How often do you while away at work by consuming relatable content on some of your favorite websites? I do that almost everyday! A few years ago, it was almost impossible to find content on the internet that African millennials could relate to. Damilola Odufuwa is changing the African narrative globally
Damilola is Passionate about online media, pop culture and telling engaging African stories, she has built a successful career in the African digital media industry. As the editor-in-chief of both Zikoko and Konbini Nigeria, Damilola was responsible for building two influential and innovative digital media publications targeted at Nigerian millennials. Damilola also worked for CNN Africa – running and growing the social media division as a social producer.
In recognition of her work in media, Damilola was listed as one of the ‘100 Most Inspiring Women In Nigeria in 2018’ by Leading Ladies Africa.
What sparked your interest in media after starting your career as an economist?
I was always interested is in media and pop culture but growing up, I just didn’t see it as a career path. Like most young Nigerians it was medicine, law, economics etc. I’ve also always been passionate about human rights (particularly women’s rights) and when I started studying economics in high school, I liked how the social science tried to solve human problems especially poverty. So although I was slightly interested in mass communications (media degree in Nigeria), my mum and I both decided Economics was a “safer” option because “with an economics degree you can go into anything”. Now that I look back at it, it was a bit silly because you have people who studied psychology working as investment bankers. So it really isn’t as important in some careers what you studied in school. The fact that I work in media now is a testament to that as well.
But after getting my Masters in economics and working in energy consulting, I realized that while I wasn’t awful at my job and I did well in school, I was bored, I really didn’t care and I definitely wasn’t making a difference the way I thought I would – and the way I wanted to.
So I did some soul searching and reflecting, and decided that I wanted a mix of what I’m good at, what I’m passionate about etc. I had a few interesting roles in the music industry but I really hit the sweet spot when I worked on MTV Shuga and I saw online media and social activism work together.
“I had a great team of young writers who were passionate and intelligent and that helped a lot. Empowering your team is vital and it’s something I’ve strived to do in every role I’ve been in. I always let my team members feel valued and know that their opinions count”
Zikoko grew rapidly when you were Editor in Chief and was even dubbed as the Buzzfeed of Nigeria, how did you manage to make your content fresh and relevant to young African millennials?
I had a great team of young writers who were passionate and intelligent and that helped a lot. Empowering your team is vital and it’s something I’ve strived to do in every role I’ve been in. I always let my team members feel valued and know that their opinions count. Again, my team was a representation of our target audience and it is so important to fully understand your audience. I think that is one of my strongest gifts, understanding my audience and focusing on them.
On keeping our content fresh – honestly it’s quite simple, being honest and being relatable to the audience! What people loved the most about Zikoko at the time was this relatability! We kept the language simple and we said exactly what the young Nigerian millennial was thinking/going through.
Expanding in Nigeria can be tough, how did you manage setting up Konbini – an international brand – in Nigeria? And how did you sustain its growth?
When we set up Konbini in Nigeria there were only two of us locally – myself and my partner in crime, Daniel Orubo. We initially had great support from the Konbini team in the UK who were passionate about letting Africans tell African stories. But what Daniel and I did was that we created high quality pop culture content – both written and visual because we knew that was missing in the Nigerian media space. We also covered the kind of pop culture we felt Africans needed. Writing about our music and music videos, showcasing African photography, art and fashion. Putting the spotlight on African tech startups etc. We created positive pop culture content that made Africans proud.
For me showcasing blackness is important in media and also African journalists showcasing Africa -the good and the bad – is everything to me.
What are some challenges you have faced in the media industry as an African Woman?
Most of my issues are just the everyday sexism in Nigeria. The microaggressions and the condescending way women are treated in this country. And being a young woman as well I find that I’m belittled a lot. We live in a patriarchal society that dislikes women and this cuts across all industries not just media.
What I do want to see in media though is more women in executive roles, senior management roles, more women investing their coins in media. Pay women fairly and promote women. I’m constantly fighting for people to pay me what I’m worth. I’m a talented media professional with great experience and a great track record PAY ME WHAT YOU OWE ME. Lol
Getting mentorship and having someone to look up to is very critical in a young woman’s career. Who is your ultimate career crush ?
I’m very inspired by Elaine Welteroth, the former EIC of Teen Vogue. I love her career progression and what she’s been able to achieve at a relatively young age and as a black (biracial) woman. She was able to transform Teen Vogue into a politically and socially conscious publication that’s diverse, relevant and relatable!
From a more visual creative point of view, I love Melina Matsoukas, the director of “Formation”, “We Found Love” and “Insecure”.
What advice do you have for women who want to pursue a career in the media industry?
Build your network and be persistent. Reach out to women in media for advice and opportunities. My first three jobs in media were:
- An internship with an independent record label that I got through telling my network about my passion for music and media.
- An internship at the record label Universal Music which I got by applying constantly to so many job openings there. Eventually they sought me out for the position I got.
- An internship with MTV UK which turned into almost a year of freelance work on MTV Shuga. This I got through attending a networking event for young people in media and literally standing out in my huge Afro, glasses and a cobalt blue suit. Lol
Also, don’t be ashamed to showcase your talents clearly and never dim your light for anybody. I find that many women downplay their talents while men overstate theirs and still manage to fail upwards. Sigh, the world has to treat women better.