Rafiat Atanda is a Communications Officer at a leading financial institution, and with a heart in the social impact space. She is a 2021 Carrington Youth Fellow, 2021 Margaret Ekpo Youth Fellow, 2020 ONE Champion, Advocate, quintessential Public Speaker, Host, and Freelance Presenter with over five years of experience.
In her capacity as a 2020 ONE Champion in Nigeria, she was privileged to join the high-level Tortoise G7bn Summit and shared her thoughts on the kind of leadership the world should be aiming for.
Also, she has hosted a number of top-level events, judged several debate competitions, moderated a number of panel sessions and trained individuals in the art of excellent public speaking. A one-time presenter on LASU Radio 95.7FM and “Insight on Politics” on LTV, she continues to trailblaze and inspire action whenever she talks. She is the host of “TalkWithRaffy” on Instagram, a platform where she teaches people how to speak and communicate effectively.
Rafiat Atanda is passionate about women, girls and youth.
She shared her Ruby Girl story with the team.
1. Tell us about your childhood, Rafiat. What was growing up like for you?
Growing up was a blend of fun, fear, faith and hope. Like many kids in semi-urban areas, I grew up playing table tennis with boys, seasonally going to Mr Biggs, defending other girls from male oppression, living with caution because my parents were principled and entrenched in spirituality. It was a tough environment characterised by juvenile delinquency, little or no regard for education and other social vices but thankfully, I had parents who checkmated my steps and served as great anchors; instilled a profound moral compass in me; taught me the way of the Lord; charged me to believe in myself and not be defined by my immediate environment; and taught me that being female, even in a male-dominated world is a rare blessing. I didn’t have access to luxury but I had access to parental guidance, and the understanding of what genuine love for humanity is.
2. Have you or people around you always known you would be interested in public speaking?
Yes. I have always had an undiluted love for public speaking. As a student of Sari Iganmu Secondary School and undergraduate at the Lagos State University, I represented my schools in different debate competitions and won trophies. This interest spurred from childhood; I loved talking. I remember how I used to rush to put on the generator, whenever it was time for “The Debaters (a debate competition for adults organised by Mo Abudu) “and there was no power supply. After English tutorial classes taken by my teacher Ganiu Bamgbose who is now “Dr Ganiu Bamgbose”, I would consciously practice speaking right with my good friend Grace Uzoh.
Communicating with poise and the right diction became a crucial component of my being. People always told (they still do) me that they like the way I speak and at some point, my coursemates at the university labelled me “Diction mistress”.
It’s been quite a ride, so they’re not surprised I’m interested in public speaking and communication.
3. Can you enlighten those who are currently nursing the desire to be a Margaret Ekpo Youth Fellow or Carrington Youth Fellow someday how they can achieve this ambition? Also what do you intend to do as a fellow?
I’m very grateful for the opportunity to learn, engage and impact through the Margaret Ekpo Fellowship and Carrington Youth Fellowship. As a corporate communication officer, it’s delightful to know that the little work I do in the social impact space advancing the lives of youth, women and girls isn’t so little after all. For anyone willing to be part of these incredible initiatives, I implore you to put in the work and tell your stories the right way. Endeavour to increase your digital footprints with inspiring and humanised stories. Organisers are looking for passionate and empathetic changemakers; you need to demonstrate that you are the one they’re looking for. Also, seek guidance from alumni; it will help strengthen your application and increase your chances of being selected.
As a Carrington Youth Fellow, I currently work with the civil liberty team and we are looking to work on a project based on juvenile justice. This project is dear to my heart because upon my visit to a correctional center, I noticed that these juveniles are not adequately prepared to be well reintegrated back to the society. It was a devastating experience and I have never stopped thinking about them. I will be engaging individuals to teach these kids monetisable digital skills, as well as work with other members of my team to better ease the entry and exit process of these juveniles.
On the other hand, I have realized that there’s the feminisation of poverty, the erasure of women in history and the underrepresentation of women in governance. So, as a Margaret Ekpo Fellow, I intend to document the stories of women- past and present- as well as champion or support empowering initiatives that will help more women take up leadership spaces, be economically buoyant and live wholly as humans.
4. Judging by your years of practice in the Communications sector, what have you noticed most organizations and institutions are lacking and need to improve on?
Lots of organisations are upping their communications game. It’s interesting seeing how they strategically jump on trends, engage influencers, put some marketing budget on traditional and new media advertising, and try not to hard-sell their products or services.
However, I believe that many organisations still need to learn how to humanise their stories, especially by standing with the people on issues affecting their collective existence. No sitting on the fence; they should join them or back out! No more robotic response to customers, too. In addition, organisations need to ensure they’re domesticating their communication assets.
5. Any particular or general challenges you encounter in the course of practicing and teaching public speaking? Any tips on how you have been able to overcome them?
The challenges I encountered as an early stage public speaker were:
– Overcoming stage fright
– Speaking with confidence, clarity and the right diction
– Getting the right response/emotions from the audience
Here are tips that have worked for me…
Every time I get to talk about public speaking, I particularly share the power of the “3Rs”; Research, Rehearsals and Reflection.
I have come to realise that the challenges I stated above stem from a lack of mastery of the 3Rs. Before you speak to an audience, endeavour to have researched about them and the topic of discussion. This will influence your 5Ws and H. Remember people have come, so you can educate, entertain and inform them.
In addition, you must rehearse your presentation. That is, practice! Do this with friends, family members or even the mirror (the mirror is my best part). Treat it like the serious business that it is. You can not master what doesn’t matter to you.
When you reflect on your speech beforehand, it gives you an idea of what the tone of your voice should be, your choice of words, your looks, etc. You’re ultimately doing this to elicit some kind of emotions/feedback from the audience.
For the challenges stated above, the 3Rs have helped me address them. When you have sufficient knowledge of the topic and people, practice in whatever way you can and reflect, against all odds, you will most likely deliver a memorable presentation.
6. A random fact about your talk show, “TalkWithRaffy.”
The ideas of many of the content I have worked on in the past came while I was in the restroom.
7. To many, feminism means not being submissive, proud, rude and wanting to be in control, what’s your take on feminism?
There are lots of misconceptions about what feminism is in this part of the world, and I believe they largely stem from a place of patriarchal privilege, power domination and unhealthy social constructs. At the heart of feminism is the advancement of women’s issues- ones that everyone should be deeply concerned about. But no, when a woman takes the bull by the horns and decides to deconstruct unprogressive practices, she is labelled “proud, rude, etc.”.
For far too long, the trajectories of women have been laced with underrepresentation and dehumanisation across human endeavours. Women make the numbers but sadly, these numbers are mere statistics that do not translate to shared opportunities. I have met many ladies who have shrunk to fit because the audacity in their voices is a threat that could cost them marriage to a man in the nearest future. They continue to wallow in the pit of social constructs and living wholly as humans does not seem like an option to them.
Regardless of the labels, I understand that a person’s experience can be learned from but not be universalised. Equal opportunity is not a luxury and should not be gender specific. I believe in the social, economic and cultural inclusion of everyone. I believe in the freedom of women and girls to be simply humans who nurture their individualities. This is what feminism means to me.
8. Your major takeaways from advocacy over the years?
– Advocacy isn’t cheap; you need resources (money, time, manpower, etc.) and an undying passion to do great advocacy.
– Emotions alone doesn’t push advocacy, you need facts, a strong network, diplomacy and good lobbying skills.
– When you do advocacy, tell your story in a compelling way. It will not only advance your cause and improve the lives of the people, but aid your personal development.
– You can pursue a career in a different sector and still do great advocacy. I am a Corporate Communications Practitioner who has leveraged my learnings and skills over the year in driving sustainable development. For instance, I ran on online campaign during the rise of the 2nd wave of COVID-19 cases in Nigeria. The hashtag used “#MoreThanAMask” garnered about 2.5million organic impressions.
– As much as possible, advocate without being provocative. A smart advocate doesn’t shut the door; they leave it ajar.
9. If you were to be the President of the Nigeria, which changes would you implement?
It’s very appalling that politics in this part of the world isn’t largely based on ideas and ideals; but on the size of your pocket and your loyalty to “constituted authorities”. Politics is perceived as a business that people venture into for profit, and not an avenue to genuinely serve God and humanity.
If I were President, I would reduce the cost of governance, so more parts of the budget can be allocated to sectors such as education, health, justice, etc; and passionate individuals are attracted to politics. I would elevate and regard “The Office of the Citizen”, lead by example, entrench the rule of law and democracy, provide an enabling environment for young people to innovate and thrive, and increase women representation in government.
I would improve communications in a way that citizens are addressed with empathy and compassion.
I would strengthen the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, so we produce most of what we consume and eradicate poverty. I would put a strong monitoring and evaluation mechanism in place, so resources are better utilised. My people will enjoy the dividends of democracy and everyone will have equal opportunities to live a life of dignity.
10. Mention 3 women who inspire you and why?
Mo Abudu: What else to say about her cross-sectoral experience, grit, poise, intelligence, persistence and determination. One of my inspirations for being a public speaker- especially, a hijabi public speaker- was watching “The Debater”, an initiative of Mo Abudu. She is an amazon who is constantly changing the African narratives. She wears so many hats, and does so excellently.
The Squad (Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Cori Bush of Missouri): I like that these audacious women represent different “Firsts” and together, they have built a resilient and forward-thinking sisterhood. They will rather be honest and feel the heat, than be neutral. For them, the interest of the populace supersedes the party’s interest. They are smart, knowledgeable, graceful and radical. What a breath of fresh air they are!
A stellar outlier and outstanding storyteller. Despite being so long in the game, Amanpour continues to grace our screens with incredible stories of people, places and possibilities. She has shown that hard work and passion are major ingredients to attaining success and significance.
11. Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
I like the intersection of media and communication, politics, policy and development. In the next 5 years, I see myself occupying an international role that brings everything together and allows me do great, impactful work.
12. If you were given the opportunity to address a group of girls five years younger than you, what will be your advice to them?
You’re bigger than your current environment; don’t let it define you. Own your truths, take up spaces and do not be enveloped by social constructs. Live wholly as humans, breathe! Do not let the fear of failing stop you from trying. Tell your story because no one understands what it feels to be you like you. Seek guidance, you do not have to thread the rocky path of life cluelessly. Embrace humanity and spirituality, it will help you live a more fulfilled life.
_Thank you for your time, ma. We’re most grateful._