Photocredit: Neec Nonso for AfricaNXT 2023

In February, I took a short break from crunching marketing operations at Generation to volunteer for the second time with the AfricaNXT’s team to execute AfricaNXT 2023, an annual flagship event led by Ngozi Odita and the Afrika21 team. It was indeed a great time to unplug from work, reconnect with old folks & colleagues, and contribute my skills to the success of something big.

This year, the conference was themed “Cooperate, Collaborate, Innovate, Unlocking Our Potential, Ensuring Africa’s Prosperity” and brought together over 3000 registered attendees to dissect big ideas on how Africa can scale exponentially with strong collaborations across board.

The program design and experience, this year, is definitely more immersive and encompassing in comparison to previous editions. The event enveloped sub-pillars including the MediaSummitAfrica, ClimateConnect Summit, PROSPR Fintech + Financial Inclusion Summit, DestinationNXT Travel + Tourism Summit, MusicSummit, GovTalkAfrica Summit, WebFuturesAfrica Summit, EdFutures Summit and WomenFWD Summit. Each fostering a wide range of discussions. 

It wasn’t always that way though. For context, AfricaNXT evolved from its initial nomenclature “Social Media Week Lagos (SMW Lagos)” which was thematically focused on discussing ideas and trends on leveraging social media to drive growth for the continent.

The biggest downside to the previous nomenclature and approach was that topics and speakers year in year out were similar which created monotony in the program experience. AfricaNXT, in its nomenclature and design, solves for the humdrum and truly typifies one of the largest convergence of innovators from across Africa and the Diaspora.

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Photocredit: Twitter

However, despite the 11-year strong stint, this year’s event wrestled several challenges which created a noticeable sharp decline in the attendance numbers from what used to be about 10,000 to about 2,000 attendees across the week. I’ve highlighted 2 core ones below:

  • The Cash Crunch + Fuel Scarcity in Nigeria: In 2022, the CBN governor, Godwin Emefiele announced a cash redesign policy which mandated all citizens to change their ‘old’ 200, 500, and 1,000 Naira bills to newly redesigned ones by February 2023. This created a huge currency scarcity weeks leading to the event.

In the same vein, petrol scarcity became severe in February leading to long queues at filling stations and a hike in fuel prices. This led to a corresponding increase in transportation costs.

Given that Nigeria is heavily a cash-based economy, the uneven spread of the notes made paying for transportation even more difficult. Registered attendees preferred to skip the trouble and stay at home. Hence, smaller attendance for AfricaNXT.

  • Low Brand recognizability + Marketing: A fundamental challenge I identified was that a good number of people didn’t even know that ‘SMW Lagos’ was what became ‘AfricaNXT’. A good chunk of people saw both as 2 different entities and not an evolution. This became even more apparent when a friend lamented the “dearth” of SMW Lagos when we discussed some of the networking events we’d be attending over the course of the year in March.

Additionally, I thought the team took their foot off the gas when it came to marketing. The kind of marketing SMW Lagos used to get wasn’t the same as what AfricaNXT was having. I guess the team expected that the track record would speak for itself – but the situation was a two-headed hydra.

Summarily, the low brand recognition and marketing meant lower footfall at AfricaNXT

What next for AfricaNXT?

The economic challenge is one that couldn’t have been anticipated and isn’t in anyone’s control. However, the brand recognizability and marketing challenge can be dealt with.

A lot of thought needs to go into a creative campaign that communicates the evolution of SMW Lagos to AfricaNXT and brings all the supporters and followers of the former into the fold of the latter. Then, the team must invest effectively in marketing for the next edition(s) leveraging their built community/followership.

Rooting for the team to deliver a more excellent AfricaNXT 2024.

Thumbnail photo by Neec Nonso for AfricaNXT 2023