Aya Consulting is founded by Muna D. Lobé, a trained social anthropologist, and educator with extensive international research and work experience in Europe, Africa, North America, and the Caribbean. Aya Consulting provides innovative, tailored and culturally sound Program Design & Management to artists, art practitioners, corporate entities, and institutions. Muna’s mission with Aya Consulting is to create, support and enhance programmes and projects rooted in the desire to showcase the culturally rich realities and talents of the African continent, the Caribbean and diasporic spaces across the world. Strongly rooted in this mission is the principle of gender equality and consistently promoting gender awareness and engaging in projects with the commitment to urge women to involve themselves in the Arts, Culture, and Education.
In this interview, we chat with Muna D. Lobé on how she started Aya Consulting and her journey so far
Hi Muna, Can you tell us more about you, your personal/professional story?
My name is Muna Lobé and I am a 36-year-old French national. My mother is West Indian (Guadeloupe, French Antilles) and my father is originally from Cameroon and Ghana. I was born in Guadeloupe and grew up in Switzerland, France & the United States. I hold an M.A. and an M.Phil in Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology which have led me to work as Project & Program Manager as well as Senior Consultant for major international organisations such as the Inter-American Development Bank & the Sandals Resort Group in the Caribbean and Fairtrade International & Fairtrade Africa in West & East Africa. I have recently relocated to France – where my family is based – to give birth to my daughter.
Aya Consulting looks and feels like a Kindred spirit! We love it. How did you come up with the idea? And what are the details of what you do?
AYA Consulting was borne out of a strong desire to combine everything that is dear to me and in a way, everything that has propelled me to where I am today, as a person and professional: the Arts, Culture, Education, extensive travels, my love for the African continent, the Caribbean and my interest in building (needed) bridges between those two spatial and cultural entities and the Diaspora. After having intensely worked in international development and education, I wanted to continue spearheading long-lasting, innovative projects but on my own terms, i.e. arts-driven and with supportive collaborators in an enabling environment. So AYA is about either supporting (and enhancing) or conceptualising projects in the Arts and Culture. It can be curating a contemporary art exhibition, drafting and presenting a project to acquire institutional or organisational funding, hosting a fundraising event or gala; providing educational leadership for a burgeoning art gallery and/or museum; strengthening an artist’s portfolio to apply for a highly sought-after residency, etc. Each project we delve into has to be educationally driven; focused on promoting Africa, the Caribbean, and/or diasporic spaces; gender relevant (by that I mean that gender sensitivity, fairness and if applicable, women empowerment are clearly at the very heart of ALL our initiatives).
Do share some of your favourite projects with us and what you love most about your work.
Let me start by saying that the people I have been privileged to work with are all quite exceptional and all the lessons learned are invaluable. I guess our biggest (but also most ambitious project to-date) was the Acu-painting Workshop hosted at the School of the Visual & Performing Arts in Kingston, Jamaica. Our client (Alexis Peskine) is a renowned Afro-Brazilian/French visual artist & fashion photographer who lives and works between Paris and Dakar (when he is not traveling to Bahia or New York). The project intended to have Alexis host a multi-disciplinary workshop with the students to share his unique technique and artistic approach. In turn, the students would produce monumental pieces with Alexis for a collective exhibition to be held at one of the most famous heritage sites in the Jamaican capital: the Devon House Mansion. From getting the school to host Alexis on campus and granting him VIP access, to ordering and shipping all necessary tools and equipment, to interviewing the students on a daily basis to fully document the 4-month process on our Facebook and Tumblr pages to curating the collective exhibition, and even to facilitating the subsequent art sale, AYA did it all. It was an extraordinary journey which I would not have been able to complete had it not been for a terrific yet small locally-based team of gifted and reliable professionals: a photographer/videographer, an artistic director, a PR consultant, and two interns)! What I love most about my job is how different and intense each day can become. It is so reflective of Life with a capital L. I am also very excited about our upcoming MasterClasses in Creative Storytelling! I am lining up amazing hosts and the location is definitely a travel must-see!
Can you share a snippet of your typical day with us? What happens once you get off the bed?
There really isn’t a typical day! (Laughter) However, things are now different as 1. I am the very proud and blessed Mama of a one-year-old and 2. I have decided to primarily focus on AYA Consulting and am therefore not working for an international organisation while fully managing AYA. I am enjoying greater freedom yes but also increased responsibility (-ies)! At the moment, a typical day starts with spending quality time with my daughter (breakfast, play time, storytelling, …) then, using her morning nap to plan my day, make important calls or respond to emails. Once she is at daycare three afternoons out of five, I can continue to work (I use the afternoons to usually host or attend virtual or face-to-face meetings). I resume work late at night after dinner and once my Pumpkin is sleeping. 🙂 I have planned on going back to exercising twice a week (I am a Pilates freak and I love swimming).
What problems have faced so far building across Caribbean, Africa and diasporic spaces across the globe?
I would say one of the greatest challenges working on the continent or in the Caribbean is finding like-minded people who view the Arts and Culture as essential tools for radical political and societal change and not just entertainment. There are enumerable forward thinkers and emerging cultural leaders but their initiatives are often poorly funded, marginally broadcast and do not, at least in my opinion, rally people in a substantial and sustainable way. Government leaders and decision makers at established institutions including universities and art schools or museums are often times conservative and therefore not inclined to support trailblazing initiatives. With the increasingly growing reach of social media platforms, I am however becoming optimistic as access to compelling creative programs is greater (and perhaps more inclusive) than before.
What does Creativity mean to you?
Creativity is synonymous of boldness, inventiveness, imagination, and risk-taking. It’s about thinking and acting forward, even when the obstacles are many and the task immense. Creativity is also about shifting old paradigms and redefining norms. In a way, it is also about shaping your life and career the way that makes most sense to you while finding and giving meaning to it… for you and others.
3 Women you admire.
My mother – A pan-Africanist from the Caribbean, an extraordinary Language professor, a feminist, a compassionate, intelligent, independent, loyal, responsible and loving human being and ‘wombman’ ; Toni Morrison and her incredible gift for combining the intangible and eery with the rectitude of carefully crafted prose; Ava Duvernay for being such an exceptional visual storyteller and an incredible influencer beyond the cinematic sphere.
Favourite resources, websites, and books.
Books: Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh; Tarun Tejpal’s The Alchemy of Desire; Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus; Taiye Selasi’s Ghana must go; Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the world and me… to name a few…
My favorites websites are actually featured on the AYA Consulting website (“Nos Coups de Coeur”)… some of them are Spirited Pursuits by Cameroonian-American Lee Kitumbe or the Afri-love Women blog curated by Kenyan Designer & Illustrator Lulu Kitololo or Travel Noire by Nigerian American entrepreneur extraordinaire Zim Ugochukwo. And last but certainly not least, my beside table read of the moment is The Little Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women by Otegha Uwagba! 🙂