A Chat With Nila Varman: Social Activism and Advice For Students Wanting To Make Change

Francesca Montefusco

Nila Varman is a 21 year-old social activist, host of the award-winning radio show, The Nila Extract, and alumnus of the University of Nottingham. She uses her platform to question taboos, showcase under-represented communities and speak up on the many social issues facing us today; from climate change, to sex education, to mental health and body image. Having recently won the Diana Award ‘the most prestigious accolade a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts’, Nila spoke to Impact‘s Francesca Montefusco about her journey, and advice for young people who want to follow in her footsteps.

First, I wanted to know what led Nila to start her own show.

Nila opens up about those ‘unspoken’ topics and allows people to resonate

She tells me she started out because growing up, she never really saw anyone that she could relate to talking about social taboos and challenge them. She says “when I started struggling with things that are just normal to struggle with, I felt I couldn’t relate to anyone in the media; nobody looked like me, nobody was from the same South Indian heritage as me”. Without finding someone to relate to, Nila felt she was the only one experiencing a mental health difficulty or horrible body image.

This became her motivation: making people realise they aren’t alone. To achieve this, Nila opens up about those ‘unspoken’ topics and allows people to resonate with those who may not have a platform to talk about the things they struggling with.

At university, while lockdown shut most things, it left open the opportunity of the radio. It was Nottingham’s student radio, URN, that gave Nila a place she never had before to talk about things she found important and “release a lot of pent-up angst”.

“We don’t hear about it enough because media representation is terrible”

We then talked about the main goals of her show and social media. Whilst she hopes her platform reaches as many as possible, Nila expresses how she wants to focus on amplifying minority communities. She says, “I want to keep bringing attention to all these wonderful advocates who are doing work and we don’t hear about it enough because media representation is terrible”. Through giving people the chance to talk about their stories, Nila gives her audience exposure to different perspectives to learn from.

For Nila, the best way to learn about any social issues is to hear from people with lived experiences first-hand. The guests on her show provide not only important education, but also another chance to relate to someone – what Nila felt she didn’t have.

So, what can we do?

How can we make our own change and fight for social justice, too?

I asked Nila for some tips.

First, she told me “education goes a long way”. Whilst marginalised communities can help out, they are not obliged to take you the whole way. It’s about doing the work yourself, whether through listening to podcasts, reading books, watching movies, listening to people tell their stories and giving them the space to do so. “I am continuously learning”, Nila tells me.

“Unlearning can be just as important as learning”

Keep an open mind and stay updated with what is happening in the world. But Nila also says that “unlearning can be just as important as learning”. We may need to rethink what we know; it is important is assess your own privileges and realise that there are plenty of biases you might have.

As I chat to Nila, she stresses the importance of remembering that every action, no matter how big or small is powerful. She says “People think you have to do a monumental thing to create change. It is not true at all.” Changing your own perspective or the perspective of someone in your family is in itself change that could resonate down the generations. She speaks of climate change as an example: we can’t expect ourselves to do massive things that will fix the climate crisis, but we can take our own bags to the shops, turn the light off and use less water.

We don’t need to go completely plant-based tomorrow, but we can start to include more sustainable things into our diet. The thing to keep in mind is that little things add up.

Carve out your own way of doing things

For those looking to take part in social activism, Nila notes that you need to remember your own agency when it comes to your platform. Of course, learn from other social activists, but it is important to carve out your own way of doing things. Talk about things you are interested in, whatever way that you would like to. Information doesn’t come out in one way and don’t be afraid to experiment.

You can find Nila on Instagram – @the_nila_extract – to find out more about her work and listen to her radio show.

Francesca Montefusco

Featured image courtesy of Rosemary Ketchum via Pexels. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In-article images courtesy of @the_nila_extract via No changes were made to these images.

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