Browse Category: Thought Leadership

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 AfricanLiberty.org)
  • 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

Source: TomorrowToday.uk.com

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 givengain.com and 234give.com 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.

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. 

I am An African Feminist Cyborg: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online

I’m participating in a webinar hosted by The African Feminist Forum and Association for Progressive Communications: ‘Feminist Cyborgs: Activism, Fundraising and Security Online’

Who is a feminist cyborg?

“The feminist cyborg is at home both online and offline, and her activism is reflected in her online life (whether it is through blogs, tweets and general online presence) as well as in what she does offline (working for a feminist organization, working with women’s rights organizations and social justice movements, or in progressive media).”

I’d go further to add that the African feminist cyborg’s super powers can be online and offline simultaneously, as her world exists beyond the fragmented and finite conceptions of “online vs. offline” to the fluid, whole, and layered landscape of world 2.0.  Interesting in hearing more?

Join this amazing panel for an exploration of cyber activism, fundraising, and online security, featuring yours truly:

Yara Sallam (Egypt) will speak about her experiences of activism in Egypt, and concerns around online activism.

Spectra Asala (US/Nigeria) will share her experiences of fundraising online to raise money to deliver training to LGBTIQ and women’s rights organizations in South Africa.

Jan Moolman (South Africa) will speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah (Ghana) will facilitate the webinar.

Register for the Webinar in English or French

Monday December 3rd, 2012 at 1:00 pm GMT (English), sign up below: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/5124936193595694592

This webinar will be repeated on 5th December at 1:00 pm GMT with French translation. Francoise Mukuku (DRC) will replace Jan Moolman and speak on online security and violence against women in online spaces. Note: After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

I hope you’re able to join. Do ask questions. I LOVE questions. They make for really vibrant discussions. Much love to you all.

UPDATE: Despite technical difficulties, I thoroughly enjoyed hearing from other African women’s activists about their work using social media for advocacy. A “Live Blog” of the event can be found here. Also, thoughts and ideas from my presentation can be found, in full, here

How to Increase Media Diversity: 3 Lessons from the London Feminist Film Festival

A few months ago, the London Feminist Film Festival approached me for help in reaching out to African feminist filmmakers for their open call. The media activist I am, I admit that I did make them jump through hurdles before I agreed to help them spread the word of the festival on my blog. But it was only fair.

In my relatively short experience as an activist (who is also a person of color), I’ve received so many requests from white-run organizations and campaigns asking me to “help them create more diversity”, often without any proof that they’ve attempted to do any of this outreach on their own. It’s almost as though they view brown people as the people primarily responsible for alleviating the “burden” of creating the diversity they claim to want in their spaces. Oh, who am I kidding? 9/10 times that’s actually the case. But I digress.

After a series of sharp-shooting, poignant questions to the committee (“What have you done to reach out to feminist filmmakers of color?” “Who is missing from your lineup, and why?” “What have you done to make this relevant to African feminists, specifically?”), and receiving thoughtful (and honest) responses, I found myself in a strange place: satisfied, and affirmed enough to see myself as partly responsible (as an afrofeminist) for ensuring their success. I didn’t just write about the festival; I volunteered to be one of their media partners and a judge for one of their jury awards as well.

Why am I telling you this? Well, there are lessons about diversity to be learned (and shared) here. 

It’s only been a few months since the LFFF’s initial email to me, but judging from the film festival’s program, the organizers efforts have really paid off. The lineup of films included in the program look fantastic; the panelists and jurors represent a wide range of perspectives, aaaannd (so far), they’ve avoided appearing to be The London White Feminist Film Festival, which is quite commendable. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve witnessed “universality” (i.e. lack of intersectionality), result in the white-washing of so many spaces which would — with some effort — have the potential to truly empower and unify communities within communities.

It’s not every day I get to see I’m impressed with an organization’s outreach efforts (and results). So, I’d like to take this opportunity to highlight A Few Awesome Things the London Feminist Film Festival Did to Support Media Diversity:

1) They Avoided the “We Are One” Trap: In my post calling for support of the London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF), I talked about the importance of diversity in media, especially in the context of solidarity groups; it’s actually quite easy to let diversity slide under kumbaya umbrella politics i.e. “we’re all feminists, women, etc,” ignoring inequalities as we embrace sameness. But the festival organizers, tempting as it may have been to default to what was familiar, made a commitment very early on in their organizing process to keep the inclusion of minority groups in mind, including queer/LGBTI women, African/Black women, etc.

2) The Organizers Did Their Own Outreach Before Contacting Minority Stakeholders: As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, there’s a different between being asked to solve an organization’s (lack of) diversity issues for them (i.e. being tokenized) and being asked to lend your efforts and guidance to work with them towards a more inclusive space. As my communications with LFFF revealed a progressive approach to diversity, I was happy to become more deeply involved in ensuring the festival’s success. When I asked the organizers what they’d done to reach out to other minority groups, I was pleased to hear about their efforts, as well as their honest observations about audiences they were having trouble reaching, making it easy for me to see my role as offering support vs. being saddled with the entire responsibility of creating a diverse program for their festival. Still, I’m obviously not the only partner LFFF has been working with obviously; the LFFF committee has done a phenomenal job building a team of partners, community stakeholders, vendors, and feminist advocates with unique perspectives and talents to both both shape and amplify the 3-day event this weekend. So, this is a PSA to festivals, organizations, campaigns everywhere: outreach isn’t a buzz word, it’s work that needs to be done. So please do it vs. asking marginalized people to do it for you.

3) The Film Festival Resisted the Urge to “Caucus”

Instead of creating a ‘special’ track for Black films, LGBT films etc, the festival opted instead to create special tracks for their “outreach”, in order to improve representation in the larger pool. The result is an impressive festival program that reflects a range of perspectives and experiences, rather than the separation of “main” from “other.” Now, can everyone just adopt this policy? I’m tired of having to choose between discussions, sessions, films etc that represent fragments of who I am, and I’m pretty I’m not the only person with multiple identities that feels this way. Check out some of the films that I’m most excited about (and the range of countries represented), which will be screening next weekend:

  • Lesbiana – A Parallel Revolution is a documentary about the lesbian writers, philosophers, and activists who were key players in creating a revolutionary sisterhood in the 1980s (USA)
  • As a Warrior (Como una Guerrera) is a drama about a victim of domestic violence who finds the strength to be her own knight in shining armor (Argentina)
  • Sari Stories is a short about women in rural India documenting their everyday lives and talking about the problems of growing up as women in a patriarchy as they’re trained to become video journalists (India)
  • In Beautiful Sentence, women prisoners experience the therapeutic effect of creative writing (UK)
  • The Witches of Gambaga is an award-winning documentary about a community of women condemned to live in a camp for ‘witches’ (Ghana)
  • Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992 highlights the contributions of award-winning, African-American, lesbian, feminist poet, Audre Lorde, to the Afro-German movement (Germany/USA)
  • And last, but not least, Kung Fu Grandma is about elderly women in Kenya undertaking a self-defense course to help protect themselves from rape by young men in their community (Kenya)

Note: Some of these films are available for free viewing online, so I encourage you to check them out. The LFFF has also granted me access to a few of the features as well, so I’ll be publishing my reviews (and reflections) of several of these films leading up to the festival. I’ve already published a few. But stay tuned for more!

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 


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