Louisa Olafuyi couldn’t find the type of books she wanted her young son to read about his history and heritage, so she created Kunda Kids.
An award-winning publishing and media company dedicated to telling African stories for children, Kunda Kids was founded in 2020 by Louisa and Dele Olafuyi, and their vision is for “a world where children of all backgrounds can see themselves represented in the stories they read.” The Olafuyis have dedicated themselves to disrupting the publishing and content creation space by “infusing African culture into modern storylines with inspiring and adventurous characters,” in order to “create a positive impact on children’s development and help to bridge the gap between cultures.”
“Promoting diversity and inclusion in children’s literature and media,” is at the heart of Kunda Kids. To this end, their mission is to “create engaging and inspiring stories that celebrate African culture and promote essential soft skills such as self-confidence, teamwork, and kindness.” And they are delivering on that promise. Kunda Kids started with four books, today it has over 12 books, which includes; Lulu Learns, Afam and the New Yam Festival, and historical titles like Mansa Musa Builds a School, and Queen Yaa Saves the Golden Stool, in its stead. Earlier this year, it launched Kunda & Friends, a vibrant African music-led animated series about friendship and fun on YouTube. Louisa Olafuyi tells Pin Africa why she believes in the fundamental value of books and learning about Africa for children.
Pin Africa: Can you tell us why it was necessary to create Kunda Kids, especially within the UK publishing space and take the stories you are creating to the rest of the world?
Louisa Olafuyi: What we wanted to do at Kunda Kids was create a space where children’s content can be celebrated, champion African history and culture, and give Africa a seat on the global publishing table where it’s often missing. When you think about your favourite celebrity or whoever does a music world tour, it seldom includes Africa. Similarly, in the context of education and educational content for children, when we think about global appeal, it often doesn’t include appealing to Africa and celebrating Africa. This is the main thing we did, which was a necessity. Not only did we address diversity and inclusion, and the lack thereof, but also the importance of other cultures learning about Africa and celebrating Africa. The same way we learn and celebrate other countries, cultures, and continents.
When you started, Kunda Kids was print focused. However, in recent times, there has been a shift to a more digital approach. Now, it’s all encompassing and includes; print, digital, you even have a YouTube series, Kunda & Friends. Why was it important to evolve and make that shift from print to a more digital model?
Yes, we started in print with four books which were based on pre-colonial African kings and queens. This was because we felt there wasn’t much information resource or entertainment which really centred on African history from a pre-colonial perspective for children. This was a key for us because the misconception, unfortunately, for a lot of children and even educators who are adults is that Black history starts and ends with slavery. As unfortunate as slavery was, it’s a piece and part of our history. It isn’t our history in its entirety.
Equally, the publishing industry, where I’ve worked for a number of years, was under threat by the digitalisation of reading. I remember there being a point where people thought, well, the days of physical books are over. When we started Kunda Kids, a number of people questioned why we were going down this path, into physical products? Why don’t you just go straight into digital? Our end users are digital natives, Gen Alpha. There’s no denying the importance of digital in their lives. Digital is life. But at the same time, Dele and I really believe in the fundamental value of physical books and the role they still play in education and in educational spaces. Blended learning is something I’ve come to learn quite a lot about and have engaged with quite extensively, and that’s the understanding and awareness of the pros and cons around the importance of physical educational materials, and digital materials too.
Hence, we wanted to start with something that was physical, something that was easy and intuitive to get into schools and libraries, and connect with educationalists. There’s also something very beautiful and intrinsically special about a physical book. We wanted children around the world, especially children across Africa, and in the diaspora to have something that not only represented them, but they could hold, touch, cherish and see it with love.
There’s plenty of room for us to evolve in the digital space. We wanted to make a commitment to not only publishing, but to children’s memories about storytelling. The stories they’ll remember as adults probably won’t be the ones that they read on their Kindle. It’ll be the ones that they stuffed in their bag, are rugged and are even missing a front cover because they’ve read it so many times. We wanted that for Kunda Kids.
When you were researching the marketplace, on your journey to entrepreneurship and in the early days of Kunda Kids, what were some of the startling or unconscious bias about publishing stories for African and Black children within children publishing and content creation space you had to navigate, which informed your vision for Kunda Kids and spurred you on to create the change you wanted to see.
I would say one of the biases which stands out, and we wanted to address head-on and unapologetically, is that black, diverse books featuring people of colour are only for people of colour. Sometimes, we go to events and we’ll meet somebody that’s not Black or Caucasian say wow, ‘these are lovely books my neighbour would love this, or, my son’s friend would love this.’ And they don’t see the need or the relationship with learning about other people’s cultures and bringing it into their own experience?
The main thing we wanted to break down was this idea that Black books or Black content is just for Black people? We wanted to show there’s a fundamental value in learning about Africa, and Africa has an impact on the world. There’s nothing we experience, all of us collectively, that doesn’t have to do with, hasn’t been touched by, or been built, or influenced by Africa or Africans. And for that reason, it’s really important to learn about it, and celebrate it. Kunda Kids was created to be that open space that truly does celebrate diversity and inclusion, but with a focus on uplifting Africa. It’s a people’s thing. That we’re showcasing Black people doesn’t mean it’s not relevant to you.
Earlier this year, Kunda Kids launched Kunda & Friends, an online YouTube series. Your son is the inspiration behind Kunda Kids, the company. Now that you are taking the platform into the digital content creation space, what was the spark for the series and why was it necessary to diversify into audio visual content as part of the footprints of Kunda Kids within the content creation space for children?
Dele, my husband, and co-founder, we’re audacious people. I remember when we had our son, Ire, he was about six months old, and we were watching Cocomelon on YouTube, thinking this is great but it’s not diverse. What about African content? When we tried to search for content we felt was a bit more culturally rich, we found there was a sacrifice that would be made regarding the quality of it. So, you either watch the best produced content, but you don’t feel like you’re represented, or you feel like you’re represented but it’s not going to be the best designed. It’s not going to have a great production, regular episodes or additional content. I really despise this notion of hand-me-downs for Africa, and for our community. I can’t stand it. We deserve the best. Moreover, economically, we are huge consumers. Not only do we consume, but our contribution to culture is invaluable. Hence, why is it that we don’t get to have the best. That’s when we thought let’s do it.
It’s also the fact that we felt there’s a lot of content in the upper-primary space, but not much in pre-school. We decided to develop something and see how it goes. We wanted to develop content that celebrated African music and sounds, similar to everything Black Panther, the film did for us, making us proud to go to the cinema. It was more than a movie, it was a movement. And look at how powerful that is.
We were very intentional to make sure Kunda & Friends had an African name. Kunda means love in Uganda. It also means a lot of other positive things in other languages and is one of my son’s given names in Uganda. But above that, it’s created by Creatures Animations, which is an animation studio in Uganda. Not only is it created by an African founded team, which is Kunda Kids, it’s also created by an all African Ugandan animation studio based in Uganda, founded by former Disney director, Ray Malinga, who is Ugandan, and lives in Uganda. We really wanted to shout about the talent coming out of the continent and to show the level of quality we have attained is doable, achievable, and scalable; if we can recognise it, and start investing, supporting and nurturing talent coming out of the continent. We wanted to show it can be done.
“I really despise this notion of hand-me-downs for Africa, and for our
community. I can’t stand it. We deserve the best.”
Why is diversity and diversifying representation in the publishing and content space an integral aspect of your business, especially as an African-owned, African-inspired platform focused on creative content for children?
First and foremost, the importance of books and publishing cannot be understated. There’s a saying which I despise, and want to break down. It’s something I used to hear when I was younger, which is ‘if you ever want to hide anything from a Black person, put it in a book.’
There’s elitism around publishing for a reason. Books are information. Not only is it information, books are the gatekeeper of enlightenment for a lot of us, especially in a very digital focused environment where everybody is consuming something that’s no more than seven seconds long on a tiny handheld device or a tablet. Our attention span is getting shorter. Children’s attention spans are getting shorter, in fact, the National Literacy Trust released a report that said over half of children in the UK do not enjoy reading for fun. That’s because of some issues within content around publishing, but also because publishing is fighting against all of this fast-paced digital content, which means it becomes even easier for the publishing industry to be more elitist. People and children that do have access to well written, beautifully illustrated books that teach them things, learn about themselves and other people. This can become something only a small subset of children have access to, and have interest in. There are clear links between children’s literacy levels and their confidence levels. Children that have an interest in stories, enjoy reading, have access to books, and have people to support them on their literacy journey show much higher levels of confidence, positive self-awareness than those who don’t. Unfortunately in this age where everybody wants to be on social media, it’s not having a positive effect on children. It’s having the least positive effect on children who don’t have access to books and literature.
This is why at Kunda Kids, as much as we have the app which is amazing, Kunda & Friends is essential given the importance of YouTube and online content. Likewise, it’s still necessary to pitch ourselves in the publishing physical books space because of how important children’s books are, and how difficult it is for children who are part of disadvantaged communities to access books. We understand the direct impact of reading a book and having good outcomes in later life.
Kunda Kids raised $700,000 in pre-seed funding. Given the challenges African start-ups go through to secure investment or women-owned businesses gaining access to funding, how much of a boost is this for Kunda Kids and how will it enable you to expand the vision for reaching a more global market and audience?
We raised and closed a successful pre-seed round at the end of 2022, which we then made public at the beginning of this year.
They say be what you see. I didn’t see anybody doing what we’ve done, and are doing, especially as a Black female founder. It’s not common to have been able to raise pre-seed and get institutional investment. In fact, statistically, it’s only 0. 2% of start-ups with a Black female founder receive funding up to pre-seed. So, what I’ve been able to achieve with Dele is something that isn’t unique, but is very rare, and we don’t see it especially within the UK start-up ecosystem.
It’s fantastic that we’ve been able to break down barriers. More so in the education publishing space that’s even less diverse. The pre-seed round didn’t just happen. When we started Kunda Kids we invested our personal savings and finances to help us publish our first few books.
When we decided we wanted to create an app because we knew not everybody can afford books as much as we tried to print in a way that enabled us to sell at a competitive price. We know it’s still a luxury for a lot of people around the world to be able to have a brand new book. As sad as it sounds, it’s the reality of things. Hence, we wanted to be able to go digital. In order to do that, we raised a friends and family seed round first. The friends and family round is so much scarier than the pre-seed round because it’s scary asking people that know you for money. But I think it was the best test bed for what we were doing. If your friends and family can’t believe in what you’re doing, and put something towards it, it might be that you need to rethink what you’re doing to a degree.
Sometimes, it’s so much easier asking a stranger than asking people that know you because not only are they evaluating your business and the credentials of your business, they’re also evaluating your personality and your reputation. It’s an indication of whether they trust you and believe in you as an individual, not just the business. Much of doing business is people doing business with people, and people believing in you. Yes, your business and your traction has a lot to do with it, but it also has a lot to do with you as a person. The fundraising was really positive, we raised $170,000 through our friends and family, which was amazing. This was based on the strength of having a fantastic network of friends and people who really believed in us and took a bet on us. This was a really positive sign to investors, not only about the business, but also about the strength of us, our reputation and integrity as founders.