Nollywood films first inspired my imagination on board Ghana’s regional buses during my junior year semester abroad. As I spent countless hours crisscrossing the red dirt roads from Accra to Kumasi, I became captivated by the vivid storytelling of family dramas, rags-to-riches tales, and tensions between new and older forms of spirituality. As African stories told by African voices, these films were my cultural ambassador, introducing me to the immanent challenges and triumphs of West African urban life undisclosed in classroom lectures. The more I learned about Nollywood’s unlikely development, the more the industry’s underdog spirit resonated with my own personal, academic, and professional perspectives of entrepreneurship.
I see parallels between the Nigerian film industry’s meteoric rise within an unforgiving economic environment and my own parents’ struggle to build a new life in a new country. When my family and I arrived from Asia when I was eight, my parents toiled day and night to provide for my brothers and me. Their perseverance and entrepreneurial drive encouraged me to achieve my goal of attending Tufts University in 2003. Further empowered by the open atmosphere on campus, I was compelled to explore the world around me, and chose to enroll in an exchange program with the University of Ghana in the Fall of 2005.
My urge to understand the coexistence of the social inequalities and vibrant cultural traditions that I had witnessed in Ghana led me to return in 2007 to study the role of gold in the country’s economic and cultural development. Like the business practices of Nollywood, those of the Ghanaian gold mining industry are fraught with complexities driven by the often contradictory interests of the different segments of society. During my two weeks in Accra and its environs, I explored how corporate social responsibility is interpreted by multiple vested interests through meetings with government officials, mining executives, local chiefs, and community organizers. This introduction to a West African business framework made me reevaluate my perception of sustainable development, social accountability, and cultural agency.
Taking my degree in Art History and Entrepreneurial Leadership and coupling it with my newly acquired perspectives from my research in Ghana, I began to wonder how entrepreneurship is defined at a major U.S. cultural institution. Through my work at a The Museum of Modern Art in New York, I find similarities between Nollywood’s new partnerships with the formal sector to sustain growth and the museum’s new entrepreneurial initiatives to sustain donations. This exposure to the museum’s balancing act between its educational mission and its role as a revenue generator has given me another outlook on the interplay between public and private sectors in the non-profit art world. My varied entrepreneurial experiences–from my family’s immigrant struggles, to my undergraduate research project in Ghana, to my current role in development at the museum–draw me to investigate the Nollywood film industry, whose resourcefulness and innovation will construct the next chapter of my entrepreneurial pursuits.