“We want to help writers showcase their work”: Ariba Saeed on building a social enterprise while at university

Ariba Saeed talks with Luke Alsford about the experience of co-founding The Writer Summit while at Durham University and why she wants to promote the work of aspiring writers and journalists.


Luke Alsford: The Writer Summit is a new social enterprise that you have co-founded, what’s the goal? What’s the ambition for The Writer Summit? 


Ariba Saeed: Our ambition is to become a social agency for writers, so we want to end up in a position where we can showcase the work of a writer on our platform, preferably in a virtual format through an interview. Then we’ll be able to advertise the event and the writer through a social chain on social media get that writer to be more recognized, because it’s very difficult to become recognized in the industry. We found a huge gap in the market for that. Once we started The Writer Summit on Instagram, we have had so many comments and messages from unknown writers thanking us what we’re trying to do and relaying how difficult it is to make in the industry. 



LA: You have mentioned the barriers to becoming a writer or a journalist. What do you think the barriers are and how can they be overcome? 


AS: So, with the rise of social media and platforms, where anyone can publish their work, the market has become so saturated in that there is so much content. People are not reading it and it’s so hard for people to actually choose your work to read. if that makes sense. On platforms like Wattpad or Medium, it’s just so hard to make yourself stand out, when there are literally millions of other texts people could be reading. We want The Writer Summit to be a virtual format that will expose people to these works in a different, more dynamic and interesting format that really stands out.



LA: You are involved in student journalism as the editor of a section at The Bubble. How do you confront the challenges of trying to break through and get attention as writer?


AS: Just the thought that someone could be reading my work is enough. I’ve had that through my whole life, I was always using online publishing platforms to showcase my work. Even though it would never end up getting published, despite me contacting a lot of agencies, the thought that people could be reading my work and thinking about it, that was enough. I think that is the case for a lot of writers, just the desire to showcase your work.


Ariba Saeed 


LA: You run the Creative Writing section, what’s your ambition for the section? What do you want to achieve?


AS: I want to introduce other types of creative writing, which is not commonly seen. My writing isn’t the kind of writing that you see a lot of. We do not see a lot of creative writing on The Bubble, and I want to encourage people to do more of it. Creative writing is so important, even though we are not getting as many views as the other sections, there will also be that one person we can help out with a piece of work that can mean something to them. 



LA: Back to The Writer Summit, I really want to drill into why this has come about now. This is your first year at Durham University, why, alongside your co-founder Craig Bukenya, are you dedicating yourself to this? 


AS: Craig and I really wanted to do something in first year and we thought this was the perfect opportunity because once you are in university it opens so many doors. In sixth form something like this would not happen or it wouldn’t scale up in the way it is now. Just as being a university student, people take you so much more seriously. If we tried to invite eminent speakers when we were sixteen or seventeen, people would not really pay attention to us. It also helps that university students are also a large part of our target market, as they are the ones often looking to get journalistic experience and trying to become established as writers. 



LA: Social mobility is a big topic of conversation at Durham and divides in networking and career opportunities is often discussed. Do you think barriers to social mobility play a role in people’s engagement in journalism at Durham?


AS: I think there are so many opportunities for so many different career prospects here, especially in subjects and career paths such as law. There is really nothing for journalism, and if there is, it is always virtual, and it’s kind of the same kind of sort of recycled opportunities. I think it just gets quite boring. For a very long time I thought that there was no way I could make it journalism, because there was no way I could really get genuine experience, such as internships and things like that. There are very few of them and they are competitive. We want to offer a bit of that experience through The Writer Summit and make sure it is free, as many opportunities also cost money. We want to give the opportunity for anyone to interview, form sixth form students to adults. I am not really sure there are many other ways people could gain meaningful interviewing experience, unless they start a section like you did!



LA: What conversations are you hoping comes out of The Writers Summit, with these interviews with different writers and journalists?


AS: Craig and my own’s big aim is to have a very diverse range of topics and to spread really controversial opinions and have really engaging and insightful debate. We want our platform to be a place of free and open discourse. I think you will notice with our February event card that we will have speakers all on very different subject matters. So, for example we have an Oxford Tutor discussing an article in which he argues that homophobia is not an Asian value. I really want to be a platform where we can just talk about anything and everything. Our first event is about Andrew Tate, feminism and witchcraft! I want to offer events, where not just writers and journalists, but where anyone who finds the topics thought-provoking can attend.



LA: I have a more general question about writing. Recently there has been a lot of buzz about Artificial Intelligence in writing and ChatGPT. We also live in a world with so much visual and audio content, are we losing the importance of writing as a society?


AS: I think platforms like that just make people lazier! In terms of using them to do work and homework. So much of yourself shows and you’re writing, people often talk and write about the things they’re passionate about. Especially in regards to creative writing, I can’t really imagine AI taking over that. Even in terms of articles, AI is just so impersonal and lack that connection and opinion and I think it would honestly be so boring to read, if writing was really driven by AI and platforms like that.


Read part two here.


Image: Thanathip Moolvong on Flickr

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