Can entertainment be a vehicle for social good? I've written often on this blog about the emerging fourth sector of the economy, comprised of companies who allocate their capabilities and profits toward the benefit of their community and the world. Could such a model take root in the world of media as well?
Consider this intriguing philanthropic effort spearheaded by R&B superstar Akon and his partner Nickie Shapira, entrepreneur and CEO of Akonic Entertainment, their full-service entertainment company with a global focus. Together Akon, of Senegalese descent, and Shapira have created Vodacom Superstar, a sort of African answer to American Idol, all designed to support emerging singers and potential recording artists in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, traditionally a center for musical talent on the continent.
As Shapira told me, "The genesis of Vodacom Superstar was born out of our desire to develop and highlight the talented youth in DR Congo. We saw the attention that DRC was getting from the USA community. However, all of it was focused on showing the horrible effects of war, and we wanted to show another face of the country."
An energetic, youth-driven talent competition in the popular vein, Vodacom Superstar began its second season in March after a wildly popular first season during which episodes ran on five of the top television channels in the country, re-airing night after night until the next episode's premiere, captivating the nation all the while.
The winner of season one, Innocent, claimed a $25,000 prize, plus the chance to record a single with Akon. The track is expected to drop in Congo on June 11th when a second season champion is crowned. You can check out Innocent's finale performance right over here.
Ultimately, though, the show is about exposure, not just for the winner but for all of the contestants, and even the judges and vocal coaches, several of whom have landed their own recording opportunities.
As you might imagine, the rigors of such a production are many. The show is shot entirely on location in DR Congo, a country with little television production infrastructure, where the American crew must cope with electrical outages, transportation problems and a host of other logistical challenges.
But the presence of the show in that nation has been a boon not just for the artists beamed onto television screens around the country, but also for a whole host of ancillary retailers and local businesses, makeup artists, hair stylists getting a chance to develop their skills and grow their own ventures.
Most striking, the venture is solely focused on its agenda of social good. Says Shapira, "In its entirety, the show is a philanthropic endeavor. Akon doesn't make money on the show. We don't turn a profit from the show as a production company. The idea is to develop the musical talent in Congo. Just as philanthropists in our country's history thought it important to foster the arts, it is important for us to help this country that had its first democratic election in 2006 and is emerging after years of war. We are cultivating a new generation of stars."