Fort fuses storytellers for Africa

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SIMPLIFYING IMAGE, EXPANDING EXPRESSION: Shukri Toefy and Amr Singh on one of the Fort campaign video sets

Fort is rebranding, expanding, and connecting the raconteurs of Africa. After a decade establishing themselves as a creative, content and production network, The Fort – officially rebranded as Fort – claim they have finally done what Facebook did in ‘05, dropped the the from their name. While removing this definite article simplifies their image, their creative expression is expanding across the continent.

Fort recently launched a new office in Nairobi and has plans for one in Lagos later this year. Combining business with creativity and empowerment, Fort has Africa as their focus. “Africa is the now and the future,” was the message on the eve where #CreateMovement was unveiled.

#CreateMovement is a campaign urging businesses to think differently about how and where they make investments. #CreateMovement asks how much of the profits generated by Africa’s creative economy stay on the continent and how much leave for the first world in the form of repatriated profits.

Testimony to their trendy brand, they celebrated with SA’s hottest celebs and talent with a black carpet reveal at The Venue in Melrose Arch in February. Nomzamo Mbatha, the stylish master of ceremonies, introduced the glam crowd to co-founder and CEO, Shukri Toefy, who took to the stage.

“Firstly we’re celebrating that we’ve been around for ten years,” says Toefy. He continues to share the details of the brand and explains their global network. “We’re very proud to stand here tonight and introduce you to the CEO of Fort East Africa, based out of Kenya. She is Alison Ngibuni.”

Fort was founded in 2006 by Toefy and Amr Singh, at the time they were two penniless university students with mounting student loans. Today the agency employs 50 people and has worked in 17 African and Middle Eastern markets. When these entrepreneurial activists witnessed the countries cries of #FeesMustFall, Toefy says the idea of decolonising education resonated with them. “Then we realised there could be some decolonising within our creative economy as well,” says Toefy. “We tend to overvalue global,” he continues. “As storytellers we have such an important role to play in driving our own narrative.”

Along with an invitation to Fort’s celebration, all guests were given an empty workbook and instructed to leave a message in the front of it. This book is to be used in their sustainability training and skills development programme, Hold The Fort.

Together with Fort chief creative officer Amr Singh and general manager Craig February, Toefy announced the launch of Fort’s shared prosperity model. The model will see them donating ten per cent of the business to their employee share fund. Keen applause paused his speech as Toefy explains, “Within a shared prosperity model, we have to think about the community and society in which we operate. We are a part of that and tonight we are donating one per cent of our business to our Hold The Fort sustainability fund.”

As part of its shared prosperity model, one per cent of the agency has been gifted to its sustainability fund to invest into the community, with a heavy focus on skills development through its African talent lab. Toefy and Singh believe employees and communities need to benefit directly from creative businesses and this is how the agency is paying it forward.

Ngibuni took the mic to explain how Fort approaches storytelling. “Fort is about sharing experiences. Fort is about engaging and as Fort South Africa expands and goes into East and West Africa, we feel it’s a great opportunity for us Africans to connect,” says Ngibuni. “If America can say America first, we must say Africa first.”

Singh then points out the cameras around the room and in celebrating #CreateMovement, under the banner of being storytellers for a connected world, he announces that guests are standing on a film set. “Everyone has the tools to make a film and everyone is invited to create a campaign video.”

Not only did guests create the campaign video, they left a personal message of inspiration, wisdom, advice, or a life lesson in a workbook that created much conversation on the night and inspired those writing the messages. Toefy explains this incentive: “We need to inspire our young storytellers across the continent. We need to inspire them in West Africa. We need to inspire them in East Africa. We need to inspire them in South Africa and what we would like to do is bring you to those workshops and allow you to leave your knowledge, not only in writing but through interaction, because we have to pay it forward,” says Toefy. “We have to change the narrative around where we are going.”

The workbooks will be used by a young storyteller in Fort talent lab workshops, training sessions, and leadership programmes across Africa and globally. Those who contributed in leaving their personal messages will be given the opportunity to participate in and lead workshops based on their expertise and industry experience. Hold the Fort plays an economic role in communities, and positively contributes to social and environmental upliftment.

The workbooks will be used mainly with students, but not just limited to students, in Africa. The author of each message will be given the chance to attend the training or to be filmed for the training. Hosted by Fort and inspired by the messages of hundreds of industry players who likewise wish to pay it forward.

The workshops will be focused on the creative industry; Fort has previously hosted several schools for a directing workshop, a copywriting workshop, and an editing workshop. With #CreateMovement Fort is partnering with industry influencers to inspire the youth around the continent and to reach and gain as much traction as possible.

After workshops attendees are given the possibility of further training opportunities through internship programmes that Fort offers.

This is a chance for everybody, as Ngibuni says, “Join the movement, the creative movement, and let us together share in telling beautiful stories about ourselves and our brands.”

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Cera-Jane Catton
Cera-Jane Catton is a writer and journalist with years of experience in community newspapers, blogging and freelance journalism. She has worked in a cache of capacities, often finding herself behind or in front of the cameras, intentionally and less so. She has been a stunt double in two Bollywood movies, has worked in various capacities on a number of natural history documentaries, and other international productions shot in South Africa. Cera is a former Screen Africa journalist.

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