster movie or perhaps being the writer behind the script. It’s never too late right? Anyway, I was always an opinionated and strong-willed child that loved arts and storytelling.
I picked up fictional writing as a teenager, and one of my first stories was a thriller titled – In the Dark. It also helped that I had the encouragement of my family to be true to myself, make magic and succeed. So, although my career path did not take shape immediately, creativity always took centre stage. After I graduated from Ahmadu Bello University with an English Language degree, I had a brief stint in teaching before landing an online journalism job where I was writing business articles and learning the ropes in communications.
Take us through your journey to becoming the CEO of TechPR.
Having grown from writer to Senior Editor at a top African business publication, I had also developed a passion for sharing stories about the innovative work of founders and entrepreneurs across the continent. Many stories and projects that I worked on featured their impact and contributions to Africa’s thriving tech industry. I later honed my communication skills by providing strategic services that helped clients achieve media visibility and other goals.
At the African Media Agency, I worked in the content strategy team, developing expertise in PR, creative and digital marketing. I also gained valuable experience leading diverse teams in various functions, including business process and strategy, human capital solutions, client relationship management, and proposal bids while working for NGOs such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.
With the surge in digital technology and innovators providing solutions to many of Africa’s most pressing issues, I recognized that my experience in journalism, communications, and content marketing, could be utilized to capture audiences for technology companies. Organic storytelling became my forte, and I continue to use it to bring technology innovations to life for audiences across the continent.
What is the typical work-life of a tech PR agency’s CEO? What does your job entail?
In addition to ensuring operations are managed smoothly at TechPR, I head communications campaigns for African startups and oversee multiple high-profile projects. This includes crafting compelling stories that resonate with journalists and target audiences, developing effective communication strategies, and building relationships with key media outlets. I’m also typically present at many events and gatherings within the tech space, attending, sharing knowledge or consulting to coach founders on media relations, public speaking and storytelling. I also oversee content development for clients-articles and reports to raise their profiles as thought leaders within the ecosystem.
How do you cope with the pressure that comes with your office and how do you unwind?
A lot of meditation and dance! And of course, stepping away every once in a while to realign my objectives. Prioritizing quality time with friends and family, going to the beach, and travelling to create more memories do it for me.
As a female CEO in a male-dominated PR subsector, what are your challenges and your drives?
Women CEOs still face more complex barriers than their male counterparts but not for much longer. Some examples of such challenges include patriarchy and societal expectations, self-limiting factors, and fear of unwanted advances. Other factors include low access to good networks and funding. Male VC dominance is one of the reasons why the ecosystem needs more female investors to support one another. In my experience, there is also the pressure to get everything right because women are often more stigmatized when they fail or make mistakes. But ideally, women and men should embrace the importance of failing forward. I also find that many still expect the most senior person at the helm of company affairs to be male and look out for that person to speak up in official settings. In creating a space for women to operate efficiently, the focus needs to shift away from how they’re ‘balancing things’ to simply the value they bring. Men also have a crucial role in driving the much-needed policies, initiatives, and environment that fosters equality and forward-thinking companies or organizations.
Do you have a mentor or role model? If yes, how have they impacted your career trajectory?
I have several mentors and role models. However, if I’m being honest, I channel a lot of my inspiration from daily interactions with the remarkable people I encounter.
Last July, GLG Communications in partnership with The Guardian Nigeria drew a PR Power List 2022 with top 50 PR professionals in Nigeria. Twenty-six of the candidates were women, with 23 men and 2 media houses represented. Going by this, would you say that the communications sector in Nigeria has achieved gender parity compared to other sectors? Why?
Women making up almost half of the top 50 PR professionals in Nigeria is proof that Nigeria is making strides towards gender parity, and that is commendable. However, the list represents a small fraction of the entire communications sector in Nigeria and may not be fully representative of the broader industry. It’s also possible that other sectors in Nigeria may have achieved greater or smaller levels of gender parity than the communications sector. But with a better understanding of the challenges women within the sector face, alongside better opportunities for women to explore PR without limitations, there’s no telling how impactful the outcome would be, and I mean this in the most positive way imaginable.
You are passionate about humanity and feminism. Would you say that the African continent has gained from the wave of feminist movements the world has seen (E,g, the Me Too movement, Feminist.Co etc.,) and why?
It might be hard to make a blanket statement as the continent is vast, diverse, and has many different countries and cultures. However, it is safe to say that such movements have brought global attention to issues of gender inequality and sexual harassment, which have long been prevalent in many parts of the world, including Africa. In recent years, feminists have been organizing and raising their voices, challenging patriarchal systems, and advocating for women’s rights, reproductive rights, and equal pay. They have also been leveraging social media and other digital platforms to amplify their messages and connect with other women across the globe. When we talk about progress in advancing women’s rights and gender equality in Africa, it has been uneven with many challenges, including cultural and traditional beliefs, inadequate legal frameworks, and limited access to resources and education. More efforts are required to continue to push for gender equality across the African continent.
What can organizations in other male-dominated sectors in Nigeria do to achieve gender equality?
A good place to start is through concerted efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness by actively recruiting and promoting women, creating a supportive and inclusive work environment that values and respects employees regardless of their gender. Also, more gender audits and flexible work arrangements to meet the diverse needs of employees. Lastly, gender-sensitive policies and more inclusive on-the-job training, mentoring, and leadership development programs.
The CEO position is largely considered the pinnacle of one’s career. Would you say that you have reached the peak of your career?
I am a firm believer that learning never stops, and neither does the quest to actively lead and inspire teams, drive innovation and growth, or make tough decisions that can affect the future of an organization or company. While it may be one of the highest-ranking executive roles in an organization, I don’t intend to lose sight of any other individual preferences or goals in my career journey.