Ruth Olurounbi, Bloomberg
This week, we spoke to Ruth Olurounbi, Government and Economy Reporter of Bloomberg who shares how a collection of experiences from childhood and her desire to help people through storytelling, led her to where she is in journalism today.
- What led you into journalism, and what would you be doing if you weren’t a journalist?
I love this question! I will answer this with a story. When I was younger, say around 8 to 10 years old, my mom would send me on errands as most Nigerian mothers do. It could be to buy salt from the neighbourhood convenience store or something relating to picking up my youngest sister from school – and I would always come back home from these errands so late (the only time I came home early was if the errand was very urgent). I remember my mother going out to look for me on occasions, and she’d be visibly upset to find that I was either gisting with a blacksmith around the corner of our street (we were living in Ilesa, Osun state at this time) or I was hanging around watching whatever was happening. Do you want to know the hilarious part? I’d tell them the stories I got from my tardiness AFTER my mom; sometimes, both parents scolded me for being late.
I said that to say that I have always loved telling and retelling stories and that, in some way, influenced my love for journalism. I have always been a curious child too. I remember the blacksmith I mentioned earlier telling me that I was the only kid in the neighbourhood who asked questions about him and his work. I honestly can’t say that a specific thing led me to become a journalist; I’d rather say a collection of experiences led me here today. Looking back, I’d say seeing a neighbour’s sister losing her daughter to a miscarriage and my mom’s efforts to help save the woman’s life was one, and another would be the sex worker who became my friend back when we were living in the north (my parents moved around a lot) who told me several stories about her life, despite many adults in my life frowning at the relationship between the two of us. While I didn’t know what else to do with those stories as a young child, I knew I wanted to help people, although I didn’t know how exactly. But once I got older and visited a newspaper printing press after secondary school, I knew I was home, and I never looked back! I studied to become a journalist and went back to work at that newspaper house known as the Nigerian Tribune. It was there I learned to become a development journalist and put my desire to help people through storytelling to use.
If I hadn’t been a journalist, I’d honestly be a mechanic. This might sound funny, but I have always loved to become a mechanic because I am fascinated by how machines work. Growing up, my dad had a motorcycle he’d service himself, and I’d sit with him as he worked on the machine. I guess that’s where I got my love for machines from. I currently service my generator, in fact.
Africa, being an entrepreneurial continent, we see businesses springing up to tackle the continent’s challenges across almost all economic sectors and we see an internet-based economy at the centre of it all.
- When you’re researching stories, what compels you to work on sharing a particular story with your audience? Any hot trends we should look out for in the coming months?
For me, answering the question “what interests our audience?” is one of the key influencers to my working on stories. I find that thinking about how to help global readers relate to local stories from Nigeria or from the continent also works. Think EndSars campaign from two years ago: the protest against police brutality in Nigeria that started online and became a massive movement both offline and online happened just a few months after a similar protest against the killing of an unarmed African-American by a white police officer in Minneapolis. Reporting that story in a manner that a global audience can relate to was definitely a big consideration for me.
Another is the impact the story subject is making in the world and/or, what impact the story will have on the audience. Back when I was at the Nigerian Tribune, we developed a vertical that focused on entrepreneurship and startup, and I was put in charge of the vertical. Every production week, the question I kept asking myself was: what impact is this edition going to make this week? The impact could be inspiring young entrepreneurs, it could be to tell the story of Nigeria’s startup growth, it could be to help find answers to the audience’s questions, and it could be anything as long as we are making an impact through our stories. And I am happy to see that I was able to accomplish this, from the feedback I got from the public. One person wrote in and said it inspired them to start their business and apply for a grant (which they won) after reading Entrepreneurship+ at the Nigerian Tribune.
I think that in the coming months, in terms of technology, business and politics, we will see more of what already exists – hyperconnectedness, AI, inflation and supply chain security, climate-solution-driven companies (or sustainability, if you will), new policies that will likely expand digital/virtual currency use on the continent and specifically Nigeria.
- Why is African business so unique and what makes it so exciting to report on?
I think that African business’ transformative role in solving the continent’s biggest problems is what makes it unique and exciting to report on. Africa, being an entrepreneurial continent, we see businesses springing up to tackle the continent’s challenges across almost all economic sectors and we see an internet-based economy at the centre of it all.
Think Kenya-based Ilara Health that provides accessible and affordable diagnostics through the use of artificial intelligence and robotics to lower the overall cost of diagnostics; and Nigeria’s Flutterwave and Ghana’s theteller, solving payment solutions on the continent. Then we have Wimbart, a tech PR company; Feronia, an agric tech business operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Stears, an intelligence company trying to “define a new standard for access to quality analysis and data in Africa.” These are what make businesses on the continent unique and what makes reporting on these businesses exhilarating, especially because of the power they have to spur growth in Africa.
By telling these stories, we can highlight challenges these businesses face, such as insufficient access to power and electricity, irregular policy regulation, and lack of efficient infrastructure, among others, in the hope that these challenges can be solved
- Which sectors or industries do you like to cover most and why?
I don’t think I have favourite sectors or industries to cover, but if I have to choose, I’d say that I enjoy covering the agriculture and tech sectors. I find these sectors very interesting in that one of them is the literal source of the world’s food supply, and the other because of its power to catalyze growth on the continent. Reporting stories from all of these players’ (both in public and private sectors and non-profit) perspectives and their impact on the continent is fulfilling for me as a journalist.
- Why is it important that people around the world get to hear about young, growing companies on the continent?
Simple. Because young people are leading the way to Africa’s economic success, and these stories need to be told. As the continent’s youth population is expected to more than double by 2050, Africa is seeing its young people taking charge and creating their futures by developing innovative solutions that drive employment and growth in the region of more than one billion people.
By telling these stories, we can highlight challenges these businesses face, such as insufficient access to power and electricity, irregular policy regulation, and lack of efficient infrastructure, among others, in the hope that these challenges can be solved.
- How can we encourage more people to join the writing community and dedicate their energy to telling stories about African tech and business?
The first step is to make the community attractive to them, and the second is to empower them once they join in. Making the community attractive can be by sharing enriching benefits the community may add to their career; it could be by giving them a voice. I remember the first time I started writing; my church gave me a voice by helping me publish some of my works in the community magazine of the church. By listening to them, mentoring and providing access to information to them, we can empower more people who are in the writing community. I also think that making their efforts worthwhile by paying well is another step towards making the community attractive.