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UJ-UB Tour (Africa by Bus): Bolatito Agbebi Reflects on Presenting on the Influence of the Metaverse on African Brands

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If a window of opportunity appears, don’t pull down the shade – Tom Peters

The quote above sums up the importance of internationalisation for universities. Internationalisation is an opportunity to gain insight into the world, particularly the practices and processes of operating in other institutions. These learnings are not only valuable to overcome barriers and advance institutions; they also foster relationship building.

Africa by Bus is an exciting internationalisation project that involves a number of trips to various African countries aimed at relationship building and exposing students to other African higher learning institutions. The Africa by Bus – University of Johannesburg-University of Botswana (UJ-UB) tour to Botswana that took place from the 11 to 14 October 2022, was an exciting opportunity that improved my academic and adventure lens. Approximately 35 students and academics from UJ went on the tour.

I was inspired to apply for the program because I wanted to see how students in other African nations think, see life; and to learn from them and utilize this knowledge in my own learning journey. I am glad I embraced the opportunity because it was indeed an enlightening adventure. The people of Botswana were so friendly; the students at UB were welcoming and so interested to learn about what was happening in South Africa. I met with other communications students and learned about the intriguing history of the Basotho people. My overall experience was beyond words could explain, but I will say it in three words: intriguing, exciting and enlightening.

One of the major highlights of the UJ-UB tour was the conference, which was themed Visioning Digital Africa: Generating Local Content, Creative Careers and Positive Online Experiences. I presented for the first time on the topic: Influence of the Metaverse on African Brands focusing on the public, private and higher education sector. The presentation emphasised how it important to gain more understanding on how to introduce the Metaverse concept to Africans; also that it is important that we view and treat Africa as a brand on its own with its unique own stakeholders.

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Personally, I think this is a very relevant and exciting topic, and I chose the topic to share my knowledge with others. I looked at Africa as a brand because it can be regarded as a mix of modern and historical connotations that is relevant in marketing. Maurya and Mishra (2012:122) argued that brand “penetrates every aspect…economic, social, cultural, sporting…” Africa carries its own identity and image that is evident in all spheres. Africa is a system and it consist of sub-systems that are the several countries; therefore, if anything goes wrong in one nation it affects the whole of Africa directly or indirectly. When customers think about a brand, they recollect the beliefs and claims about the brand and these are utilized when it comes to rational processing because strong brands are related to our emotions (Maurya & Mishra, 2012:122).

The topic was inspired by the curriculum from my Advanced Diploma in Communication Management modules offered at the UJ Department of Strategic Communication, which made me explore more on the topic Metaverse. The Metaverse is a 3-dimensional digital environment that mimics or is a replica of the physical world and the next generation of what we know as the Internet. The transition from the physical sense of doing things (shop, communicate, work) to doing them online through the use of avatars (a virtual representation of yourself as a user in the online world) without having to move from your comfort zone. Avatars are created and dressed according to an individual’s customization preference; these avatars then become their identity in the Metaverse.

Now, looking at Africa as a brand in this context, many of the primary stakeholders are emotionally attached to African products, some stakeholders understand the brand meaning as vibrant, colourful, creative, and thus give a brand response in that regard. With this understanding, I then explained the possible positive and negative effects of the Metaverse on the African brand looking at the public, private and higher education sector.
The way my lecturers [Professor Maritha Pritchard and Professor Corne Meintjes] taught me aroused my curiosity and made me start to think of how Africans can use this new technological advancement for the greater good of nations, companies and institutions.

In my research, I realized that strategic communicators play a major role in influencing how Africans embrace the concept of the Metaverse as they will guide, educate and shape the thinking of these stakeholders. My presentation sought to address the problem of the under-representation of the African brand in the Metaverse space. It highlighted the possible likelihood and risks of the Metaverse on the public, private and higher education sectors in Africa. For example, if the home affairs department and other government institutions in African countries are erected on the Metaverse, long queues will be reduced as people will apply for their passports or identity documents in the comfort of their homes. However, it is important to consider the risks, for instance, the risk that fraudsters can hijack people’s Metaverse identity or personal identity.

I was humbled by the engaging response of the audience as the topic was new to many of them. One of the students said to me “the Metaverse is really the future” and I totally agreed. It awakened their imagination, brought their minds alive and I was happy it stirred up their curiosity as well. After the presentation and the rest of the trip, I was nicknamed “Miss Metaverse, the Metaverse girl” which was quite funny but meant something to me. It meant that the presentation is likely to not be easily forgotten. This response gives me hope that African youths can make the African brand be among the trendsetters of new technological innovations.

Overall, the trip was fun, exciting, educative and inspiring. It gave me a platform to present a topic I am passionate about and helped me gain knowledge through others as well.

Edited by Seriane Morapeli

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