Ngozi Odita: Social Media Connector
Ngozi Odita is a New-York raised Nigerian from Anambra State. She finds joy connecting the world to beauties that are in Africa, a narrative contrary to one she grew up with listening to people in the diaspora who knew nothing about Africa. As a child born to immigrant parents, Ngozi was constantly faced with ignorant views about Africa from foreigners. This urged her to make it a cause to not just enlighten the world about the beauty and great possibilities that are entrenched in the African soil and its people, but also to empower African people into telling their own beautiful stories.
After handling the organization of Social Media Week in New-York for two years, Ngozi Odita made a bold decision, despite glaring odds, to bring the franchise of the international conference to Lagos for Africans. This she has successfully done along with her partner, Obi Asika, in the last eight years.
As the women’s month begins today, following the social media week that took place a few days ago, Allure caught up with Ngozi Odita for a chat. It was a time to reflect, as she took us on the journey to creating and sustaining a cause this special for eight years. She also talks about creating a platform that connects and stirs the African mind, giving them hope to actualize the endless possibilities that they are.
If you have to describe yourself, who would you say Ngozi Odita is?
Ngozi Odita is that woman who has always been passionate about Africa being self-determined. I am passionate about the prosperity of black people on the continent and outside the continent. It shows up in all the work that I do. So producing Social Media Week, as much as it is a tech conference or media conference, it’s also about creating a platform that is very much focussed on how we’re creating opportunities for people to prosper and be able to improve their lives, finances and communities and generally, move forward as Africans and black people everywhere.
How did Social Media Week happen?
I live in New York city and Social Media Week is a conference that started in New York City. But, different cities can acquire the license to produce it. Before bringing it to Nigeria, I was producing events for Social Media Week in New York city, about intersection of technology and culture on the continent and what this new idea of being connected meant for us as Africans. I also spoke at other conferences where I talked about how we are using technology and culture to reframe how the world sees us.
What inspired you into starting?
Well, since I always gave talks in different places, I always found myself constantly telling people in America about the amazing things happening in Africa, and how people were using technology in the digital space to so amazing things.
After a while, it just felt, why not give Africans their own voice? That’s how I decided to create a platform where people are able to share what they were doing and not through a third party. Although I am African, I think it should be people telling their own stories. Mine is to create the platform that enables them to.
You’ve been running this event for eight years now, how challenging has that been for you?
In the beginning, a lot of people didn’t understand what I wanted to do, especially since it was in 2013 when technology wasn’t as big as it is now. In Nigeria, for many people, it felt like it made more sense to do something like this in Kenya or South Africa because, at that time when you were hearing about things happening in the tech space on the continent, it was always in South Africa or in Kenya. So, people just felt why Nigeria especially because, the narrative around Nigeria was not positive, and it is still not positive. Eight years ago, the narrative was even more negative.
For me I was like, well, I’m Nigerian so it’s the place that I know. I’m not South African or Kenyan. It’s not like I couldn’t do something there, but I’m from Nigeria. So, it just makes sense that If I was going to do anything on the continent, it has to be in Nigeria. My thinking has always been PAN-African so that even if I’m doing it in Lagos, the bigger picture is how is this work helping Africa as a whole?
Also, some people felt nobody wants to go to an event where regular people would come to speak. But I felt every body has something valuable to contribute when they share their experiences. After the first year, I was proven right. I feel there’s some value to be gotten from anybody, whether you’re sweeping the streets or you’re the richest man in Africa. So, we’ve been able to create something special, a space where all class of people meet and connect without too many barriers.
Let’s Talk about your collaboration with your partner, how did that happen?
Well, I guess people know people and they tell you “Talk to this person”. So before I started social media week, I was doing a lot of things around technology and culture; music and the different kinds of sounds coming out of Africa, so that’s originally how I connected with Obi Asika because he is a key figure in music. When I said I wanted to bring this conference to Lagos, he was one of the very few people who said we should give it a try. Others were like, it won’t work because nobody is going to pay for that. But Obi said “let’s give it a try” and he had a ton of connection with people and brands who were interested enough to say “let’s see what it is.” Eight years later, we’re still here.
And how has it been?
It’s been great but the truth is, doing business in Nigeria is not for the faint of heart and it’s not easy in any way, shape or form. It’s so unconventional, it’s not the normal business rules and laws. But, I also knew I wasn’t going to be that person who would want to impose how I think business should be done because of where I’m from. I understand how business is done here isn’t best practices, but it is what works here. I think anywhere you go, you have to adapt and respect the system that’s in place.
Here, if you do an event you have to bring in your own generator and power the whole place. In other places, that doesn’t happen. So there are challenges, but I think there are huge opportunities here.
So what is the process of hosting your own session as an individual?
There’s usually an open submission process and this year’s submission opened in October. So you submit a proposal. You have a topic you’d like to discuss, we give you a theme, you submit a session and we curate it. So about 65% of our programming is from the community and the rest of it are programming either from specific partners, or we create ourselves. This year, we had about 600 submissions, and we had to weed it down to a hundred and sixty-something. It’s interesting because they’re all great stuff. It’s a lot to go through.
How different was it organizing this year’s Social Media Week?
I think it’s very different and came with its own challenges because we set a very high bar for ourselves. Every single touch point has to be deliberate from the decor to the opening. We wanted to be very deliberate that if you’re going to take your time to come here, we wanted it to be an experience for you. It can be achieved with something as simple as the decor, making people see the African aesthetic and be inspired; seeing young people telling you what they do and be inspired. We want people to leave here and be hopeful and excited about what they want to do.
Nigeria can be extremely frustrating but when you have those moments that inspire you, there’s hope and you’ll feel like you can go out there and do more. So it’s important that we continually create that atmosphere in the space and the bar for that task is higher every year.
In the area of gender, how do you feel as a woman in this partnership?
I think particularly in Nigeria, when I started it, to be honest, even now, women are disregarded and often, people want to speak to a man. So, there’s a certain kind of disregard. Nigeria is a patriarchal driven society. Women are seen more as the administrative assistant type of person.
They don’t think you could be the one running this huge thing on your own. For me, it is very important that women are a part of what we do at Social Media Week Lagos. We are intentional about making that happen every year. For example, for our speaker poll, every session must have a woman or more, it’s mandatory. We cannot have a session and not have a speaker except it’s a solo session. We are very deliberate in inclusion and making sure that women’s voices are heard.
The women’s month begins today. How do you think African women can maximize technology to push our narrative?
I think storytelling is a great way to maximize. I think being a woman everywhere is challenging and I think being a woman on the continent, in a place where patriarchy is very strong is a challenge.
I think storytelling is a good way to maximize technology. In every household, it’s the woman who keeps the place together. There’s no household running smoothly if there’s not a woman there. So I think hearing those stories and hearing stories about women who are doing great things, make it not seem like it is impossible. Definitely, there’s a plight that girls face, but I think constantly telling stories of the plight of girls suffering all the time, can make one feel hopeless. So, it’s important to share the narrative of girls and women who are doing amazing cool things; that makes you hopeful despite what women are going through.
What’s your advice for young girls finding their path?
Don’t let anyone minimize you. You’re not just a girl, you’re not just a woman. You can do anything that you want to do. You can do what a man has been known to do and it’s not special that you do it. Also, don’t let anyone take away your voice because a lot of young girls and women, their voices are taken away from them and that makes them feel very small and incapable. So don’t let that happen to you.
What would you do differently if you can?
I’m not that type of person. I really feel like your path is your path so, I wouldn’t do anything differently. This is the journey I’m supposed to be on. One can be reflective but I literally have no regret because, I feel like I’m on my right path.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learnt being on this right path?
You have to have a lot of faith in your capacity because people will tell you to your face that you you can’t. And things will happen every single moment that tells you you cannot do this or that this will not work. You just have to believe in your capacity to be great. Despite all the craziness around me and everybody telling me no, that this can’t work, that’s how we get through every year because we’re in a country where things often don’t work. You just have to really believe that it’s going to end well and I’m capable of making this happen. At the end of the day, things work out and you get reinforced to believe more in your ability to make things happen.
Would you say you’re fashionable?
I really won’t say I’m a fashionable person, but I’m definitely very interested and intentional about ensuring that what I wear promotes African aesthetic. So it’s not necessary that I’m following a style or trend, African fashion speaks to me so I’ll normally gravitate towards original African crafts and pieces.