Social Impact Heroes: Why & How Lola Bailey of pan-African Is Helping To Change Our World

Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine
Published in
9 min readAug 21, 2023

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Balance and Self-Care Matter: The fervour of starting a venture often led me to neglect my well-being. The turning point was a burnout episode that affected my productivity. Recognizing the need for balance, I committed to designated downtime. This shift not only improved my wellbeing but also boosted my overall effectiveness.

As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lola Bailey.

Lola Bailey, Nigeria-born and now UK-based, is the founder of the pan-African online magazine. With a deep-rooted desire to counter one-sided media narratives, Lola’s passion led her to create an online platform that bridges the gap between the African Diaspora and the continent.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

My journey was profoundly influenced by my children, who have mixed English and Nigerian heritage. Witnessing their struggle to find accurate representation of their identity within media narratives was a pivotal moment. One day, my elder son shared an experience where he spent hours scouring the internet in search of a barber who understood the unique challenges of his hair type. This moment struck me, revealing the scarcity of information available for individuals like him unless you already know where to look.

Our conversation sparked a broader dialogue about the ongoing challenges my children — and others in similar situations– face in navigating their dual identities, and how they feel about the unbalanced portrayal of their African heritage. To be frank, I’m talking about the dominant narrative of Africa as the home of poverty, disease, conflict and corruption. Africa is not a country; and it’s not a ‘single story’ of dependent people without any agency. It is an exciting continent of 54 distinct countries. It was at this juncture that the concept of pan-African began to take shape. Recognizing the need to address this imbalance and create a platform for more rounded representation, I embarked on the journey to establish pan-African Magazine. This endeavour aims to bridge the gap between the African Diaspora and the continent, offering a space where stories, experiences, and identities can be celebrated and understood through culture, opinion pieces, music, art, food and various initiatives.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?

One of the most memorable experiences I’ve had since leading my company was a fascinating interaction involving the renowned African American-Jewish culinary historian, Michael W Twitty. As an avid follower of his work, I was intrigued when he solicited recommendations for African-inspired cookbooks to share with his substantial online following. Seizing the opportunity, I suggested one of the featured cookbooks from pan-African.

To my delight, he not only acknowledged my suggestion but also retweeted it to his extensive audience. This seemingly small gesture turned into a significant turning point for us. This interaction eventually led to an interview with Michael W Twitty himself, an honour that underscored the growing support for our magazine.

Moreover, the cookbook he highlighted was reviewed by one of our talented writers, creating a ripple effect of positive outcomes. Not only did it give the magazine a notable boost, but it also served as a significant recognition for our writer’s work. This experience really shows how interesting exchanges and unexpected connections can yield substantial support and recognition, contributing to the growth and impact of our magazine.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Oh yes! I was scheduled to be interviewed by the wonderful, acclaimed Nigerian fashion designer, Adebayo Jones, on his Instagram platform. Despite my lack of prior experience with this type of interview, I had a somewhat overconfident assumption that everything would flow seamlessly. Ha!

As the interview began, I encountered a technical glitch that I hadn’t anticipated — my camera simply wouldn’t play ball. Panic set in as I struggled for a bewildering 15 minutes to resolve the issue live on air. I’m sure my embarrassment was palpable, especially considering the number of viewers who had eagerly tuned in to watch. It was definitely an oops moment.

This episode taught me a crucial lesson: always prepare for every aspect of an interview! Which, in my case, means being ready for any unforeseen technical challenges.

Can you describe how you or your organization is making a significant social impact?

Everything we do is with the aim of championing diversity, talent, and community empowerment. Firstly, we are dedicated to elevating the voices and work of talented Black/African artists across diverse fields such as art, culinary arts, writing, music, and entrepreneurship. We provide them with a platform to showcase their creations and perspectives, often without charge, amplifying their reach and influence.

Additionally, our commitment extends to nurturing emerging writers through internships and mentoring opportunities. Many of these aspiring writers have transitioned into paid roles after gaining invaluable experience and guidance from us, contributing to their growth and success in the writing industry.

Moreover, we have established a free directory where African Diaspora business owners can list their enterprises, tapping into our online traffic. This initiative facilitates visibility and exposure for these businesses.

Overall, our multifaceted approach underscores our commitment to fostering talent, providing opportunities and creating a platform for authentic representation. By uplifting individuals and businesses within the African Diaspora community, we are actively contributing to positive social change and the empowerment of underrepresented voices.

Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?

Sure! pan-African magazine has actively promoted the work of the African Chapter of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) book club through Olatoun Gabi-Williams, who is also the founder of Borders Book Reviews. Borders’ broad mission is the promotion of the reading culture in Nigeria and Africa but also the promotion of the reading of African books worldwide. When Ms Gabi-Williams first approached us with the idea of a partnership, we didn’t hesitate to rally to the cause and pan-african is privileged to promote the Chapter’s book chats with authors and illustrators.

Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?

Firstly, fostering a culture of inclusivity and diversity within our communities is pivotal. By recognizing and valuing the contributions of individuals from all backgrounds, we can collectively challenge stereotypes and biases, creating an environment where authentic representation flourishes.

Secondly, society’s support in amplifying our platform’s reach and impact is crucial. Spreading awareness about our initiatives, sharing our content, and engaging in conversations about the importance of diverse narratives can create a ripple effect of change. The power of collective action cannot be underestimated in challenging entrenched norms and broadening perspectives.

Lastly, policymakers can play a pivotal role in shaping a more inclusive media landscape. Advocating for policies that promote diversity in media representation and ensure equitable access to resources can pave the way for a more authentic and well-rounded portrayal of underrepresented communities.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership, to me, is the practice of guiding a group or community towards a shared vision while fostering growth, inclusivity, and empowerment. It transcends authority and is characterized by the ability to inspire, influence, and create positive change.

True leadership is not about wielding power, but about listening and understanding the needs and aspirations of those you lead. An example that embodies this definition is the civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. His leadership was defined by his unwavering commitment to justice and equality, his ability to mobilize people across diverse backgrounds, and his vision of a better society. King’s speeches and actions were rooted in empathy, compelling individuals to see beyond differences and unite for a common cause.

In essence, leadership involves both strategic direction and empathetic guidance. It needs humility, adaptability, and a deep sense of responsibility to uplift and empower others. A leader’s impact isn’t only measured by their accomplishments, but by the positive influence they have on the lives they touch and the legacy they leave behind.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Embrace Failure: Failure is just feedback and it’s vital to success! Early on, I was disheartened by one or two early setbacks, but one experience changed my perspective. When our first major collaboration fell through, it initially felt like a huge deal. However, I realized that analyzing what went wrong allowed us to refine our approach, leading to more successful partnerships in the future.

Networking is a Lifeline: I underestimated the power of networking initially. Connecting with others across diverse fields can bring unexpected opportunities.

Adaptability is Key: Flexibility is crucial in an ever-changing landscape. At one point, we faced unexpected hurdle that threatened our audience engagement. Adapting quickly, we revamped our content strategy, offering unique perspectives that our competitors lacked. This experience taught me that staying open to change is essential for sustained success.

Seek Mentorship: Early on, I hesitated to seek mentorship, thinking I had to figure things out on my own. However, reaching out to a very successful entrepreneur proved invaluable and provided insights that expedited our growth.

Balance and Self-Care Matter: The fervour of starting a venture often led me to neglect my well-being. The turning point was a burnout episode that affected my productivity. Recognizing the need for balance, I committed to designated downtime. This shift not only improved my wellbeing but also boosted my overall effectiveness.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I believe in the power of connection and understanding. If I could inspire a movement, it would be one focused on fostering empathy across boundaries. In a world often divided by differences, this movement would encourage individuals to actively seek out diverse perspectives, engage in meaningful conversations, and embrace the shared humanity that unites us.

Imagine a world where people genuinely listen and learn from one another, where cultural, social, and political barriers are transcended. By promoting empathy, we could address issues such as prejudice, inequality, and social injustice more effectively. Through understanding, we can discover common ground, build bridges, and work collaboratively towards a brighter future for all.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world from a different perspective.”

This was a quote shared with me not long ago — although I’m not sure where it’s from. It encapsulates the essence of purpose-driven exploration and the power of stepping out of your comfort zone. It’s easy to get caught up in the pursuit of external recognition or success metrics but this quote reminds me that true value lies in the perspectives you gain through challenges.

It’s also a helpful frame for any business hurdle, as rather than fixating on the obstacle itself, you can shift your focus to the growth and expanded vision that awaits on the other side. It makes it easier to find more innovative or bolder solutions.

Beyond business, this lesson has enriched my personal life. It’s a reminder to continually seek out novel experiences and perspectives, whether through travel, learning, or engaging with diverse communities.

It helps you to appreciate the world in its many intricate shades. It encapsulates the notion that life’s challenges are invitations to explore and evolve, leading to a more enriching life experience.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)

I’d love to treat Michael W Twitty to a sumptuous breakfast..

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow pan-african on www.pan-african.net or on our Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/pan_african_online/

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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Yitzi Weiner
Authority Magazine

A “Positive” Influencer, Founder & Editor of Authority Magazine, CEO of Thought Leader Incubator