“A little bit of good can turn into a whole lot of good when fueled by the commitment of a social entrepreneur.” This quote by Jeffrey Skoll, a Canadian billionaire and eBay’s first president, might very well describe Tabitha Boyton, a recent graduate of Northeastern University – London.
Boyton is somewhat of an outlier among the five winners of the 2022 Innovator Awards, given by Northeastern’s Women Who Empower this summer. She won in the undergraduate student category and took home $22,000 for founding and running Res Publica. This interdisciplinary magazine and academically rigorous platform promotes discussion and debate of various ideas and concepts among younger audiences. Its international team works on a volunteer basis.
“We aren’t exactly a business, because we are more of a social enterprise,” Boyton says. “We have a team instead of employees.”
Res Publica is committed to politically educating and increasing engagement, Boyton says, while uplifting women of color in the industry.
“We are a women-led diverse platform, and this is something that publication really prides itself in and it is highlighting that people who look like us do have a place in discourse, and do deserve to have their voices heard, and also do have the platform to do so,” Boyton says.
As a woman of Asian descent, Boyton has experienced severe racism and sexism in and outside of her professional life, she says.
“I didn’t let that genuinely horrific experience hinder me from building something that I thought would rebuild my confidence, but also be valuable to other people,” she says. “I basically ended up embracing my vulnerabilities.”
Without formal training in journalism, website or graphic design, Boyton embarked on establishing this new publication in 2020 when she was a law and international relations student, the world was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic, and her own mother was at the hospital, undergoing a surgery.
In just under two years, Res Publica grew to 35 team members and about 250 contributors.
“The editors range from San Marino to Mexico, Hong Kong, France, Poland, the Netherlands, Cyprus, Russia, so it really is such an eclectic group of people,” Boyton says.
This year, the magazine will publish its 1000th piece.
Res Publica has been featured in several awards for journalism, style, focus or tenacity, Boyton says. It’s been selected as one of the best newcomers in London, a top-five specialist publications in the U.K., and was shortlisted for the U.K. Civility in Politics Awards.
It covers a variety of topics from politics and law to art and culture. The magazine is dedicated to the UN sustainability framework and a green approach to publication, primarily existing digitally online.
“We don’t print out absolutely every single one of our issues. We do up to three [printed issues] per year,” Boyton says.
But for her, Res Publica is not just a mere magazine or a media platform.
“My project isn’t just words on a page,” she says. “Because we are a career accelerator for young, marginalized writers who move on to bigger and better things. And for me, seeing those people who I’ve mentored, who have written for us, who have worked for us, grow into such young, confident, capable, especially young women, it’s such a big reward.”
Boyton says that uplifting others has been instilled in her from childhood both by her parents and her teachers. She was born to a British-German mother and a Hong Kong Chinese father and grew up in Hong Kong. Being a Hong Konger at heart, she says, made her very independent.
At the age of 11 she moved to the U.K. to attend an all-girls boarding school, Cheltenham Ladies’ College, which she approached as a new adventure.
“I am always looking to find new things that I can do,” Boyton says. “For example, I am trying to do sushi rolls at the moment.”
She tried a lot of sports as a child, including horseback riding, figure skating and, unconventionally for U.K., lacrosse.
“My family has always been really supportive of all of my endeavors,” Boyton says. “They’ve always pushed me to work hard, and pursue my potential and always impressed upon me how important it is to give credit where it is due and also to practice gratitude.”
Her parents and the boarding school instilled in her a desire to do the most, to make her mark on the world, but also bring other people up, Boyton says.
A renowned British philosopher A.C. Grayling, who started New College of the Humanities that became Northeastern University – London in July, says that Boyton showed herself to be ambitious “in the best possible ways” since she joined the college. He describes Boyton as a bright, very entrepreneurial, creative and committed individual.
“She is marvelous proof of what can be done when energy, positivity and intelligence are brought to bear on a project. And she is always full of projects,” Grayling says.
Res Publica was born out of the Boyton’s strong believe that everyone and especially more marginalized people, should have an opportunity to voice and share their opinions, even if they clash with the mainstream.
“For me, the most important thing is about actually having this productive exchange of ideas, because ultimately, debate is fundamental,” Boyton says. “Table whatever you want, but be open to the criticism or be open to the praise that you would receive from that. You’ll have to make your point stand up.”
To keep readers’ attention, Res Publica uses an interdisciplinary approach to content and delivery, Boyton says.
“I think that the key to it is understanding that different groups of people assimilate and learn information in so many different ways, and we have to mirror that,” she says.
Res Publica has 16 long-form thematic magazines under its belt, covering a plethora of topics, from patriarchy to technology, to the pandemic, to theology.
“The conversations we have ranged from Nigerian youth culture to intersectional feminism, maladaptive perfectionism, eco socialism,” Boyton says. “There is something for everybody. And I think that’s what makes it so important because we engage at every single level.”
Besides physical and digital publications, a Sunday brief and a book club, Res Publica offers online and in-person discussions and panels with experts and academics and engages in collaborations with various organizations, universities and colleges, and other publications in the U.K. and abroad.
“I think that the only reason why we’ve had the success that we’ve had is because I’m so into collaboration, and I’m so into randomly cold-calling people,” Boyton says. “My literal philosophy all the time is that if you don’t ask for something, you don’t get anything.”
Currently, Boyton is trying to decide how she will spend the $22,000 she has won in a way that will benefit Res Publica and its team.
“I would like to move into paid staff, but [it is] just not a reality at the moment,” she says.
Her next idea for Res Publica is to encourage people to share A-level university notes and exemplary essays to the platform so that others can freely download and use them.
“Access to education [is] becoming slightly more convoluted at the moment,” Boyton says.
She also participates in a number of other social initiatives, she says. She has been an ambassador for the European Youth Parliament and acts as a mentor at Publish and Prosper, a U.S. based organization that helps youth build new academic student publications.
For all her activities with Res Publica, Boyton was named one of the recipients of the 2022 Diana Award, one of the most prestigious accolades a young person can receive for their social action or humanitarian work.
Her success complies with her overarching standard that she has set for herself at a young age.
“I suppose it’s all about being your best authentic self. And always asking yourself how you can evolve,” Boyton says.