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Whilst interning at the RSA, I started to support various initiatives to diversify our Fellowship base, and co-create inclusive spaces with our Fellows. As a Nigerian British woman, I was personally interested in better understanding the experiences of underrepresented individuals within the Fellowship as this could help to inform how their experiences can be further enriched. I therefore decided to interview Mecca Ibrahim FRSA, a black female Fellow, who co-founded Women in the Food Industry.

Highlights of joining the RSA

I was intrigued by why Mecca was initially attracted to join the Fellowship in 2003 and why she is still interested in the organisation over a decade later. She joined the RSA after being told about the organisation by a friend she admired, but also reading through the RSA Journal and finding the programme of events intriguing.

Becoming a Fellow certainly did not disappoint, as she found the RSA to be a supportive environment where “everyone has their own different stories, yet they have a similar mindset of wanting to do good and collaborate”. Forums available to facilitate networking and critical discussions about social change, such as the RSA Breakfast Club and discussion groups in Rawthmells Coffeehouse were spaces she found very enriching. There are various events at the RSA which I have found interesting, from Antonella Sorace FRSA speaking about bilingualism to Vayu Naidu’s exploration of storytelling in times of turbulence. For Mecca, her favourite event at the RSA was led by Julian Barnes, who explored the concept of death through his book ‘Nothing to be Frightened Of’, which presented death as “not miserable, but a part of life”.

Ways the RSA promotes personal and professional development

Having access to spaces within the RSA House has allowed Mecca to collaborate with others in order to create social change. The collaboration room allows Fellows to brainstorm ideas with one another on how to tackle social challenges and is an inspiring space to be in due to displays of the RSA Student Design Awards, which show designs that aim to tackle pressing social issues.

The RSA has also played a part in Mecca developing her organisation, as she acknowledged that “some of the ideas of Women in the Food Industry have come out of being a member of the RSA”, as the variety of spaces has been useful for thinking creatively with others. Not only is the RSA an enriching environment to have conversations, but as observed by Mecca, it also allows one to “develop beyond an idea” and practically implement that same idea.

Mecca also found partaking in public events as being key to increasing her profile and the exposure of her organisation, Women in the Food industry.

The RSA: an inclusive organisation?

Mecca described the RSA as an inclusive space, and felt this strongly through her participation in varied activities within the organisation. Albeit few, she did mention facing challenges based on the intersection of her race and gender as a black female Fellow navigating the organisation. She highlighted that her experiences are not necessarily unique to being part of the RSA but are symbolic of a wider societal issue of navigating spaces where one is a minority; which resonates with me as a Nigerian-born British woman.

On an organisation-wide level, she believed change could occur through the RSA promoting more women, especially ethnic minorities, in its Journal and having more of them speak at Fellowship events. At the RSA, we want to do better, and we want to work with our Fellows to make that happen. Increased representation of ethnic minority women should be due to the valuable insights they offer rather than being tokenistic.

While she noted that the RSA could make changes to promote greater inclusivity, she insisted that the onus should also be on individuals to be cognisant of views they may have which are prejudiced and should do their best to challenge such views.

After speaking to Mecca, I was inspired to apply to become a Fellow of the RSA and embark on my own journey of enlightenment. After reading about Mecca’s experience, you might also be contemplating becoming a Fellow of the RSA, so why not find out more about whether Fellowship is right for you?


Fola Afolabi interned with the RSA and is now a Fellow. To find out more about the RSA and our support, please sign up on the form above, or get in touch with us on fellowship@rsa.org.uk

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