Ngozi Odita: ‘Don’t let society define what success is for you as a woman’
Ngozi Odita is the founder of AFRICANXT (formerly Social Media Week Lagos), one of Africa’s leading innovation and business event. Now in its 11th year, the initiative has hosted thousands of attendees from across Africa and beyond.
Also founder of AFRIKA21, a production house that curates experiences and spaces for those passionate about Africa to connect, Ngozi holds a Bachelor of Business degree from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her body of work focuses on the intersection of music, art, culture and technology as it relates to Africa and the diaspora. She has produced programming for the Lincoln Center of The Performing Arts, Brooklyn Museum, African Film Festival, Inc., the Museum of Art and Design, Ravensbourne University (London), and South By Southwest (SXSW).
Ngozi has participated in and led talks on her work at UCLA’s Anderson School of Business, Yale University, Columbia University, New York University, South By Southwest (SXSW), and The New School. Her other experiences include an extensive background in Integrated Marketing, working independently for over a decade implementing marketing campaigns, developing go-to-market promotional plans, and executing branded experiences for consumer goods companies, cultural institutions, NGOs, and entertainment companies.
In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she shares her passion for Africa, collaborating to build the world’s most impactful gathering centering innovators from across Africa and the Diaspora.
Take us through your career journey?
I’ve always been passionate about gathering and bringing people together to share an experience. As a child planning my 13-year-old birthday party by myself to now planning one of the largest gatherings of Africans and the Diaspora, the idea of bringing people together in a meaningful way has always been important to me. I started planning events as a teenager; talent shows at school, community events in my neighbourhood. I even organised a school walk out to protest police brutality when I was 16.
In college, I started planning major events as part of the Student Programming Council. We had a budget of close to one million USD dollars. I planned mostly large student concerts. Then upon graduation, I kept planning events, and then started working with a lot of institutions, museums, universities, city municipalities, assisting them with their public programming.
What informed your passion for driving innovations and curating business events across sectors?
The idea and understanding that our individual and collective prosperity hinges on our capacity to work together and collaborate; what we do now determines what happens next.
AFRICANXT is about bringing people together who are passionate about Africa. It can be in a conference setting, it can be a film screening. What unifies us is that we are all committed to building a better future for the continent and ourselves.
You have worked across sectors, how are you able to hone your skills?
Being open, having an open mind and heart, open ears. Being receptive to people and the world around me. Every encounter and experience teaches me. So, that’s how I move in the world and from moment to moment.
Constantly being driven by why I am here, what I am supposed to take away from this moment and encounter.
Social media plays a huge role in various sectors, which is also a key part of evolution. How are you uncovering the dynamism it offers?
Listening. Social Media is a tool and an entry point; its the beginning of a conversation, the start, then its up to us what we do with the information. I have an account on most platforms, but I don’t talk/post a lot. I’m listening, trying to gain a better understanding, of people, of markets, of consumers.
That informs how I can be of service and what capacity I can provide. Listening informs how we bring people together and why bring them together. Whether it’s to build a platform or product or for an event, being committed to listening is important
What do you consider your key competencies and skills?
I’m committed to community; I’m a master organiser.
What stands this year’s event out and what should attendees look forward to?
This year, the curation of the programming across the week, the depth of expertise, knowledge and the thoughtfulness… like everyone understood the assignment. Our conference every year is guided by a theme. This year, it’s Cooperate. Collaborate. Innovate. Focusing on our ability to cooperate and collaborate across industries and borders, and how that creates impact and drives the innovations we put forward and their capacity to scale.
So, from panels on ‘Collectively building a metaverse that centers Africans and enables us to prosper’, to ‘The History of Feminist Organising in Nigeria’, to ‘The Importance of Intergenerational Collaboration for Good Governance.’ Then also not just talking about Cooperating and Collaborating, but having the event itself and the venue serve as example of what cooperation and collaboration can accomplish.
So, our décor, form the stages to the speaker green rooms, are a collaborative effort with local artisans and crafts people.
How is social media redefining work ethics, and lifestyles across the globe?
As much as it is a platform and tool, it is so intrinsic to our way of life now, for good or for bad. Social media is layered on to everything. Literally, nearly every experience has tech layered over it that enables us to stay connected. From monitoring your mental health, to when to water your plants, to learning a language to dating… there is no aspect of our life that there is not an app for that.
How we work together from zoom meetings to workplace bullying via social.
I think as humans, we have to remember these are tools and platforms and they don’t define us, they don’t dictate reality. It’s the defining part that we need to pump the brakes on. We need to really evaluate how we are using these platforms; there is a fine line between defining and dictating so we really need to be careful.
Organising an event like this comes with its challenges, could you share your experience?
The location. Nigeria is an amazing place, but at the same time, you’re dealing with fuel scarcity, lack of power, a high-risk economic climate. The fact that we power a five-day event on generators is insane.
But I would not do the event anywhere else and I’ve been asked to. I truly believe bringing Africans from all over the world to Lagos for a week is game changing and create a very unique moment and opportunity.
How do you stay inspired and motivated?
People and world around me inspire me. The world is amazing. Every day, I remind myself to pause and really just take in the moment and the magic around us. I wake up with gratitude and try to take that feeling with me everywhere.
How can we get more women to become successful and rise to the top as you have done? What tips do you have for younger women?
Success is not a monolith. Don’t let society or people define what success is for you as a woman. You’re winning already, because you’re here and you’re willing and you have the capacity to do whatever you please. You are winning by default. Let’s start there.
I don’t let people tell me what I can and cannot do. What people say and do is based on their fears and perceptions of reality, how they view the world and their place in it. It has nothing to do with me. Be the woman you want to be and be free.
What key lessons have you learned in your years of practice and impact?
Expect the unexpected. Be flexible. It’s the journey, not the destination.
What is your life mantra?
Do things with ease and joy and in alignment with your highest good, with the understanding that ease and joy is our perception. So, it’s not like praying for life to be easy and joyful, it’s more about us reframing our perspective. So, even in challenging moments, I approach the moment or the circumstance with ease and find the joy.