Celebrating African Women in Media: An Interview with AfroElle Founder Patricia Miswa

Interview by Moiyattu Banya As For Harriet is a digital media space and online community for Bla...

Interview by Moiyattu Banya

As For Harriet is a digital media space and online community for Black women across the Diaspora, we seek to celebrate and shine light on other women doing similar work. Patricia Miswa is one of these women. Miswa is the founder and editor-in-chief of AfroElle Magazine, a digital publication that celebrates women of African heritage. She started the platform 5 years ago and has made tremendous strides in achieving the goals she set out to achieve. AfroElle magazine has featured over 500 stories of women in Africa and the Diaspora. They are business owners, change-makers, artists, non-profit directors, and more—including women like Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter Zoleka, Hollywood actress Lisa Raye and many more.

The digital magazine has truly created a space for women to build relationships and gain inspiration for starting their own projects. As AfroElle celebrates its 5th anniversary, I sat down with Patricia to discuss her journey and provide some insightful remedies on teamwork and impacting change in her media.

For Harriet: Patricia thank you so much for sitting with me to chat about who you are and your magazine AfroElle. Tell us a bit about yourself and your cultural background. How did you come about to developing AfroElle Magazine?

Patricia Miswa: Thank you for having me. I’m a passionate storyteller, creative, and the founder and editor of AfroElle Magazine. I’m Kenyan born and currently based in Nairobi. AfroElle Magazine started as a blog called the Ladies Room. I was going through a low moment in my life when I to the realization that women are more powerful when we open up and share our stories.

I wasn’t 100% sure about the direction I was going to take, so I just put up the first post and left it there for a month. In the beginning we mainly talked about relationships, but later on I realized that a woman’s life is multi-faceted. So I slowly incorporated other sections. AfroElle becoming a digital magazine was very organic.

One day I came across Issuu, the digital publishing platform, and I was just amazed at the many digital magazines out there. I knew that was the direction I needed to take. At the time, there was no digital magazine in Kenya and East Africa solely for women, so I was getting into unchartered territory. But I was willing to take the chance. At that time I had zero design skills. I remember the first time I want to design the magazine, I cried (laughs) because I didn’t know what I was doing. I probably quit 10 times before I started. And here we are, five years later. I’m so glad I made that decision.

FH: You are a powerhouse. You have been able to successfully build this magazine for five years, producing some amazing stories of women from Africa and the Diaspora. Over 500! How have you been successful in building a team of contributors who consistently provide you with content and work towards the good of AfroElle?

PM: When I was starting out, I was 24 and hungry for writing experience. I wanted to just write—for magazines, newspapers, and online platforms. I sent a lot of pitch letters but there was either a rejection or no response. I vowed that with AfroElle, I’d be open to giving writers the opportunity as long as they had the passion. The level of experience would not matter, just passion.

I love my team and their dedication to our vision. Building a team has been a learning process—learning how to manage a team and making mistakes in the midst of that. I learn a lot from my writers, who are based across the globe. They bring in different voices and that’s what has made AfroElle what it is today. Our global audience is a reflection of our writers. With our team, I’m open to exploring their ideas and stories, and allowing them to fully express themselves. I also open myself up for critique and change, which has helped a lot.

FH: In your five years of doing this work, what has brought you the most joy when it comes to featuring our stories as women of color?

PM: I would say meeting amazing women, some of whom have become my friends and sisters in the journey. They not only inspire me to dream bigger when it comes AfroElle, but they’ve also taken me in their fold. They advise and mentor me. I have learned a lot about sisterhood from the women I’ve met through AfroElle.

When it comes to the stories we feature, it gives me joy to discover women doing amazing things in their lives and in their communities. When I started, my greatest fear was that I would run out of content, run out of women to feature and stories to report on. Then issue after issue, I realized that there are so many women out there. That’s why we try not to feature people twice. We want to make sure our content has variety.

FH: Congratulations on such a successful journey. What can we look forward to next for the magazine? How can we as a community of readers support you?

PM: Thank you! It’s been quite the journey. In the past I’ve hardly taken the time to just soak in our milestones. It’s been about moving from one issue to the other, non-stop. Every anniversary we would publish a power list featuring the movers, shakers, game-changers, and leaders in different industries. This year in June, we decided to celebrate our five years by publish a coffee table book featuring 100 women sharing their personal stories, journeys, and advice. We plan to fundraise for this project by launching an IndieGoGo campaign. We hope through this book we can inspire the next generation of female leaders to dream big and achieve great things with their lives.

So if this special print issue is something you’d like to see come to fruition, then you can connect with us on our social media pages, as we prepare for that campaign. Check out current and previous issues of AfroElle via our website: www.afroellemagazine.com. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram @AfroElleMag. And like our Facebook page. You can also check out the 5th anniversary issue of AfroElle.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Photo: AfroElle

Moiyattu Banya is a Native to Sierra Leone, a Digital Mover and Shaker, Feminist and a Writer. She currently teaches women studies courses at Temple University in the United States and also does international consulting with Social Enterprises in West Africa. She is Founder of Women Change Africa. Moiyattu is part of the African Women’s Development Fund’s (AWDF) Community of African Women Writers. Follow her on Twitter @WcaWorld.

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