We first became enamored with Dara because of her beautiful images. Upon getting to know her better, we learned about her passion for her people, tech, and stepping outside of boxes people may try to place her in (all things we could get behind). Keep up with her on social media @daraoke_ on Twitter and IG and get into her gems below! .
Tell us a little bit about your background: who are you and where are you headed?
I’m Dara – a 24 year old creator, bringing ideas to life through code, design, and photography. My happy place is where form meets function and I’ve had the opportunity to create in that space at some awesome technology companies like Intel, Twitter, and most recently Microsoft. Two months ago, I relocated to Lagos, Nigeria from Seattle, WA and now spend my days working at the intersection of digital media and tech to create opportunities for storytelling and do my part to empower creative and entrepreneurial movements in sub-Saharan Africa.
How did you get your start in tech and design + photography? Who or what inspired you?
I got my start in an untraditional way at an early age: I was 9 or 10, spending a summer learning web development and graphic design after finding an online community where it was encouraged. A few years later, I picked up a camera as a natural progression of my love for design and never put it down. It’s truly surreal looking back and seeing that those casual hobbies ended up informing and shaping my life’s work. I wish that as I was growing up, I was able to point to people inspiring me to do what I wanted to do, but in 2005, being a software engineer or product designer wasn’t yet trendy or glamorous but rather the opposite. But, I have always found inspiration within the intelligent women in my life who nurtured my love for books, for questions, and for learning continuously, without ceasing.
You recently moved to Lagos, Nigeria to engage the innovation and startup industry in sub-Saharan Africa, talk to us about why you decided to move and the opportunities available this arena on the continent?
I moved to the US from Nigeria in the second grade, and didn’t return for 16 years. Yet, when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in tech, I knew that in some way I wanted to center that work around innovation on the continent. Starting my career, I was frequently that person in the room championing building products for “global users” in an industry that often neglects emerging markets and definitely neglects African markets from brainstorming discussions. At a certain point I realized that the best way to advocate for this was to actually dive into the ecosystems I cared about. I was blessed to be able to start this work while at Microsoft, helping to drive a fellowship supporting Nigerian and East African social entrepreneurs. Spending more time on the continent for work made me realize that there would be no better time that right now, while I’m in my early twenties, to make that leap and explore these spaces. I made that first trip back to Nigeria in November 2016, and a year later I live here.
What space do you see for creators of the diaspora to come together and collaborate? How can we all be doing our part to advance the causes and interests of Black bodies around the world and working towards collective freedom and opportunity instead of getting completely bogged down in our differences?
I’ve always had this theory that universal black liberation is made possible when the diaspora is strengthened through vision, connection, and collaboration. From Brazil, to Baltimore, to Accra. It’s hard though, because there’s this disconnect that has existed and been perpetuated for ages, largely through media. But, the world is getting smaller and we should begin to adopt the idea that the causes of our brothers and sisters are our causes. So right now, what we can do is learn and unlearn, cross (literal) borders, create spaces for conversations, and make sure we’re not reinforcing ideas that are not even our own to begin with.
What opportunities do you see for women/women of color/girls like you in tech, photography, and the startup industry in the US and abroad? How do you intend to positively influence this arena?
I could talk about this for ages. These industries desperately need more women, and especially more women of color. Let’s focus on tech + startup. In the past few years, I’ve become extremely aware of gaps in the kind of products being built, companies being funded, etc. There are products and companies that don’t exist, but should, but they don’t exist because they don’t have the right insight or people building them. Stitch Fix’s IPO was a recent example of this. With the industry looking the way it does, no one was going to solve the pains of personal shopping for American women if Katrina Lake didn’t. Most companies are chasing the same 2 billion users (disregarding the 5 billion in other markets), from a very western and male perspective, and there’s a lot of opportunity to disrupt that. Right now, I’m doing my best to be that person. To build things that I have a unique advantage to create given my identities and doing my part to build ladders and clear paths for others while doing that. None of this is easy, but it’s necessary and hopefully there’s a domino effect every step of the way.
What message would you give women of color who are trying to break into the fields you’ve occupied?
Whatever you’re passionate about, whether it’s creating, innovating, building what you want to exist, don’t let anyone or anything stop you from that. Find your superpowers, find your passions, and find ways to make those work for you. There’s space for you, and sometimes you owe it to yourself and the world to carve that space if you haven’t seen it being done before.
PS: Boxes are boring, never let anyone put you in one.
What can we expect from you moving forward? How can we be of support?
I’ve been heads down working on a few projects that center around supporting the burgeoning generation of African creators and doers and I can’t wait to bring those out to the world. I’m on Twitter heavily (@daraoke), so feel free to stay tuned there!
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Ultimately, I want to be able to say that I didn’t let fear stop me from doing the things I should, that I did the things that terrified me, and the things that were bigger than me. I hope when people see me, they see someone that always tried to live her truth despite the boxes and status quos that society often tries to enforce.
Just for kicks:
Mr. Eazi or Davido? Definitely Mr. Eazi
Blog or Podcast? I wish I could say I’m a podcast person, but I haven’t gotten into them consistently yet. I’m a diehard consumer of written content, so it’ll be blogs for me.
Instagram or Twitter? Twitter!