Speaking to FORBES AFRICA from snowy and cold Toronto, Kenyan-born journalist Salimah Ebrahim delves into the details of her new entrepreneurial tech (ad)venture, Bramble.
“We always tell the stories of success, but we never dwell on the struggles that it took to get to that success.”
These are words of 38-year-old Salimah Ebrahim who has gone from journalism to becoming an entrepreneur to fully immersing herself in the tech space. However, she does believe that her journey as a journalist is no different from her journey as a co-founder of both Artery and Bramble.
To help “facilitate humanity online”, East African-born Ebrahim speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her journey to both Artery and Bramble. The concept behind Artery was more about culture creation rather than just content creation.
“We were obsessed with gatherings,” Ebrahim says recalling the launch of Artery in 2018. Pre-pandemic, Artery was about letting people into your space and allowing them to submerge themselves into different cultures across the globe.
“My journalism career has taken me across the world,” Ebrahim says. “And during this time, this is sort of taking me to Bramble, I noticed that my goal always as a journalist was the same as what I wanted as a kid. I wanted people to kind of see the ‘other’ and to do less ‘othering’ in general. And to know that the same type of desires that you have in Vancouver you have in Nairobi. This is in terms of what you want in a day, what you want for your family, what you want for yourself, the aspirations, the goals, the shared music and poetry.”
In March 2020, the concept of Bramble came to life.
In 2019, the Artery community co-created thousands of intimate gatherings in real life across half a dozen cities. When the pandemic began, they decided to move their showcases online, like many other companies across the globe. However, Artery quickly noticed all the tools that exist for online interaction were built for meetings.
“We tried to make it work on Zoom, but quickly realized we had to reimagine the technology itself. Being a cultural organizer and a tech company put us in the unique position to reimagine the virtual experience of gathering. Our solution was based on the idea that we all have teleconferencing apps, but they all lack context. And context is critical, so we had to think about what design decisions would actually make remote communication more fun, less claustrophobic.”
For the past two decades, Ebrahim has dedicated her life to storytelling, always in unique and captivating ways. All of this started with her love for her country, Kenya.
Like her father, Ebrahim was also born in Nairobi. Her mother is from Zanzibar but eventually also found a home in Kenya. One of the first languages Ebrahim learned to speak was Swahili. In the 1990s, Ebrahim, along with her family, moved to Vancouver, Canada.
However, this is when the journalism bug really began to bite.
“And all over the world. I had family; extended family in India, London, South Africa, Zanzibar… And so for me, quite young, I found those physical newspapers and I always remember, I would always check with the weather first, this was a really important connection to all of them,” Ebrahim recalls. “I remember being seven or eight years old, and being at friends’ sleepovers in Canada, and I might have been the only seven- or eight-year-old that went in and asked for the morning paper after a sleepover. It wasn’t even about me, it was just about people I loved and lived in the world. And I wanted to know what was happening.”
After beginning her international journalism career in the alleyways of Cairo, Ebrahim spent years reporting on culture and politics from the Middle East, covering the war in Iraq and reporting on environmental security challenges in Africa. She also was on the trail for the historic 2008 US presidential campaign, and for a time was based in Washington DC covering the White House.
“I’ll say this when people look at my career path, they see dots. They see I’ve worked as a journalist, they see I’ve worked as an environmentalist, they see I’ve worked in tech, and all I see are lines where people see dots,” Ebrahim says.
“Because through those lines of all that work has been the central question of my life that I have had since I was a very young kid, which was really impacted by where I was born and where I grew up, which is ‘how do we see each other, how do we find ways to help people see what they would call the ‘other’ so that they are the ‘other’ no more’.”
It’s through being a journalist, when she had to work more than one job, or try to be an active member in the technology sector as a woman of color that she has begun to appreciate the moments of struggle.
It’s the story of struggle and authenticity that make ‘the connections’ that have always played a part in Ebrahim’s story.
“I once interviewed Maya Angelou, and she said to me that people talk about these great leaders like Martin Luther King or Robert F. Kennedy Jr.” Ebrahim says. “And they don’t talk about like all sides of them. They don’t talk about their faults and their fables and their humor. And the problem is we only tell stories with the parts of success.
“I read articles, and I’ll read something about someone and be like, ‘wow, they’re just a different person than I am. Or they have this different ability or whatever. And we don’t dare emulate them. And that’s a great tragedy.”
Ebrahim believes that virtual spaces will continue long past the pandemic as a new way to tell stories and socialize with people online. That is why platforms like Bramble will become an important element in people’s lives.
“The metaphor of a physical space is incredibly useful – it lets people explore, it lets the organizer design the experience in real time, and it’s just really fun.”