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[Interview] Canon’s Somesh Adukia on the company’s investment and plans for Africa


In this lengthy interview, TechTrends Media sits down with Somesh Adukia, the Managing Director, Canon Central & North Africa to discuss the remarkable impact the company has made in Africa. 

With Africa Day having been celebrated just recently, Somesh sheds light on Canon Africa’s unwavering commitment to empowering creativity, fostering innovation, and promoting inclusivity in the region.

This is in line with this year’s Africa Day theme  “Accelerating development and diffusion of emerging technologies for a green, inclusive and resilient Africa

Kindly introduce yourself and your role at Canon Africa 

I, Somesh Adukia joined Canon in 2007 and have been appointed as the Managing Director of Canon Central & North Africa in 2020. My unwavering belief in building lasting connections with our esteemed customers, partners, and employees, fuels my drive to excel. I am deeply committed to collaborating with individuals, empowering emerging leaders, and fostering a culture of unwavering innovation within our organization. Moreover, I am a staunch advocate for diversity and inclusivity, recognizing the immeasurable value they bring. Recognizing the vital importance of cross-departmental collaboration, I actively engage and cooperate with other teams to achieve our collective goals. I prioritize effective communication with stakeholders, customers, and employees, ensuring their needs remain at the forefront of our customer-focused strategy. In my present role, I set Long and Mid Term goals for our organization and create a Direction, crafting a robust roadmap that paves the way for our organization’s success. Additionally, as a mentor, I dedicate myself to providing clear direction and guidance, empowering our teams to align their efforts and relentlessly pursue their goals.

Canon has been very active in the region over the last few years. Tell us about your recent social initiatives.  

We are happy to mention that we have undertaken quite a number of impactful initiatives as Canon Central and North Africa in line with our corporate philosophy Kyosei, living and working together for the common good. Among them are-

Women in Sales: The women-only initiative was rolled out during International Women’s Month last year in 2022, with an objective to reinforce Canon’s commitment to gender equality, emphasizing an enhanced need for female representation in sales through its year-long programme, centering internship and mentorship opportunities for young women in Central and North Africa. The selected participants were offered a year-long holistic training with the opportunity to be employed full-time by Canon. As a successful outcome of the programme, 7 out of 10 women were offered full-time employment at Canon while various others were supported in embarking on their career journey in sales. Out of the seven women who went on to pursue full-time roles with Canon, one candidate was from Kenya. The 2023 edition has commenced with the appointment of 11 trainees including 5 trainees from African region who will be a part of this programme for 12 months. 

Canon Miraisha Programme: The Miraisha programme aims to create sustainable livelihoods in Africa by providing photography, filmmaking, and print education. Through Miraisha, we have formed educational partnerships in countries like Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Ghana, and Ivory Coast. The programme has trained over 5,950 participants to date, with 550 participants receiving paid commissions. Additionally, over 350 participants have had their work screened, exhibited, or published, and more than 250 participants have received awards and industry recognition. The initiative has also empowered 20 local individuals to become Canon trainers. Notably, it allowed Kenyan photographer and filmmaker John Wambugu to become a Canon-certified Trainer and a full-time employee as a Key Account Manager for Pro-Imaging (East Africa) in Canon Central & North Africa.

Canon Young People Programme (YPP): The YPP utilizes the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) framework to provide education, skills, and equipment to young people across EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa) through visual storytelling. The program has conducted workshops and training sessions, reaching over 6,750 young people in 27 countries. Recently, Canon partnered with Lens on Life, a non-profit organization, to educate and uplift marginalized youth in Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The partnership aims to address social and environmental issues while providing photography and computer literacy training to the students, who receive free Canon cameras. Canon has also conducted educational storytelling workshops across Africa to highlight the crucial role of imaging in advocacy. These workshops have covered various themes, such as reconnecting youth with nature in Kruger National Park, promoting women’s stories and gender equality in Libya, and supporting women in Libya through educational workshops linked to the UN’s sustainable development goals.

Canon Student Development Program: Through the Canon Student Development Programme initiative, we have been able to offer opportunities such as mentorships, grants, industry visits, portfolio reviews, and networking to help photographers advance their creative journeys. Over 1,000 students have attended the program since its inception, and the 2022 edition showcased the success stories of Muhammed Mahdy from Egypt and Samuel Alabi from Nigeria who were among the 30 winners. The 2023 edition has received double the no. of submissions compared to previous year summing up to a total of 231 submissions from African region. 

Canon Ambassador Program in Africa: The Canon Ambassador program in Africa brings together exceptional photographers and videographers from the continent to collaborate with Canon and share their passion for visual storytelling. Notable ambassadors have included Emmanuel Oyeleke (Nigeria), Menna Hossam (Egypt), Yagazie Emezi (Nigeria), Aida Muluneh (Ivory Coast), and Yasmin AL Batoul (Algeria).

We are supporting local communities: Canon actively supports the communities it operates in across Africa. In collaboration with Ishara Mara, we launched a Canon Experience Centre in Maasai Mara, Kenya, in 2022. The experience center provides premium camera equipment, video and picture editing facilities, and printing services to tourists and the local community, contributing to awareness, education, and empowerment in the region. As a part of this collaboration and the company’s relentless bid to empower people and give back to the communities, Canon’s Miraisha programme envisions to educate and train the local Maasai indigenous tour-guides specially the Maasai women with necessary skills thus transforming them into content creators and professional photographers. This grassroots initiative leverages the strengths and deep knowledge of the Maasai people by empowering them with photography skills. Additionally, the programme extends to children by providing training and workshops to build their photography skills, fostering their creative development and engagement with their surroundings.

How has Canon’s commitment to enriching lives and businesses through imaging experiences fueled its growth and market expansion across Africa?

Canon’s continued growth in Africa is based on the vision of enriching lives and businesses through imaging experiences.  In Africa, Canon represents multiple markets of varied sizes and are fully committed to growing its market size and share across Africa.  With 6 local offices and 75 permanent employees, countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, and Ivory Coast predominantly fuelled Canon’s growth in the continent. 

In recent times, Africa’s economy has endured tough times triggered by currency depreciation and inflation. However, CCNA sustained its ambition to grow in Africa and invested on other important markets like Cameroon Senegal, and Congo while maintaining its presence in key African territories. Canon places a high value on cultivating strong partnerships to meet the rapidly evolving demands. The company works closely with its partners to become a true value-added sales and service company and to achieve No.1 position in all markets by accelerating growth in market share and size through a committed approach of adaptability, resilience, and openness for future sustainable business prospects. In line with Canon’s pillars of innovation, empowerment, and excellence, Canon Central and North Africa continually ensures services excellence by engaging its partners to provide the right mix of tools, training, and innovative products to go to market.

Why is Africa a very important market for you? 

Africa’s geographical location offers beauty in nature, natural resources, arts, rich in culture and so much more. As a global leader in the imaging sector, Canon is dedicated to fostering growth, development, and progress in the creative sector by offering top-notch, cutting-edge solutions that satisfy the needs of Africa’s continually changing market. Africa has a rapidly growing population and is projected to reach 2.5 billion by 2050. This sizable, rapidly urbanizing population represents a sizable consumer market with tremendous opportunity. Particularly in the areas of mobile and digital technologies, Africa has experienced considerable breakthroughs. Mobile platforms for banking and e-commerce are expanding, and this has given businesses new ways to connect with customers and complete transactions more quickly. It is important to note that while Africa holds immense potential, we at Canon have identified the importance of Africa and our consumers in Africa. Canon has been able to bring its cutting-edge and innovative products to Africa through a vast network of distributors and partners throughout the continent. This has stoked people’s passion for photography and further compelled the rest of the world to pay attention to the stories of Africans, their rich culture, and their varied history. 

You have also been working with artists, photographers, and storytellers across the African continent to bring their visions to life. What kind of lessons do you pick from working with these creatives? 

A broad range of cultures, languages, and traditions may be found throughout Africa. When you collaborate with African creatives, you are exposed to a variety of viewpoints, stories, and artistic expressions that are steeped in their distinct cultural traditions. It teaches you the value of being genuine and how to respect and represent other viewpoints and experiences. African artists often demonstrate remarkable creativity and innovation in their work. They find unique ways to convey messages, tell stories, and capture the essence of their subjects. Collaborating with African creatives can inspire you to think outside the box, embrace experimentation, and push the boundaries of your own creativity. Many African artists face unique challenges, including limited access to resources, infrastructure, and funding. Despite these obstacles, they exhibit resilience, determination, and resourcefulness in pursuing their creative visions. I’ve learnt about perseverance, adaptability, and finding innovative solutions in the face of constraints. I admire African creatives for embrace their cultural roots, traditions, and histories, and convey a sense of pride and identity through their creative expressions. They truly have taught me about the significance of embracing and celebrating your own heritage and identity. It’s important to remember that each artist, photographer, or storyteller brings their unique perspectives, experiences, and artistic styles. I’ve learnt it’s vital to be open to learning from them, embracing diversity, and fostering a mutually beneficial creative collaboration. 

What success stories can you share with us from working with these creatives? 

Our collaboration with numerous creatives has been an extraordinary journey, brimming with captivating success stories that vividly exemplify the profound impact of collaboration and innovation. Let me share a few noteworthy photographers we have collaborated with: 

Canon Ambassador Emmanuel Oyeleke and a former professional Scrabble player turned photographer, discovered his love for photography while traveling the world for tournaments. After attending a photography workshop in Lagos in 2011, he left his job as a computer programmer to pursue a freelance photography career. Recognizing his unique style and dedication, Canon appointed him as their ambassador. Today, Emmanuel’s breathtaking images are featured in top Nigerian magazines, and he collaborates with international brands on beauty and lifestyle campaigns. 

Canon Ambassador Menna Hossam from Egypt is a highly acclaimed photographer known for her ethereal and narrative-driven style. She has achieved significant success as a commercial photographer, collaborating with renowned international brands. Notably, her most remarkable project, the Ophelia series, required two years of dedicated effort. Menna explains that Ophelia, a beloved character from Shakespeare’s works, served as her inspiration due to her complexity and profound emotions. Finding the perfect model to embody Ophelia’s melancholic essence was a challenging but essential task in bringing the project to life. 

Kunle Afolayan, a Nigerian filmmaker, has achieved remarkable success in his pursuit of global recognition with his film, Citation, which is now available on Netflix worldwide. Through his journey, Canon has been a supportive collaborator, providing him with the necessary equipment to capture his vision on film. With the latest & cutting-edge technological support, Kunle’s film was able to meet international standards, further enhancing its appeal to a global audience. Hailing from Lagos and influenced by his father, renowned Nollywood director and producer Adeyemi Josiah Afolayan, Kunle’s passion for storytelling and cinema has been nurtured from a young age. Despite starting his career in banking, his unwavering love for filmmaking led him to retrain at the New York Film Academy. Since then, Kunle has emerged as a prominent figure in Nollywood, releasing successful films like Mokalik and The Figurine, while also establishing his own production companies, Kunle Afolayan Productions Television (KAPTv) and Golden Effects Pictures. 

How are you contributing to advancing technology within Africa? (Talk about your imaging and digital printing solutions) 

Canon is a leading provider of digital cameras, digital SLR cameras, inkjet printers & professional printers for business and home users. We strive to leverage our strengths in digital printing technology and our global sales and service network to establish ourselves as the worldwide leader in office and home printing solutions.

The printing industry is undergoing significant transformations, presenting us with numerous opportunities. These include the evolution of digital print technology, the rise in popularity of short-run commercial digital print, the growth of digital industrial printing, and the expanding market for digital transformation and document solutions. Additionally, as hybrid working becomes the norm and developing countries experience market growth, we are positioned to seize these favourable conditions. Furthermore, we are expanding our imaging business by extending beyond the traditional camera industry to encompass the optical industry. Similar to the printing industry, the imaging industry is also undergoing changes, offering new prospects. These include advancements in digital technology, the emergence of new content creators, disruptive players reshaping the industry, the digitalization of broadcast production, increased usage of imaging across multiple platforms by corporations, the growing adoption of imaging in various B2B sectors, and the market growth potential across African region.

Canon also offers a range of business software solutions designed to enhance productivity and streamline operations. Few among these solutions are uniFLOW and Therefore. uniFLOW is a powerful print management solution that enables secure printing, cost control, and print governance. It allows businesses to track print usage, implement user authentication, and enforce print policies, leading to improved cost management and information security. Therefore is a robust document management system that helps organizations capture, store, and retrieve critical information. It enhances data accessibility, facilitates collaboration, and ensures compliance with document retention policies. These software solutions exemplify Canon’s commitment to delivering innovative tools for optimizing business processes and driving digital transformation.

Let’s talk about partnership. Who are some of your key partners in the region? Apart from your distributors of course. 

Canon’s key business partners in Africa play a vital role in establishing the brand’s visibility and awareness in the market. These valued business partnerships have been instrumental in helping us penetrate the region and create a strong footprint. Their support has enabled us to expand, grow, and forge new partnerships with other organizations throughout Africa. In Africa, other than our business partnerships, we have various partnerships such as with Ishara Mara (in Maasai Mara), MultiChoice Factory, Film Lectures & Trainers Association of Kenya, Lagos Photo, Lens on Life Project, PEFTI, African Women in Photography, Yaba College of Technology, The NRB Bus, Uganda Press Photo Awards, National Film & Television Institute, Kenya Film Commission in Kenya under the Miraisha Programme to empower the youth by providing them with the right skills through photography. 

Our partnerships extend beyond organizations as we collaborate with influential individuals, content creators, and professional photographers within the creative industry. By recognizing and empowering them, we aim to foster growth and support in various regions of Africa.

How are these partnerships, especially with industry leaders helping Canon drive collective growth and innovation? 

Working with industry leaders gives Canon access to a large amount of experience and information. Canon can learn about the most recent trends, methods, and industry best practices by collaborating closely with well-known artists, photographers, and storytellers. By sharing information, the creative community’s changing demands are met, and Canon can remain at the forefront of innovation. Through these partnerships, Canon can better understand industry leader’s specific requirements and preferences. Partnerships with industry leaders facilitate ongoing feedback and allow for the improvement of Canon’s products and services.

Through these partnerships, Canon can gather valuable insights from these experts regarding their experiences, needs, and suggestions for enhancement which contributes to growth and innovation of our organization in terms of our products and services. Overall, these partnerships enable Canon to build a strong ecosystem of collaboration, knowledge sharing, and innovation.

Working together with industry leaders gives Canon the opportunity to enhance our products, drive creative excellence, and contribute to the growth and advancement of the broader creative community. 

What message do you have for young Africans like me and what should we look forward to from Canon? 

Africa is a continent filled with boundless potential and remarkable talent. As you embrace the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead, remember that Africa’s future is in your hands, the Youth. Your innovation, entrepreneurial spirit, and unwavering determination will drive progress and shape a brighter tomorrow. Let’s keep collaborating across boundaries and nations to create a continent where every African may prosper. 

Any closing remarks? 

We are excited to embark on an exhilarating journey filled with immense growth potential in the African continent. Our plans are set to unleash further development, prosperity, and increased employment opportunities in the region. We remain committed to fostering open channels of communication, ensuring accessibility, and eagerly embracing valuable feedback from our partners, customers, and employees. Brace yourselves for an array of exciting partnerships and collaborations lined up for 2023 and beyond! We eagerly anticipate working alongside more visionary partners, creatives, and industry leaders. Moreover, get ready to witness the launch of ground-breaking, cutting-edge imaging technology that will cater to the unique needs of both creatives and businesses. The future holds endless possibilities, and we are poised to make an indelible mark on the world. 

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Nixon Kanali

Tech journalist based in Nairobi. I track and report on tech and African startups. Founder and Editor of TechTrends Media. Nixon is also the East African tech editor for Africa Business Communities. Send tips to nkanali@techtrendske.co.ke.

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