Ayiba Magazine?s Eyitemi Popo On Creatively Designing A New African Narrative
Ayiba Magazine?s mission is to engage young people around the world through an interactive digital platform that showcases Africa?s growing role in global affairs. A core objective of the platform is to highlight a new generation of movers and shakers who disrupt narratives through innovation, technology, and new media, while spearheading the African renaissance. Think of it as a merge between global affairs and digital storytelling. Eyitemi Popo is the founder and editor-in-chief of Ayiba Magazine, and she shares her story expertise?on how her platform lends its unique voice to disrupting the current African narrative.
Getting to know Eyitemi
?I was born in Lagos, Nigeria and moved to the United States when I was three years old. I grew up in the East Village in New York, and when I was ten years old, my mom sent my sister and me to the Republic of Benin. I lived there for a year; I didn?t speak French before I left for Benin, and so that experience was a crash course in French. Later, I moved back to Lagos where I completed Secondary School. I took a gap year between high school and college where I traveled for a bit, and then went on to Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, where I graduated with a Bachelor?s in International Relations and Digital Media. That was where I really found my passion and lust for life. And it was also after finishing college and moving back to New York that I started Ayiba. Right now I am in Canada completing a Master?s in Digital Experience Innovation at the University of Waterloo. It is a one year program that focuses on user experience design, innovation strategy, and digital marketing.
Ayiba Magazine truly sets itself apart from other similar platforms that focus on the African content
?Before I started Ayiba, I didn?t really want to pursue my own thing. I wanted to find another platform that I could possibly collaborate with and probably write for or help out with in other ways. The thing is I just didn?t see what I had in mind, and that is how I started Ayiba. I thought of starting out by creating a blog, but I didn?t want it to just be from my perspective — I feel like if I had done that, it would have ended up being very ?Nigerian? or ?West African?, and I really wanted something that encompassed all of Africa and the Diaspora. The main idea behind Ayiba was to create a platform that showcased change-makers all over the world who were disrupting the current African narrative either through media, technology or innovation. And the goal behind that was two-fold. The first was to connect all these different places and geographical contexts, like connecting Africans in London with those in Uganda, but also to break down prevailing stereotypes. I was not only interested in dispelling stereotypes of Westerners towards Africans, because that felt less important to me. I noticed when I went to school in Massachusetts that there were so many stereotypes Africans held against one another. We all had misconceptions of one another whether Kenyan, Ugandan, Ghanaians or Ethiopian. And so breaking down these stereotypes so that we can come together as a generation, was way more of an important goal. And this is what we try to do at Ayiba.
Ayiba is about finding individuals to tell larger stories
?The main inspiration behind Ayiba was definitely my experiences at school, but it was also my interest in the personal narrative and being able to use that to share larger stories. Instead of focusing on rape in South Africa and just writing politically overstated articles about the topic, if you can find one person who maybe runs an organization and is working to end rape culture in South Africa, that story is much more powerful than political hyperbole. My inspiration was to find individuals to tell larger stories.
Challenging prevailing stereotypes starts with reminding our generation of our past, as well as our present, so that we can shape the future
?You know, there is the whole ?White Savior? complex, but I feel like the most important purpose behind breaking down these stereotypes and ending these skewed narratives isn?t really so that we look better to the West, but so that we remember who we are as a people, because when you are told over and over that you are something you start to believe it. With Ayiba, we try to remind our generation of our past, as well as inform them of the present so that we can shape the future and end the cycle of aid and the lack of infrastructure. By pushing these stories of young people who are making a difference with very little, we can help end the stereotypes.
Eyitemi on her personal experience with discrimination, negative perceptions and stereotypes and Ayiba Magazine?s relationship to these experiences
?For me, my experiences have related mostly to one, people underestimating you because you are African. I remember one instance when I was talking to some people about being Legacy students at Mount Holyoke, and one particular person I was talking to assumed I was a first generation college student. I told this person that my mother has a college degree, so do all her siblings, and that my grandmother attended St. Andrews University in Scotland ? she has a Master?s degree. There was such a shocked look on her face after I mentioned this. And so I have experienced that; people just don?t expect much of you or your background because you are Nigerian or African. And then I have experienced sort of the opposite of this. Because I am well-spoken or carry myself in a certain way, when I tell people that I am Nigerian, they want to know more about my background. As if my ‘Nigerianness’ couldn?t possibly account for my character, but if I go on to say I grew up in New York they think that explains why I am the way I am.
The African voice has its place in an increasingly multi-cultural world
?I think the African story has always been an important one, and that is why it has historically been silenced. But because we now live in a digital age where information is easier to access and to share with others, the African story is coming to the forefront especially now as the world looks to the continent as the new frontier to be developed. Personally speaking, I think the African story plays a role in the greater global narrative by connecting those Africans who are on the continent to Africans who are all over the world. For the first time, Africans living on the continent have the opportunity to reach out to specific Diasporas and start connecting with one another. There is also this unifying global black movement, and that is what I really find interesting about amplifying our voice.
From one theme to the next, Ayiba?s creative process is as fluid as it is strategic
?When I first started Ayiba, I wasn?t sure about how to approach content generation. The idea of themes were to guide the stories we were looking for, and the themes kind of came up naturally based on what social media was telling us. Right now, the latest Formation issue ? an ode to Beyonc? ? ties into awareness and people coming together to collectively address and breakdown unjust systems. Each theme lasts for about 3 months and has its own cover, which we?ve shot in Lagos, Accra, Nairobi, New York; it can be shot anywhere. Our team is really diverse — I manage and run the website, and we have an editorial team filled with people who are founding team members, as well as fellows. We also reach out to other creative talent for assistance with photography.
When the motivation to achieve a great publication is only as strong as your team and your audience
?I would say that I have been really lucky to build such a great team that even works harder than I do, and when you see other people working with you for something that you conceptualized and see them willing to take time out of their lives to execute it, that motivates you to keep going. Our readers are also another reason why I remain motivated. There are a lot of times, even after 4 years that I often ask myself why I am still doing this. It is not at the level I would like it to be, but then, I just get this random tweet with someone saying ?Wow, I just discovered Ayiba and it?s awesome. Guys take a look!? or I get this random email from someone I don?t know across the world who lets me know how much they love what we do and thanking me for doing it.?These are the two key things that keep me going.
Multicultural creatives hold the power to change a lot of misguided narratives, they just need to do it!
?My advice to multicultural creatives who wish to share their stories is to just do it, because it is very important and very easy nowadays to set up a blog, or make a video and just share your story. But the one thing that I feel about a lot of African or multicultural sites is that their stories are kind of isolated. Every site wants to do their own thing, but I think it is important to have many different stories and collectively share these stories under one umbrella, because that makes it even more powerful.
At Ayiba, growth is continuous
?We had our first print [anniversary] issue in December, which helped helped us reach out to a different demographic. We successfully showcased it at the African Art Book Fair in Dakar, Senegal. Next, we want to start producing videos because it is really such a powerful way to reach people. We have also been having a lot of content partnerships; we really want to grow this and keep working with other organizations to create content.?
Image: Courtesy Eyitemi Popo
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