When Arianna Huffington was 20, living in London, and constantly being rejected by publishers, she never knew that one day she would appear on FORBES’ list of the World’s Most
Powerful Women, alongside Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Oprah Winfrey and Queen Elizabeth II.
Huffington’s success with, online publication, the Huffington Post has made her one of the most sought-after speakers in the world.
In October 2013, Huffington, dressed in a power grey-suit and yellow blouse, addressed a crowd of young leaders at the One Young World Summit in
Johannesburg, South Africa. The 1,200 delegates from around the world sat on the edge of their seats, wide-eyed, waiting for Huffington to reveal the ultimate secret to success.
“I want to recommend to everyone here that they sleep their way to the top,” she pronounced.
Huffington’s ironic humor had the crowd in stitches. How were they, the generation of tweeting, blogging, mixing, hashtags and serious FOMO (fear of missing out), meant to find time to sleep?
She went on to tell the story of when this revelation hit her, literally.
“In 2007, in the middle of building the Huffington Post, I fainted from exhaustion. I hit my head on my desk; I broke my cheekbone and got four stitches on my right eye. That was the beginning of my journey. But you don’t have to wait until you have a rude awakening like I had.”
This was the inspiration for Huffington’s concept, the ‘Third Metric’. It calls for the traditional definition of success to be changed beyond money and power. Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, Huffington argues, success should be determined by personal happiness and health.
Since the Huffington Post’s launch in 2005, it has become one of the most successful online publishing platforms in the world. The content is a combination of news stories by journalists and personal opinion blogs by politicians, celebrities and academics.
The Huffington Post is quickly making its way around the world, with a strong presence in nine countries so far. Although Huffington has taken great interest in Africa, she has no plans to bring the publication to the continent just yet.
Here in Africa, there are many women who are not afraid to take on media corporations. And contrary to the belief that it’s a man’s world, they did it in heels.
In 1960, a bright-eyed Jane Raphaely moved to South Africa. A few years later, at the age of 30, she was appointed the founding editor of Fairlady magazine.
She used the platform to discuss controversial topics such as sex and politics. She was also a key player in the movement to revive the Domestic Workers’ Union.
“At that stage white women in South Africa did not have careers. Some of them had jobs but their careers, as they saw them, was finding the right man and bringing up a family… Black women worked because they had to. So the huge division was between women who didn’t have to work and women who did have to work. And they were very often in the same house because that one woman was working for the other woman,” says Raphaely in an interview with 2 Oceans Vibe.
The issue of gender inequality was one that Raphaely consistently fought. In her book, Jane Raphaely Unedited: True Tales of a Fun Fearless Female, Raphaely says it was better for households if women stayed out of the workforce.
“…At the time a married woman’s salary was added to her husband’s income, putting him in a higher tax bracket without taking account or any extra costs incurred by having her work outside the home.”
In 1982, the Raphaely family launched Associated Media Publishing (AMP), which would later become one of the most successful publishing houses in South Africa. AMP also manages the South African wing of international magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire.
Raphaely has been the company’s managing editor since AMP was born, and she continues to be one of the biggest influences on South African media.
Further north in Nigeria, one of Africa’s favorite television personalities is also making history.
Mo Abudu, the woman behind one of the continent’s most successful TV shows, Moments with Mo, has been dubbed ‘Africa’s Oprah’. Following in the footsteps of the Queen of Talk, Abudu has gone from talk show host to network owner. In July, Abudu launched Africa’s first global black multi-broadcast entertainment network, EbonyLife TV.
Recalling how it all began, Abudu says that after seven years of interviewing celebrities and presidents on Moments with Mo, it was time for her next adventure. The idea came in 2008, while she was in London.
“I asked people: ‘When you hear the name Africa, what is the first thing that comes to mind?’ I heard: ‘Famine, poverty, HIV, safari, giraffes’”.
The images of war and famine in Africa shown across the world never give a true reflection of the continent, Abudu says emphatically.
“I don’t think Africans celebrate themselves enough and I think that has a ripple effect of the fact that the world doesn’t really have an understanding of who we are as Africans,” she explains.
Abudu hopes EbonyLife TV will change that. It is due to be broadcast across the continent and Abudu has set her sights on appealing to a global black audience.
She readily admits that there are many challenges in maintaining a 24-hour television channel in Nigeria, including power, infrastructure, bandwidth and financing. She also points out that not many people understand the business of media, but that does not deter her.
“I see those challenges as opportunities because that means although we don’t have certain resources it gives some people an opportunity to provide that service,” Abudu says.
Here in Africa we may have a long way to go, but the potential is rife as this is the land of opportunity.
Historically, a women’s place in mass media was in front of the camera and on the covers of magazines. They were objectified as eye candy, and their sole purpose was to entertain.
Now, more and more women are trying their hand at the business behind the cameras and glossy publications. Huffington, Raphaely and Abudu are proving that the glass box in which women in the media industry are often placed is no longer adequate. Women are now in the real pound seats as media moguls and network owners.