I met Rifa last year when she kindly invited me to speak at SheSays Brighton. Rifa wears many interesting hats and is working hard to bring people in Brighton together in new ways. She is the founder of Refigure, organiser of SheSaysBrighton, radio DJ at Juice Brighton and Festival Director at We Spring Forward. Here's what she has to say...
What's the biggest lesson you've learnt over the last year?
I’ve learnt that our first instincts about people can be our best human resources department: trust your instincts – especially early on, about potential projects or collaborators.
In the past to a certain extent I’ve “fallen for people” when I start working with them and I build close working friendships very quickly. Last year this aspect of my work style caught me out – and I learnt a tough lesson about seeing clearly who is reliable or consistent when deciding which project to get involved with.
Over the past couple of years as my local profile has grown (as a result of the success of SheSaysBrighton and Spring Forward festival in March) I’m getting more exciting opportunities to work on projects with very different people.
SheSaysBrighton has put me visibly at the heart of an amazing, growing group of women, full of ideas. Most of these projects have been great fun and fascinating work.
I also changed the way I work: for 15 years I’d kept the meditation, yoga and “mind, body, spirit” work I do entirely separate from my roles in the digital media industry. In the last couple of years I’ve begun to connect the two; bringing yoga and meditation into boardrooms, running visionary leadership and networking workshops that incorporate elements of mindfulness and meditation. Going forward I am increasingly allowing that side of my vocation into my ‘work persona’, in a more meaningful way.
With last year’s collaborative partnership, early on we both had a lot of enthusiasm and I pushed some more negative instincts to the back of my mind, in order to develop something we were both going to be proud of. The project derailed shortly before our alpha launch, with little warning and no way back. If only I’d trusted my instincts! I have a measured, realistic sense of how a project should unfold.
That’s my biggest lesson: my instincts are usually right, so give them space to inform my conscious self.
What's your burning question of the moment?
My burning question at the moment is: how should we respond to the sense of rising chaos?
I’ve never seen so many people and businesses respond in a complacent, complicit way to the abandonment of the poorest, most vulnerable people at the bottom of the pile – and in particular the erosion of fundamental rights for women. People in positions of power and authority are being openly sexist and racist and deliberately playing on the population’s worst fears.
I was inspired by the focus and impressive worldwide organisation of the Women’s March. We need to make our voices heard more often on that scale. We urgently need to find more radical ways forward that don’t resort to violence but have the potential to make a tangible positive change. We’re entering an era when non-violent direct action may be crucial. We need to apply creative, innovative thinking to that challenge.
But how? What’s our strategy for revolution now?
What's the most inspiring thing you've seen, heard and read in the last year?
One good example is Imriel Morgan of Shout Out Network. I came across her at RadioFutureSounds conference, run by the same team that runs the radio station where I present my weekly late night radio show (Rifa’s Indie After Party, Sunday nights on Brighton’s Juice 107.2).
Imrie was on a panel discussing her podcast network Shout Out Network, as well as her own excellent podcast Melanin Millennials, which she co-hosts with Satia Sa Dias. The first chance I got, I had to book her for SheSays Brighton. I invited her back to Brighton so speak to the 300 women at my event in March 2017. I ask speakers to include some of their own life journey, which is one of the key elements that makes our talks different. Imrie came across just brilliantly: very clear simple expertise and advice but also offering no illusions about how challenging it is in the new world of podcasting, especially in the UK. She is getting great stuff done.
There were several fantastic talks that day – I love it that women are enabled to share, including talking about when it’s not plain sailing, to a powerful cheerleading audience. Makes it all the more inspiring, particularly seeing the women in their twenties, just starting out but already making a big impact. It’s far more truly valuable than a sales pitch.
What would be your one piece of advice to students out there?
Find yourself a mentor and starting building your networks now.
Build your tribe right from the beginning of your career and, out of the younger people I connect with who are developing their early careers now, those who get furthest and get the most interesting work done are those who’ve already started to create a world of allies around them.
Learn to focus with great honesty, to work out who you trust, who you believe in and who believes in you. Cultivate those relationships. They’re the important ones.
When I started as a freelancer, I asked everyone I’d ever worked with for a recommendation when LinkedIn first started. Quite apart from being very good for my ego and reminding people that I existed, it did result in a long list of positive recommendations to build upon, acquired in one go.
You have to ask for stuff and keep asking – and don’t be disheartened if people or companies say ‘no’. Never take knock-backs personally; you have to keep plugging away.
Support your fellow female workers and people from under-represented groups. Now more than ever. I’m a big fan of Arts Emergency: its growing mentor scheme and support network is exactly what disadvantaged and under-represented young people need. They talk openly about being an alternative to the ‘old boys’ network’.
You can read the rest of the profiles here: