Feminist Coalition’s Damilola Odufuwa on Her Passion for Women’s Rights
Words by Tasha Nicole Smith
Financial independence is a major issue within our society, being at the root of many of our societal divides, especially for women. It is for this reason that Damilola Odufuwa has dedicated her work to bridging that gap and supplying women with the tools to develop financial freedom.
As one of the founding members of the Feminist Coalition, Odufuwa champions equality for African women with a focus on education and financial freedom. In a country like Nigeria where the word “feminist” is often used as a slur, it is an act of bravery, and certainly one of resistance, to have feminist in the title of an organization. Feminist Coalition was founded in the summer of 2020 as a proactive way to help women dealing with the marked increase in gender-based violence in Nigeria and across the world during the pandemic, with Odufuwa at the forefront.
After completing her masters in international finance and economic development at the University of Kent in England, Odufuwa went on to work in communications and media, first at Universal Music and MTV before becoming the editor-in-chief of pop culture site Konbini. For her next role, she took up a position as a Lagos-based social producer for CNN Africa, where she honed her skills in communications. Around this time, Odufuwa also co-founded Wine & Whine, a safe space for Nigerian women to come together and share their stories of the challenges they faced in a heavily patriarchal society, and how to combat them.
Today, Odufuwa works as the public relations lead in Africa for cryptocurrency exchange firm Binance, which feeds into her passion for achieving financial equality and freedom for African women. Her love for technology and travel also led her to co-found the social network and photo-sharing app Backdrop, which lets users find images and places of interest while traveling across the world.
Across all of her ventures, one thing that remains true is her passion for advocacy for women’s rights and the desire to create an uplifting community that champions gender equality and equity.
It’s safe to say that she is a very busy woman, but Odufuwa took some time out of her busy schedule to talk to us about her work, the programs and initiatives that Feminist Coalition organizes to equip women with the resources necessary to pursue education and financial literacy as well as her favorite homegrown talents.
The Folklore spoke with Damilola Odufuwa, founding member of the Feminist Coalition and CEO of Backdrop about championing equality for African women, education for girls, financial freedom and why it is important to document women’s history.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I’m very passionate about cryptocurrency, communications and women’s rights and that permeates my entire life—from my career to my hobbies. I am currently the head of PR for Binance in Africa, and I also lead our NFT efforts. Binance is the world’s leading crypto exchange and blockchain ecosystem. I am passionate about financial equality and financial freedom, especially for women and marginalised communities so I love working at the intersection of crypto, tech, comms and women’s rights.
I am also the co-founder and CEO of Backdrop, which is an app and social network that lets people find and share beautiful spaces around the world based on their specific interests. The app beautifully merges tech, social media and travel. Like many people, I enjoy travelling, discovering stunning places and sharing them with my friends and my social media followers. Backdrop essentially makes finding and visiting these places a whole lot easier.
And, finally, I am the co-founder of the Feminist Coalition. I started this organization with my co-founder Odun [Eweniyi] and 11 other amazing founding members who work across tech, civil society, media and public health.
As a member of the Feminist Coalition, you work to create a safe space for African women, focusing heavily on financial freedom and education. What is the story behind the creation of the organization and why did you choose finances as your particular focal point?
Many feminists like me are constantly speaking up on social media, doing their part in our communities to fight the discrimination Nigerian women face daily. These actions are bringing about a sea change in society but sometimes it just feels like it’s not enough, the discrimination is never ending. In 2020, with the rise in violence against women during the pandemic I felt even more frustrated by what is clearly a state of emergency on gender-based violence. So I wanted to figure out what more I could do and I realized it would be more efficient to work as a collective.
Over the past few years, Nigerian women and activists have crowdfunded on Twitter to support other women and girls who have experienced gender-based violence, marginalization and more. These funds were used for legal aid, education, mental health support, housing and shelter. Myself and Odun wanted to do more than just support or crowdfund donations intermittently. We also felt the fight for women’s rights needed to include money and financial freedom for women and many changes to the misogynistic laws and norms in Nigeria.
But we knew we couldn’t do this alone, so in July 2020, we decided to come together to create a coalition of feminist women. We were formed with a vision of a Nigeria where equality for all people is a reality in our laws and everyday lives. Our mission is to champion equality for women in Nigerian society with a core focus on education, financial freedom and representation in public office.
You’ve stated before that “telling engaging African stories brings you joy”. Can you tell us a story that has resonated with you throughout your journey with FemCo?
I don’t have a particular story. For me, it’s the overall impact the Feminist Coalition’s work had on Nigerian women and feminists in general. It means so much to me.
I believe it’s so important to document women’s history—our creations, our impact and such, because history is often whitewashed and “male-washed”. I myself have been so inspired by so many other feminists, and so for my organization to have created that feeling for other women is priceless to me. I think women are exceptional and I want to read more stories about the great things women are always doing because I know how much it empowers us.
You worked in media for years at major companies such as MTV, Universal Music Group and CNN before making the switch to tech and crypto. Can you tell us why you made that transition?
I believe financial equality has a big part to play in achieving gender equality. Money is power. I believe crypto and blockchain give power to the people, create a fair financial system where women can build wealth and achieve financial freedom. To me, education and financial freedom empower women tremendously and I believe blockchain and crypto will get us there. I made a career transition so I could be a part of making that a reality.
Can you tell us a bit more about the programs that you offer through FemCo?
I’m proud to announce our pilot “Girls Education Project”. It’s a scholarship and mentorship program for brilliant girls from low-income backgrounds. In Nigeria, more than 5.5 million girls are out of school, and 40% of women never attended school at all. We know that educating girls and women leads to a more stable and healthy population. Furthermore, investing in the education of one girl has cascading effects for future generations. Children of literate women are 50% more likely to live past the age of five and more likely to go to school themselves. Countries with higher levels of women’s education experience more rapid economic growth, longer life expectancy, lower population growth and improved quality of life.
This year, we sponsored 12 girls to complete their first year of secondary school at Vivian Fowler Memorial College for Girls in Lagos. We paid for their tuition, extra-curricular activities, boarding house requirements (which include feeding, uniforms, clothing etc) and any logistic arrangements they need to attend the school. We also provide them with support in the form of mentorship from the founding members of the Feminist Coalition. Each FemCo founding member is assigned to a scholarship recipient and has weekly/bi-weekly check-in calls with her.
In the long term, we aim to continue to sponsor this first batch of girls through the six years of their secondary school education and, eventually, university education. In addition, we aim to add a new batch of girls each year. At the height of the project, we will have a batch of girls in each year of secondary school. We hope to impact about 72 girls in six years.
Outside of education, we are also working on a financial freedom project, a project that focuses on women’s safety in public transport and we also run our annual Christmas food drives. In December 2020, we organised a food drive in Lagos, Nigeria: providing bags of food for 1,000 women and their families. We provided bags filled with rice, sachet tomatoes, whole chickens, Maggi cubes, salt, face masks and bottles of cooking oil.
We’ve also donated funds to cover the rent and upkeep of a women’s shelter in Nigeria and we have also worked to keep individual survivors of GBV in school. We have reached more than 50 women through these channels.
What do you hope will be the biggest takeaway from people who engage with FemCo?
I hope FemCo inspires others, both men and women, to do their part in creating a world and a Nigeria where social, political and economic equality are a reality for women. I want that to happen in my lifetime.
It is clear through your many projects that you are not one to be boxed into one career path. What has been the most rewarding part of experiencing and being successful in so many different fields?
Being able to see the impact I’ve had on thousands of people across all of the projects I’ve worked on. It’s humbling and satisfying and also motivating to keep trying to make the world a better place, especially for women and Africans.
You have been vocal about your support of homegrown talents and businesses on the continent and beyond. What are your favourite African brands and products?
Oh, this is a tough one! I love the business of fashion so I am very impressed by the growth of brands such as Andrea Iyamah, Orange Culture and Kai Collective. I also love the creativity of Banke Kuku’s elegant and elevated loungewear. In terms of swimwear, it’s Andrea Iyamah for me, always. For skincare I’m currently loving Talata, it’s a Ghanaian brand. I am obsessed with their hand sanitizer. It smells so good and is very moisturising! I also love their hand and body wash. Narganics is another one I like. They have a really nice sanitizer as well but it’s actually their scrubs I’m obsessed with. For homeware, Crete & Co has lovely planters. And Hella Cool Candles for very powerful, long-lasting candles.