Browse Author: Spectra Speaks

Spectra is an award-winning writer, media advocate, and new media consultant. Her work explores the relationship between culture, technology, and philanthropy, and her writing, gender, media, and the African diaspora. She's also the founder of QWOC Media Wire and community philanthropy programs officer at Africans in the Diaspora (AiD). Her mantra: "Love is my revolution."

Surviving the Holidays as Queer People of Color: Give the Gift of Media

I Don’t Know about You, But Responding to LGBT 101 Questions Over the Holidays Isn’t My Cup of Eggnog 

Queer Christmas Ad: "Someone Please Save Me."As a group that is routinely judged, shunned, and fighting for acceptance, we as LGBTI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex) people are often pigeon-holed into playing the role of educator to the people that inflict the most pain on us, however inadvertently by our friends and family members (who some, or even most of the time really do mean well).

Given how heavily politicized LGBTI identities are (ie: constantly in the news as an issue for political debate) it’s challenging for our loved ones to get to know us as individual people versus some issue they’re not well-versed on or quite sure when and how to speak about.

They say the wrong things, often. So who’s the man in the relationship?” They believe and perpetuate stereotypes even when they mean to be supportive. You’re not a typical gay, flaunting your sexuality all over the place. They fear we’ll end up as the caricatures the media sometimes makes us out to be. I didn’t pay all your school fees for you to spend your time protesting half-naked in the street in glitter. And, unfortunately, given how much pain we’ve experienced at their words and their silence, we aren’t that great at helping them broaden their understanding of who we really are.

Our suffering decreases our emotional capacity to offer straight people the space and time through which they can explore their own feelings, and get their questions answered, a stalemate. But it doesn’t always have to be that way.

When I first started dating women, and came out to my siblings, first my sister, then my brother, I too was unsure of how to facilitate conversations about who I was, that is, without getting angry when they made callous statements that showed their lack of understanding, and, in defense, sound like a textbook e.g. (read in valley girl accent): “gender identity is separate from sexual orientation but heteronormativity causes society to conflate the two, which is totally problematic.” Goodness, who talks like that to their mother??

Teach Me How to Be an Ally

Moreover, it had taken me 20+ years to finally accept that I preferred to date women, and after this realization, I was still figuring out exactly what that meant. How could I have expected friends and family members to get on board immediately after I told them? Or even within a matter of weeks, or months? Shoot, less than five years ago, I was still wearing dresses until I realized that I felt more comfortable presenting as a more masculine person (much to the dismay of my poor mother, who dreamed of me in a beautiful, white wedding gown, and “well done-up” face she could boast came from her lineage on my wedding day — sigh).

As much as I yearned to be embraced (not just accepted, embraced) by my loved ones, it didn’t seem fair to my family (or even to myself) to expect that they would come to an understanding of this new me more quickly than I did. Nevertheless, placing myself directly in the line of fire — insensitive, inappropriate questions fueled by their curiosity (or judgement) — wasn’t working.

I quickly learned that forcing people to confront the elephant in the room (and there were many — more masculine clothing, a crazy frohawk, new friends, a compulsive habit of pointing out which well-liked celebrities were gay/lesbian/bi) wasn’t going to bridge the divide I felt growing between me and my siblings, or my parents. I couldn’t sacrifice my mental health for their education about who I was; I needed someone or something else to do the job.

Media Can Help Us Tell Our Stories (Even When We’re Not In the Room)

Audre Lorde: The Berlin YearsHence, just as I had searched for information that I could relate to, articles, films, people, I needed to encourage my family to do the same. Also, my support of their own process of (re)relating to me was critical; since dragging them to “rainbow parties” or “queer womyn of color sister circles” felt too extreme at the time. I didn’t want to make them or my friends uncomfortable, but I also wanted to avoid having to be their sole resource on LGBTI issues. Media was the only other way I could think of to appeal to their hearts, and evoke enough empathy so that they would do the rest of the work to get to know me again.

Back then (early 2000s), I didn’t have much to work with; most of the LGBTI films on Netflix, including the L Word featured mainly white privileged characters. But then, I discovered Saving Face, a film drama-comedy about two lesbian Chinese-American girls navigating family expectations about career and marriage. That film was the closest I had to reflecting the complexities of my identity as a queer person of color who was also an immigrant — another narrative that is also missing from mainstream media.

I remember making my sister watch the film, and noticing afterwards–even though she may not have–how it changed our conversations and relationship for the better. She loved the film so much because she could relate to the immigrant-in-America theme, the plight of the main character, who was torn between following  family tradition and making her own choices. After watching the film, my sister saw my own circumstance in a new light, making her my biggest advocate and ally within my family.

I remember my brother and his best friend cringing at a scene in Trans America where a trans woman was forced into a masculine gender role by her mother when she visited; long after the film ended, they shook their heads at how “mean” society could be towards people they didn’t understand. I remember the first time my brother said out loud that he could never see me in a dress again, “that it wouldn’t be right,” and knowing that Trans America had created the first opening for me to share that I never quite felt like a “regular” girl.

Our Greatest Tool for Social Change is Empathy (Through Storytelling)


There’s something about media that lowers our defenses and makes it easier for us to learn, to accept, to connect. Yet, when we talk about “pushing for change”, we often leave out how much media and pop culture–and the narratives they depict we can relate to–humanize issues, and ultimately influence the people we love (and hope to be loved by).

But it’s time for a paradigm shift. Instead of arming yourselves with jargon infused rhetoric about “systemic oppression” and “gender binaries”, I’m going to go out on a limb here: To your parents who don’t quite get it, your siblings who do but don’t know how to help you, your apathetic cousin who is reluctant to get involved, or your baby niece who isn’t quite the homophobe yet but is on a steady media diet of prince-and-princess narratives courtesy of the Disney channel and Nickolodeon, I suggest that you give the gift of media.

Here’s why: In a recent study on the effects of fiction (storytelling), researchers assessed the mood and self-identification of readers before and after popular fiction novels, and found that the overall empathy i.e. ability to relate to (and, in fact, see themselves as) one of the characters, significantly increased.

In a paper published in a psychology journal, Gabriel and Young write:

“… books provide the opportunity for social connection and the blissful calm that comes from becoming a part of something larger than oneself for a precious, fleeting moment….reading fiction improves understanding of others, and this has a very basic importance in society, not just in the general way making the world a better place by improving interpersonal understanding, but in specific areas such as politics, business, and education.”

What does this mean for queer people of color? Our friends and our families are more likely to relate to who we are through a novel, a film, a song than they are a blog post titled, “How to Be an LGBT Ally.” It doesn’t mean that non-fiction articles, political campaigns, blog post “call outs”, and legal advocacy, are less important strategies, but I dare say they may not be as relevant around the average holiday dinner table.

In the face of funding cuts for the arts, and the constant (and annoying) trivialization of media as a tool for advocacy by LGBTI activists, it’s easy to dismiss personal storytelling, fiction, film, even music as powerful tools to invoke empathy and not just “social change”, but the stronger, closer interpersonal relationships that bring about this change. Still, we owe it to ourselves to invest in the relationships that matter to us the most by daring to facilitate critical conversations (in plain language!) about who we really are. So why not give your relationships a fighting chance and give the gift of media this holiday season?

What do you think of using media as a strategy to come out to friends and family? Have you tried this in the past? What was your experience? Also, not all media is ideal for the “101” conversations; feel free to suggest any other films, books, or music by queer people of color and/or the African Diaspora that you feel would be a great addition to this list. 

This Is What an African Feminist Looks Like

The following interview was originally published on July 13, 2012 at Ms. Magazine via the Femisphere, a profile interview series about feminists in the blogsphere curated by Avital Norman Nathman (@mamafesto). The series featured three Nigerian feminists, prompting my reflection on “internet lists” via the post, “What Does an African Feminist Look Like?” (and even a head-nod from Melissa Harris-Perry!). I’m reposting it on here because, apparently, some of my readers missed the original interview, and had trouble finding it on the Ms. Magazine site. Enjoy.  

The Femisphere: African Feminist Bloggers

Spectra High Res

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer and women’s rights activist, and the voice behind Spectra Speaks, which publishes news, opinions and personal stories about gender, media and diversity as they pertain to Africa and the Diaspora. She is also founder and executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire, a media advocacy and publishing organization that amplifies the voices of lesbian, bisexual, queer and/or transgender women of color, diaspora and other racial/ethnic minorities around the world.

Located: Somewhere in southern Africa Website:
Twitter: @spectraspeaks
Blog Post Pride: Saying No to Saviorism and Celebrating Africa’s Resistance“Reflections from a Woman of Color on the War on Women: My Sisters-in-Arms, We Are NOT United”

What topics do you find you write about most frequently?

My writing isn’t so much about the topics I write about as it is how I write about them. There are the usual suspects–women, gender, LGBT and other identity issues–filtered through an international lens due to my Nigerian heritage and media advocacy and development work in Africa. But I also take the approach of highlighting solutions versus contributing to the constant re-articulation of problems I find over-saturates the feminist blogosphere. I pride myself on thinking forward, and so I push myself to write from a place of hope and positivity. I believe that personal relationships, not just rhetoric, are the building blocks of progress, and that winning hearts–not just arguments–are what bring about real change. My Afrofeminist principles are a roadmap for navigating the spaces between us as human beings, towards deeper, more empathic connections. My mantra is “Love is My Revolution”.

How has Afrofeminism informed what you write/focus on?

Afrofeminism is how I move through the world; how I live, learn and evolve. Afrofeminism is my personal compass, a way for me to stay centered as I navigate life as an idealist using a constellation of frameworks–feminism, social justice, spirituality and others. Afrofeminism guides every step I take forward, as it is grounded in my multi-layered, trans-national identity and personal experiences. For instance, as an African woman, my feminism manifests as an unapologetic focus on the empowerment of other African women and the diaspora. As the executive editor of Queer Women of Color Media Wire (QWOC Media Wire), I’m intentional about publishing content that portrays the diversity of voices and experiences of the diaspora from all over the world, not just western countries.

Have you found that blogging/Twitter/the Internet in general helps the reach/impact of African feminists, and if so, in what ways (or why not)?

Absolutely. I once thought I was the only queer Nigerian on the web. I tweeted that one day, only to have it retweeted by at least five other queer Nigerians. And with that, we each found community. The same has been true for finding other African feminists. I’d felt excluded from mainstream feminist spaces as a woman of color in the United States (and furthermore as an African immigrant, even within women of color feminist spaces). Writing about African women’s issues has exposed me to an entire network of inspiring African women writers, activists and feminists online.

Earlier on this year, a group of us decided to start using the hashtag #afrifem to organize conversations around African feminist issues on Twitter. I now follow it religiously to stay up to date on what my sisters are doing in different parts of the world and, of course, engage in challenging, important conversations with other African feminists. Yet, the benefits of this haven’t just been experienced virtually; using online tools has also made it possible to connect with African feminists offline, too. Earlier this year, for instance, online relationships directly resulted in an invitation from one of my tweets to participate as a panelist at a development conference in Cape Town, South Africa, where I met dozens more African feminists–including many of the women I’d already been chatting with daily for months, and LGBT African activists, some of whom I’m working with to host storytelling workshops for African women this [year].

What pitfalls/challenges have you experienced as an African feminist?

The experience of merging my online and offline African feminist network has been incredibly affirming of the power of using online tools to build community. Yet, it is also important to acknowledge that there are many African women who do not have access to the Web, and thus are left out of many important conversations. Where possible, I use my privilege as a writer to highlight work being done by people who are unable to do so themselves, but I’ve on occasion been faced with the question about whether or not something I’ve written is good advocacy or appropriation. For now, my rule of thumb as a media activist is ‘highlight, don’t re-tell,’ but this gray area remain challenging to navigate.

One other challenge has been far less potent than I imagined it would be, but is still worth highlighting, as it happens in almost every cultural context. My queer identity has at times called my ‘Africanness’ into question. And in instances when it hasn’t, LGBT African issues are often sidelined, treated as fringe or tangential. This has been frustrating, as I don’t want to see the African women’s movement repeat the same mistakes as the women’s movement in the U.S.–leading with ‘umbrella unity’ instead of an intentional approach to diversity.

How do you ensure that your voice/opinion/story is heard within Western/American feminism?

Frankly, ensuring my voice is heard within Western/American feminist spaces isn’t something I prioritize in my work; not because engaging people across cultures isn’t important (it is), but because constantly responding to what western feminism is or isn’t (doing) constricts my voice to being reactive (i.e., delivering constant criticism). I believe my voice as an African woman is more powerful when it proactively works alongside other African voices to tell our own stories, set our own agenda and come up with solutions for ourselves. As I’ve lived in the U.S. for more than a decade, however, I do engage with western feminists; building bridges is necessary since we’re all working towards similar goals. To this end, by writing and producing media as an African feminist, I not only do my part towards the achievement of those goals, but hold western feminists and media accountable to my perspective and highlight the work of other African woman and [people of the] Diaspora.

What does feminism look like to you from within your own cultural context? Does your spirituality inform your feminism (or other framework for navigating the world) as mine does?

7 Social Media Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Will the Real African Social Media Experts Please Stand Up?

I recently had the pleasure of participating in the West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI)‘s Social Media Experts conference in Accra, Ghana.

The conference brought together African social media experts, enthusiasts, and activists from across the continent, Europe, and North America, including:

  • fellow #afrifem tweeps, @Zawadin (of ZerobyZawadi in Kenya) and @negrita (of Illume Creative Studios in Rwanda)
  • #occupynigeria leaders, @Yemi_O (of Enough is Enough Nigeria) and @omojuwa (of
  • BloggingGhana’s social media celebs, @MacJordan and @Kajsaha, and their civic engagement project @GhanaDecides.

Among people I hadn’t yet met were three brilliant, inspiring young men from Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire, including Emile Bela (@ebelak), who began his presentation with a memory of being stuck in a room with a few others in the middle of a war; his interest in blogging came from the sudden realization that if he died that day, there’d be no record of his life, nor accounts of what he’d seen. Today, Emile is a prolific writer at his own blog, and contributes commentary on sustainable development, electoral politics, and governance to other sites. It was truly an honor to be among such trailblazing, inspiring company.

My biggest takeaway from the conference was that there is still much to be explored and uncovered on the continent when it comes to how African NGOs are using new media for advocacy. But judging from WACSI’s dedication to equipping African changemakers with information and resources they need to succeed, any projects seeking to leverage new media for advocacy will not be lacking in support.

Even as young Africans are dispersed across the globe, in our mission to create alternative pathways to change — one that side-steps our corrupt governments, subverts barriers to capital, and taps into the crowdfunding potential of 475 milliion mobile connections on the continent, we’re already charting and covering new territory.

7 Ideas That Will Strengthen Digital Activism in Africa

Researching Africa’s Social Media Landscape

More research is needed on how African NGOs specifically (including organizations based on the continent, managed by its residents i.e. not managed by some gap year volunteer from Holland) are using social media. As I sat and listened to a presentation on tips for increasing engagement on Facebook pages, which was based on Facebook data from companies all across the globe, I questioned its relevance to Africa; the insights that drove the suggestions were based on data heavily driven by internet- (vs mobile- ) connections, yet the vast majority of Africans are connected to the web via mobile. What would social media insights (i.e. the best time to post, how long each update should be etc) based on African-based, mobile-sourced data look like? Also, how does culture influence the way we build relationships online? Until Africa 2.0 defines its own benchmarks, our strategizing and planning, whether for advocacy or other purposes will be based on models that don’t necessarily reflect Africa’s tech landscape. Luckily, organizations like WACSI and Indigo Trust are committed to supporting such initiatives.

Bridging Africa’s Digital Divide through Cost-and-Time Effective Tech Training


For a continent booming with mobile innovation, much of it still experiences limited to no cell phone signal or data services of any kind. Moreover, the speed and costs of internet services varies widely between regions, creating further barriers for non-profits / activists wishing to use social media for advocacy. Hence, I particularly appreciated, participant @sourceadam’s presentation regarding his work at @sourcefabric, which implements open source, cost-effective tech solutions for NGOs, making it easier for them to optimize their time on the web. In my own work with Africans for Africa, I’ve found, also, that comprehensive social media training for people living in remote areas must include time management training; it’s not enough to tell small organizations with low capacity (and limited connectivity) that they constantly need to tweet and update Facebook without showing them a feasible way they can brainstorm and share content, in a time-efficient, cost effective way.

Fighting Government Censorship and Privatized Data Control

Source: Mahesh Kumar A/Associated Press

I recently participated as a speaker on a webinar hosted by the African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications on online security and censorship in digital activism. This year, at least seven online users were arrested for their internet activity, and it doesn’t seem like government monitoring of social media is going away anytime soon. In fact, it’s becoming more aggressive. For instance, a Nigerian senator recently proposed censoring social media in order to curb criticism of the country’s governance; in Ghana, there’s been a recent proposal to place a “cap” on data and internet usage; and, in Ethiopa, a Skype call will get you 15 years in prison. There are many other blaring examples of the dangers of taking our lack of ownership and control of the internet too lightly, yet many activists who use social media for advocacy aren’t informed enough about the internet infrastructure — the wiring, the cables, the data — nor the government policies that monitor (and can end) its use. If Africans are serious about new media as a tool to create , we’re going to need to address government censorship, freedom of speech on the web, and the systemic denial of ownership that is too often ignored in our discourse about digital activism.

Using Pop Culture to Engage “Social” Users, Politically

Source: @fondalo

A recent study shows most Africans use social media for games, fun, and entertainment. Yet, we often hear complaints of how difficult it is to get youth to engage, coupled with emphases on how there’s a strong need for civic engagement around “serious” issues. Clearly, in order to increase engagement among the majority of Africans who prefer to use social media for fun and entertainment, we’re going to have to find a way to make the political issues we care about fun and engaging. We can take a cute from Enough is Enough (EIE), a civil society organization based in Nigeria that featured Nigerian celebrities and humor-driven campaigns to engage youth around their #occupynigeria campaign. As EIE’s mission is to encourage youth to become more responsible citizens, they’ve made pop culture a core element of their media strategies to ensure that the tenor of their messaging resonates with their target base, which doesn’t sound like such a terrible idea to me. If anything, activists could use with a little bit more communication 101 practice. How often must we resort to blaming the audience for not listening or “doing anything” as a way of disguising our own failure to captivate and inspire?

Nurturing (More) African Social Media Experts

Beyond the same ol’ recyclable twitter lists (e.g. twitterati assumed to be “African social media experts” simply based on large numbers of followers), Africans need to identify and nurture a network of legit social media experts and strategists,  one which activists, non-profits, and/or campaigns could call upon for advice, expertise, and most importantly, training. Ghana Decides’s model of offering social media trainings to their civic engagement partners (including NGOs that work with marginalized communities such as women, youth etc) is a movement-building model worth replicating; investing in the social media capacity of their partners essentially duplicates their outreach efforts, and  of maximizes their chances of engaging a wide, diverse audience overall. When considering the potential political power (both online and offline) of African communities were social impact organizations to be trained to more efficiently engage their social networks, there is no limit to what we can achieve together, as individuals, as countries, and as a continent. We’ll need more trainers to train more trainers to train more trainers. Thus, nurturing an elite class of social media experts is critical.

Mobile Crowdfunding Is the Future

With the rise of online fundraising platforms for creatives and entrepreneurs (such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo), the philanthropy sector has developed a few niche platforms of its own; sites like and allow charities to raise small amounts of money from large numbers of people in their social networks. Africa’s adoption of online fundraising phenomenon is not necessarily news, but is timely given the impact the wall street financial crisis had on the global funding climate. However, with mobile banking innovations such as MPesa (mobile banking) and M-Shwari (mobile loans) sprouting up all across the continent, improving workflow and usability, Africa is well-positioned to lead the way when it comes to crowdfunding through mobile and SMS. Given the funding (and political) climate of African countries, the need for more self-driven, autonomous, alternate pools of funding options is unprecedented. In countries like Nigeria and Uganda, where human rights are being violated due to homophobia and bigotry, and organizations are barely permitted to operate, let alone receive funding, it is critical that crowdfunding be explored as an option, and not just from western countries; were mobile giving made readily available, perhaps the world would be able to see that Africans can and already do support each other in times of need. In fact, crowdfunding may just be the ingredient Africa needs to  curb the negative impact of white saviorism and foreign aid in the development landscape.

Creating an African Blogging Network

It’s not every day that marginalized groups experience the thrill of connection, especially as intensely as they happen at conferences where there’s shared interest (and in this case, identity). At the WACSI conference, many of the participants commented on the importance of staying connected. Being able to support each other across issues and across borders, and count on the signal-boosting power of a global network of Africans online could make a huge difference to local organizing efforts. There are certainly smaller efforts being made in this area: The Guardian African Network, African feminists (#afrifem) on Twitter, region-specific efforts such as Blogging Ghana and the Nigerian Blog Awards, and issue-based sites such as Identity Kenya and Dynamic Africa. But there remains to be seen a large, robust network that connects the vast number of African bloggers online. Many questions remain: Given the diversity on the continent, and how dispersed Africans are around the globe, is such a network even possible? Who would lead (and house) such an undertaking? Would an informal network (such as a dedicated twitter hashtag for African bloggers) work just as well? There’s no doubting the collective power that could be harnessed from a formal network of African activists. However, till such a space exists, African bloggers are going to need to create one virtually; linking to each other where possible, learning how to position ourselves so that we are (more) visible to each other, and intentionally supporting each other’s initiatives in our various capacities, are all important principles of activism we should be practicing, online or offline.

3 LGBT-Friendly African Feminist Organizations Who Aren’t Afraid of Using the F-Word

“We Work on “Gender and Sexuality” Issues (But We’re Not a Feminist Organization)”


I recently spent some time in Windhoek, Namibia as part of Africans for Africa, my 6-month long volunteer project training women’s and LGBTI organizations all across Southern Africa in new media communications. To make the most of my two-week stay, I decided to look up local women-run organizations in order to introduce myself and in hopes of learning more about Namibia’s non-profit/social justice landscape.

After an hour or so of web researching gender and sexuality issues in Namibia, I had compiled an inspiring list of organizations that primarily served women in a variety of ways, including combating homophobia, educating girls, advocating for survivors of domestic violence, children with disabilities, and so much more.

As I read the founders’ stories, many of them survivors of some form of trauma, called to political action by some personal circumstance, I “mmmn”-ed out loud, soaked in what felt like a familiar brand of afrofeminism, the kind I’d become accustomed to being raised by a child of war, the kind that held its breath through resistance, generation after generation, with the dim hope that the work and sacrifice would afford their daughters the privilege of being able to breathe more freely.

Phrases like “fight against oppression”, “promote gender equality”, “resist patriarchy”, and “empower women” could be found in almost all the mission statements, yet, despite the parallel goals and shared context, the words “feminist” or “feminism” were nowhere to be found.  So far, in my travels, the word feminism has proven to be as taboo (and as divisive) as it gets. Ironically, nothing creates quite awkward a silence as someone perceived to be “pushing a feminist agenda” (or, my favorite, “man-hating”) in an African women’s circle.

I’ve certainly met my share of African feminist individuals — they’re the crazy ones that would drop the F-bomb (“Feminism”) in the middle of a discussion (and embrace the consequences, while describing the chaos as a series of “learning moments”. (Note: I say this, fondly.)

On the flip side, many of the organizations I’ve met working on combating gender stereotypes or gender-based violence are adamantly against using the word, “Feminism”, in their work, even if some of the leadership identify as feminists). Some of the resistance stems from the good sense to avoid alienating many of the women they serve, a scenario I myself can relate to; I received way more responses (and invitations) when I described my tech training as equipping African women (vs. African feminist organizations), so I made the switch. My mission, after all, is to make sure more women are skilled at using media for advocacy. Thus, for my purposes, I really don’t care whether or not these women identify as feminists or not.

However, besides tactical reasons similar to the scenario above, some of the pushback against using the F-word also stems from negative perceptions feminism. Unfortunately, I’ve met one too many feminists who exclusively blame “ignorance” or “patriarchy” for the bad PR. While I agree that some of this is certainly at play, I quite frankly find it ineffective (and self-righteous) to continually blame an audience for bad messaging. Feminism isn’t always the problem; sometimes, feminists who use feminism to alienate (vs. engage) are the greatest barrier to engaging women in what’s arguably one of the most powerful movements of our time.

Queer Nigerian Boi Seeks African Feminist Organizations; Must Be Open-Minded (i.e. Love the Gays)

I personally have felt excluded from so called “inclusive feminist spaces” based on my disdain for academic jargon, my love of hip hop music, the task of constantly having to fight against assumed heterosexuality, and the frustration of hearing even allies conflate my gender presentation as a tom boi and my sexuality as the same issue. Like religion, at its core feminism is good; but when preached as a doctrine in the way it’s quite often done (especially at conference spaces), when policed in the way that it frequently is by so-called “real” feminists, it can feel more like dogma, a set of rules and judgments, rather than loose set of principles, heavily strengthened by an appreciation of the “gray”, which can guide all of us to better caring for ourselves and for our communities.

Given the tensions that exist within and around (African) feminism, I was pleasantly surprised to discover (and get to know) three amazing organizations that have found a way to strike a balance between engaging all kinds of women from where they are and empowering women who already identify as feminists to “spread the good word”; who welcomed me whole, and didn’t reduce me to being the “gay one” in the group. It was so encouraging to meet so many open-minded African women, some LGBTI, some not, who united around a shared commitment to (all) women’s empowerment.

I’ve listed them here in no particular order. And, luckily for you, because I spent quite a bit of time training a number of their members in new media for branding and visibility, so they’re pretty active on Facebook. Like them :)

Young Feminist Movement in Namibia (Y-Fem)

Y-Fem’s mission is to nurture the next generation of feminist leadership. Pow! These inspiring young women I was privileged to spend two weeks with in Namibia describe themselves as “an organization that creates space for passionate, stylish, and fashionable young Namibian women and allies.” Ooh la la — sign me up! This is exactly what we need — an organization that isn’t afraid to make feminism cool, fashionable. During my sessions with them, it came up, over and over again, that they were committed to making sure Y-Fem appealed to the ‘every day’ girl, not just women’s and gender studies major. Incidentally, I got to help them prepare for their first major event, which was an informal social gathering intended to create an awareness of feminist and women’s issues through the use of poetry by both established and aspiring poets. They pulled that event off like pros; I arrived mid-way through it to find 40+ people gathered around a blazing fire as a woman chanted and sang about her love for African women. Namibia’s women’s movement is in good hands if Y-Fem has anything to say about it. Like them on Facebook

Women’s Leadership Center

WLC is a feminist organization that promotes women’s writing and other forms of personal and creative expression as a form of resistance to oppression embedded in patriarchal cultures and society, and aims to develop indigenous feminist activism in Namibia. (Wow!) They’ve published several anthologies of stories, poetry, and photography produced for and by women living in rural areas, and routinely host writing workshops in order to develop interest in writing both as a tool for archiving African women’s stories and advocating for equal rights and access. Before I left, the director of the program, Liz Frank, a feminist scholar herself, gave me about five books to read, including “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow” and “We Must Choose Life”, both writings of Namibian women on gender, culture, violence, and HIV/AIDS. As someone whose work is all about women telling their stories, discovering WLC was such a treat. Visit their website.

Sister Namibia

And, last but not least, Sister Namibia is a feminist, women’s rights organisation based in Namibia that uses media to raise awareness on women’s rights issues in the country and region. An African feminist media organization? It sounded too good to be true when I stumbled across their website. I hadn’t imagined that I’d receive a response as quickly as I did (yay African hospitality), that the director would invite me to come spend an afternoon with them in their office, nor that this “office” would be an actual building the organization owned. When I stepped into their small bungalow, I was blown away by the display table in the entryway that held past issues of Sister Namibia’s print magazine, “Sister”, and the wall-to-wall covering of bookshelves filled with books about African women, feminism, gender, sexuality–the whole shebang. This organization doesn’t need to “create space” for women (or feminists); they already have one. Their physical space, which I’ve come to fondly call my favorite African feminist temple, serves as both a library and a meeting space for local students, activists, and community members. They rock. Love them on Facebook.

What other self-identified African feminist organizations exist on the continent? I’m sure they’re lots. Please feel free to recommend them. Have you come across organizations that don’t explicitly identify as feminist but practice feminist principles? Should African women’s organizations necessarily adopt the feminist label? Why/why not? 

Crowdfunding for Activists: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

I prepared this short presentation as part of the “Feminist Cyborgs: Actvism, Online Fundraising, and Security” webinar, hosted by African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications.

My 10-minute presentation includes a brief introduction to crowdfunding and some popular crowdfunding tools. Additionally, using my Africans for African new media project as a case study, I share 5 quick tips for running a successful fundraising campaign. The main points from my presentation are outlined as follows, with the actual presentation embedded at the bottom of this post.

Feminist Cyborgs: 5 Tips for Creating Successful Online Fundraising Campaigns

Overview of Crowdfunding

  • Sometimes referred to as Crowdfunding
  • “Funding via a networked group”
  • Using social media networks to raise money for projects
  • Collective effort of individuals who network and pool their resources
  • Connects people who have needs to the people who can meet those needs

A Few of My Favorite Crowdfunding Platforms

  • IndieGoGo: Flexible fundraising rules i.e. you can keep funds you raise even if you don’t meet your goal; permits multiple types of projects (creative, small business etc) to raise funds via the platform
  • Kickstarter: Strictly creative projects; if you don’t raise target funds by deadline, you don’t get any of the money; features include powerful social media marketing tools
  • Africans in the Diaspora (AiD): Raises funds for projects based in Africa; includes community philanthropy tools e.g. blogs and resources about fundraising, development, etc, targeting the diaspora.
  • 234Give: Nigeria’s first online fundraising platform for charities based in Nigeria (Note: I have not used this platform personally, so this is not an endorsement. Just think it’s cool that African countries are tapping into crowdfunding.)
  • GlobalGiving: International fundraising platform; NGOs across the world can register and raise money from top donor countries on this platform, including US, UK, Singapore, India.
  • PubSlush: A crowdfunding platform for authors, agents, and publishers. (Note: I have not used this platform personally, but plan to in early 2013).
  • ProBueno: My MIT classmate’s startup, crowdsourcing volunteers who donate the cost/value of their services to charities. Neat setup, actually e.g. rather than donate money, I offer (via the platform) my new media consulting services to someone who will pay for them, I donate money earned (e.g. $100/hr for 2 hours) to charity of my choice on the platform. #watchthisspace #itmaychangethegame
There are many other easily accessible and efficient fundraising platforms available all over the world; but as with all social media innovations, you must choose the platform that makes the most sense for you — for your project and for your target audience.

Introduction to Online Fundraising

  • A little money goes a long way
  • By pooling smaller amounts of money from a groups with common interest, larger financial goals are achievable
  • Social media makes it easier for people with similar interests to connect; great potential for raising capital for projects
  • Large capital is reduced as a barrier to doing good due to growing popularity of online fundraising in philanthopy sector
  • In 2011, online giving grew in double-digit percentages across ALL sectors (so, not just NGOs working with orphans who could show cute photos — everyone is benefiting)

Things to Remember

  • Social media = media that is social, period.
  • Don’t confuse the tools (social media, which is technical) with the task (asking for money, which is human)
  • Having a Facebook Page does not guarantee you money.
  • You (a person) must raise funds from your network (people)
  • The quality of your network = The quality of your relationships with individuals in that network
  • Offline fundraising principles apply online.

Africans for Africa Project: A Case Study

  • Independent project training African-women led NGOs to use new media
  • Raised ~$15,000 in 30 days via online fundraising campaign
  • Focus on Women, Youth, Gender & Sexuality Issues
  • South Africa, Namibia, Botswana
  • One-on-One Consulting and Team Sessions for Organizations
  • Online Fundraising Workshops (Open to the Public)
  • Over 400 workshop participants, 60 organizations

5 Tips for Online Fundraising

Tip 1: Learn to “Ask”
The most important element of any campaign is the “ask.”

  • You must ask before you can receive. (Note: The most popular reason cited by people as to why they didn’t give is “No one asked me.”)
  • For Africans for Africa: In addition to bulk emails, I sent personal emails, FB messages, text messages, and phone calls to individuals. In world 2.0, going the extra mile to personalize communications to individuals will achieve better results than “mass”/public calls to action.
  • Lesson: Practice and test your with different (trusted) audiences; don’t play with live money.

Tip 2: Know Your Audience
You wouldn’t ask your best friend for money in the same way you would ask a professional colleague, would you?

  • Different audiences require different messages.
  • Don’t speak to everyone in the same way — you don’t know all of these people in the same way.
  • Africans for Africa: “MIT Classmates” received different messaging from “Activists”, who received different messaging from “Feminists” and “Fellow Social Media Gurus”. Also, I bombarded my brother with requests to donate (cause I can do that) but only sent an email per week to more professional contacts so as not to “annoy” people.
  • Lesson: Segment your list, create messages and themes for each before you begin sending communications. Make sure frequency reflects the relationship.

Tip 3: Trust Your Inner Circle Power
People give money because they trust you.

  • People will give to organizations and individuals with credibility, that they trust will use their donation towards the states goals.
  • Study shows that number one factor influencing trust is actually recommendations from friends and family.
  • Africans for Africa: Bulk of my donations came from close friends, who encouraged others to contribute as well. I found that I didn’t have to ‘sell’ my project to friends of friends. Here’s what happened, a lot: “You’re __’ friend, which means you must be awesome. Here’s _ dollars.”
  • Lesson: Don’t ignore your family and friends. They’re you’re biggest advocates and can help you raise even more money (if you “ask” them to).

Tip 4: Set (Realistic) Goals
Fundraising isn’t about luck. You must set goals to meet.

  • People (yourself included) are more driven to give by public benchmarks.
  • Africans for Africa: I asked 15 people to contribute, every day, to increase chance of meeting goal of 10 donors per day. I also declared my goals publicly every day, to make sure I was also putting pressure upon myself to deliver “success” stories and momentum.
  • Lesson: Set daily, weekly, and monthly goals. Make them public. People want to help. And if they see mini-goals as possible, they’re more likely to give. Also, if you set daily goals for yourself, you’re more likely to brainstorm creatively when you see you’re at risk of not meeting them! (e.g. 4 pm, I said I’d have 10 donors by 5, I only have 8 — eeek! *Proceeds to call everyone and their mama*)

Tip 5: Recognition and Gratitude
There’s a reason you always see “Thank You” on a sales receipt.

  • People need to feel appreciated in order to stay engaged.
  • Africans for Africa: Different perqs came with encouraging titles and levels of recognition, such as “Ally”, “Champion” etc. I also always sent immediate Thank Yous and social media shout-out to new donors. I didn’t wait till the end of the campaign to thank them, and it worked; a few of them, now that they had already donated, helped me raise more money from their networks because they felt included, and appreciated.
  • Lesson: Come up with creative ways to recognition, before and after the “ask” in order to nurture repeat-givers and advocates.

Most Important Tip: Be Human
Connect with people’s hearts. Facebook doesn’t make campaigns successful; people do.

  • Your story matters; why you care about this project matters
  • “People connect with people, not campaigns.” – ZerobyZawadi
  • Africans for Africa: My campaign story was about “me” i.e. why I wanted this project to succeed, its impact on me, personally, and the lives of people I deeply care about.
  • Lesson: Reflect on why this project really matters; avoid some regurgitated version of your organization’s mission statement — toss that immediately. Reflect and communicate why this project really matters — to you, and to the people you care about. Be honest. Be vulnerable, even, and people will rise to the occasion to help you succeed.

The End!

Interested in New Media Consulting? If you’d like to schedule a full or half-day workshop on online fundraising for your organization or individual campaign, please don’t hesitate to contact me via the “Contact Me” button on the sidebar.

Alternatively, if you’re thinking of launching an online fundraising campaign and would like some feedback on your current online fundraising efforts (including social media audit, list preparation, messaging, and engagement strategy), mention this blog post to receive an online fundraising consultation via Phone or Skype at $75/hr for the first hour, and $100/hr thereafter. If you’re seeking a social media campaign manager for a longer, fixed period, we can chat about that, too! Use the “Contact Me” button to send me an email. Please allow at least 48 hours for me to respond to you.

Note: I offer lower rates to grassroots groups whose primary targets include either of the following groups — Women, LGBTI, Africans/POC. 

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