This Women Wednesday you’re going to get a healthy dose of philanthropy with a side of musical talent. Don’t worry, I’m going to explain. This week I’m incredibly excited to introduce you to:
I was lucky enough to meet Nkem while I was first bartending in New York City. As I continued to talk to her over the past year, I began to realize what a truly beautiful and inspirational woman she is. And I’m going to tell you why.
Nkem was originally born in Nigeria and moved to London, England at a young age. Eventually, she and her family moved to New York City. Her family was not a fan of the big city, so they picked up again and moved to the south. While her family settled in South Carolina, Nkem almost immediately began plotting her return to New York. She found the pace of the south slow and the dreams mediocre, unlike New York.
“The thing I love about NYC is that I could walk a block 1,000 times and still find something new. You are constantly meeting people that push your mind and challenge your way of thinking. And you’re constantly growing”
Nkem was finally able to make her way back to NYC to finish her undergraduate degree in International Studies.
“I was so hellbent on building a community of like-minded people, specifically Nigerian activists. I decided the first thing that looked like it would get me involved in that space, I’d do.”
And the first thing that came up in this setting was a beauty pageant. Nkem tells me the reason she entered the pageant wasn’t to win, but to network. She was constantly talking to new people and using that platform to facilitate advocacy for the community. She didn’t realize she was actually competing until they announced her name in the top 3.
And let me tell you… THIS GIRL WON THE COMPETITION SHE FORGOT SHE WAS EVEN COMPETING IN. Her win took her on a journey that involved her being on TV shows, like Wendy, 106 and Park, NY Fashion Week, and African Fashion Week. Nkem had the chance to visit the UN and Embassy – protesting and advocating for her community through speaking engagements. All while finishing her undergraduate degree.
“In that space, I really started to realize that this was what I cared about. Advocating for peoples’ rights, education and health care.”
Finding Her Passion
After finishing her undergrad degree, Nkem received a full scholarship to the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership at the City College of New York. She began to study Nonprofit Management and International Development. Through her networking, Nkem got involved in a project her professor was developing that centered around Modern Democracy and traditional Governance in Ghana. She had the opportunity to visit Ghana and interview members of parliament, as well as showcase her leadership skills by planning and executing the entirety of the trip.
While their group was touring Ghana, she noticed a school that was falling apart. It was then that Nkem decided to rebuild this school. So, when she flew back to the States, she created a fundraiser and used her connections to organize a budget. This project turned into her senior capstone.
“I realized I had a passion for this type of work. Noticing there is a problem, advocating for change, and then not waiting for the change to come but building the solution.”
Nkem started developing her career in this field of fundraising and development work. Throughout this journey, Nkem worked with a number of organizations and individuals as a consultant and activist. She even took an internship at her alma mater to continue to develop her skills set. She became the grant writer and development specialist in a project called Seeds of Africa that was focused on rebuilding a school in Ethiopia.
Throughout her post-academic career, she began developing her personal business and obtained her LLC for consulting. At that point, she reflected on her past work and decided to put her energy and skills towards development projects.
Nkem had relationships and connections with many musicians throughout her life. Many of her friends, family, and network connections were involved in the music business. So she decided to merge the two together. The business that she had put on the side burner started to become her main focus.
Her Journey as Her Own CEO
Nkem has officially begun working for her woman made company Arfaib. Her company’s mission is to help music professionals build socially conscious entertainment companies and philanthropic initiatives, with a feminist approach to development.
She is interested in disrupting the political marginalization of communities, particularly Africans in America, Africans in Africa, and the many spaces they hold throughout the world.
When you think about it, so many celebrities and artists are involved in or created their own charity that revolves around their passion points.
As Nkem states, There’s always space for a celebrity face on a nonprofit to bring attention and awareness to it.
“I wanted to be the intersection between these two worlds. I would help music artists build their brand in a thoughtful way that allowed them to give back to their communities. And allow the communities to influence their art”.
If you’ve studied political science and social movements, it’s true that there’s an actual way of marking the evolution of a social movement through art. There’s always been a connection between social and revolutionary work and the art industry.
“Noting this correlation and recognizing that it’s always happened organically and haphazardly — maybe I can find a way to make it logical.”
Nkem has officially become her own boss and has been running her company for a little over a year now. She works with experienced artists who have a common interest between music and charity. She now has three projects in the works that revolve around rebuilding organizations in Ethiopia, Ghana, and Nigeria, that are overpopulated and need infrastructure and program support. Nkem uses local support in the community for rebuilding.
“There’s no need to source outside of the community. It’s important to empower the community to facilitate their own programs. After all, they know their community the best.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m incredibly inspired right now.
Of course, being a woman in the business space comes with its advantages and disadvantages. Nkem tells me (and I was completely unaware) that the nonprofit space is primarily dominated by older, white, Jewish men and women. Every time she stepped into a space, whether it be an event or a fundraiser, she would always receive the “what are you doing here?” looks. Being a young woman also effects her space in the music industry as well.
“Guys are mesmerized that you can be pretty and smart at the same time. It ends up becoming frustrating because I’ll be talking numbers and it somehow leads to a guy asking me out to dinner.”
Not only are you sexualized in this space, but your voice is also often silenced involuntarily.
“So many women in this industry are afraid to speak up for themselves because we’ve been taught to be nice and to be polite. And being aggressive is not something you want to be labeled as. Even if all your intuition is screaming at you that something is not right, you feel the need to be quiet.”
Her advice to women who want to start their own business:
1. Just do it! It will be perfect because along the way the journey will make it perfect.
2. Build a support team, a small inner circle of like-minded women (or men), nurturing risk-taking rebellious souls that will support you when it gets hard…because it will get painfully difficult but you’ve got to keep going. People give up seconds away from success. Each thing that feels like a failure is really education on how to get it just right.
Nkem’s Inspiration Right Now
“These women got tired of the world telling them, “no.” Tired of bosses and/or family members that didn’t give them a break…so they rebelled and created their own way. They went from minimum wage, non-college degree-having young moms to humble millionaires, active in their communities and employing their friends. That’s the goal. To make a way out of no way, and take care of your community, your family along the way.”
Knowing Nkem is out there thriving and dominating a specific space in this world gives me a lot of hope for our future. If you want to keep up with her work you can check out her website and keep up with her on Instagram.
Stay safe out there and change the world.