There's a new festival in town. "The Other Festival" founded and created by Dee Poke-Spaulding is the first all woman festival to take place this summer-sixteen, on June 11th in New York City. Dee Poke is also the CEO of WIE https://www.wienetwork.org a women's leadership network. WIE Network provides compelling conversations with notable industry figures designed to empower the next generation and equip them with the tools to succeed. Being the difference is in Dee's blood. A former Hollywood Exec she left that path and turned her dreams of motivating female leaders today into action. Catching up with Dee was like speaking with the mentor I didn't know, I needed. Our conversation about "The Other Festival" http://www.theotherfestival.co launching this weekend was phenomenal. Often times we have an idea but very seldom do we allow that idea to expand beyond us which, " The Other Festival" has beautifully curated. Thank you Dee Poku-Spaulding for your bravery!
MM: How did you go from having an innocuous thought last year at a festival you were attending thinking, "Hmm there is an endless array of all male bands and fried food, theres got to be another way let me launch The Other Festival" which is now a living breathing ladies save the date for June 11th event?
DP: I know, I keep asking myself that question-- What am I doing? You know, it just stayed with me this idea. I already run a womans focused organization and so I already work in the space with supporting women and for gender equality. I never really thought about the music space in that way before and it just suddenly was brought home for me by having gone to a couple of these festivals last summer. I started just reading more about it and it occurred to me, when I think about the music business, I think about all these really empowered female artist like Rihanna, Beyonce and Taylor Swift and I am like wow, these woman are dominating. It's just not reflected, certainly not behind the scenes in the music business and it's certainly not reflected on the festival bracket. It was just invigorating much like a pair of shoes you just can't stop thinking about and I just kind of started to pick on it and then I started planning it and talking to friends in the business. I assembled a pretty great advisory board and it just took on legs and you know the concept evolved a little bit from trolling music to preaching something that was really useful which emerged into something more creative and that encompassed learning, workshops and other talks. I tend to do what I say I'm going to do so... here I am.
MM: I relate to you in that when I think of a shoes to a new hairstyle or work idea, I become relentless until it's done. Who is the first person you went to-- to say this is what I'm thinking. It feels right in my gut, can you assist me in executing this?
DP: There were two people actually. One is actually the chair of my advisory board her name is Jennifer Justice-- JJ. She was a senior level executive at Roc Nation and she is now the President of Corporate Development at Superfly and just a great supporter, so I ran the idea by her and she liked it. I also talked to my husband who is a big- big music lover and is always sort of discovering really cool interesting bands. They were the first two, they were pretty excited and it just really went from there.
MM: I love your genuine and honest approach to helping women especially through the eyes of your own daily journey. Whether it's you using your own personal experiences such as your blog, which resonated with me regarding negotiating your rate. Reading, you having that inner cringe of "Oh I got sucked in again" and kicking yourself. Which, I 100% relate too-- time and time again. When did you first realize that reaching women in this manner is your gift, cause it is your gift -- I feel?
DP: I was working at Paramount and then I left to start my own business. I hadn't realized after leaving that job, how much my identity was just bound up in the "prestigious" job and how much that was intertwined with my confidence. When I went out on my own and started, I realized-- I'm fine for some reason, negotiating on behalf of someone else. It's negotiating on my own behalf where I'm crap.
MM: Same with me on taking my own advice. HaHa!
DP: Yea, I'll fight like a bulldog for you but for me, I can't do it. It was pretty humbling those first few years and I sold myself short again and again and again. There was just a moment where I pushed the envelope a little bit and it worked and I was like oh wow, it's possible. Cause you're always afraid, you're afraid you will lose that thing you are going after but when people really want you, they will meet you part of the way if not all of the way. That was certainly a real turning point for me and I just felt like, I really wanted to impart some of that knowledge on my journey and sort of support the women I'm around and that are in my network. And, within my organization because a lot of talks or negotiations are always on the table. Women in particular, I think you know we are nurtures we like everyone to feel good and be happy, but it can be to our detriment.
MM: Through your company WIE you aim to empower the next generation with the tools to succeed. I feel like that is something very needed. How in action do you go about doing that?
DP: So with WIE, its like we are providing real world training basically. What I see when I look around and at most of the women who approach my events just among my contemporaries. We are all heart, we're ambitious, we're driven, resilient were doing all those things. We are passionate we're good at what we do. The missing link is there is that sort of invisible world of business that trip women up again and again and again. That, that can't be learnt. You can be a great writer, great journalist you can be all those things that comes from you. That invisible part though, it's an intangible something that you only learn through experience and hopefully, you still make it or you fail and you trip up. So what I am trying to do is to give women access to high achievers who have figured it out and can share that. We have very small posted workshops. We have masterclasses, we have a monthly talk series, conferences and we do networking dinners. It's just all about giving access to women who have done it to a different forum big and small-- training forum.
MM: To piggy back off that because it really struck something in me when you said, "you pushed the envelope and it worked" You realized its possible! Was that envelope pushed by believing in a specific rate, believing in your voice or not letting up? What did that push look and feel like?
DP: Well you know and I have to admit to it-- the trigger came from a male friend. Which is actually why we always have a lot of male speakers. I think its very interesting to get their perspective. How would a woman do it-- how would a man do it and given as such we live in a mans world its very good to kind of understand them. What happened was, I had reached out to a former colleague, one I was friendly with about my business and about potentially doing something together. I reached out a couple of times and I just got a blank and she was someone who had been fairly responsive. But.... when I was in my former world and it really hurt. It was one of those days that hit hard and I felt really crap about it and I had a dinner with a male friend of mine-- very, very, very successful business man. I told him what happened, and he looked so puzzled by what I was saying. He said, I am the opposite. When I am rejected, it just spurs me on to kind of prove them wrong. For him that gives him the impetus to succeed. It was such a different way of approaching things where as my impulse is just crawl away hide and lick my wounds. His is like, I'm going to prove you wrong watch me. That was kind of the beginning of that like trigger when I was like come on, what are you doing. It's just one person who says no, put yourself out there. It's not personal you know you believe in yourself. So it was his advice, we had a long conversation and it was just his approach that was so interesting to me and made me rethink my approach to things.
MM: Wow, I love that! I also love that you have an amazing roster of women and talent and entrepreneurs as well as musicians coming on Saturday. How did you curate all of these powerful people to participate?
DP: It's hard to really explain. People are always asking me that. How do you get them and whats the secret sauce and you know my mantra is " Don't underestimate the power of your networks" That's what I live by. Everything I have has been achieved through my network of friends and colleagues and business associates and I take that pretty seriously. I take all my relationships pretty seriously and so when I am thinking about a speaker I want-- you know generally, I invite people to speak who I am inspired by. I'll read something or see something and I will think wow, I love this person. I would love them to come speak and I start to think about how many degrees of separation there are between myself and them and how I can get to them. Over the years, you know I have managed to kind of reduce those degrees pretty significantly. So if you're flexible whats the easiest way to get to them beyond the plain cold call and then its like being really strategic. Like, I don't believe in just asking. You have to really think about that person. Whats in it for them and why they would do it. They need to feel like you've really thought about their involvement and what they can bring to the table and whats in it for them. Rather than just sending a standard cold letter. So, I really think very carefully about who I am approaching and how I'm approaching them so that all comes into play.
MM: Being an African woman in which you are and I am also an African woman. I was born in Zimbabwe, yet grew up in the states. I enjoyed what you said, in an interview that I read of yours where you stated there are huge opportunities for Africa. Our future plan is to change the perceptions of Africa. In your future plans have you thought as far as to bringing "The Other Festival to Africa?" I know you are so deep in planning this current NYC one, yet has that thought crossed your mind on planting that seed?
DP: Always! The diaspora is everything I do. That's my home, thats my roots. It's just part of me. Wouldn't that be awesome to have an amazing festival like this there? It would be unreal.
MM: It would be delicious on so many levels.
DP: It would be unbelievable and also more for like the impact it would make on the woman there, you know it would just be life changing for me and certainly thats something thats on my radar. It would take a lot of planning, I've done a couple of conferences. One in Cape Town and one in Leggos. It's work and a whole different ball game but its very doable and the appetite is there. I was so, you know impressed by the caliber of women I have managed to get speak, so innovative and articulate, driven. Everything we see in the rest of the world but for some reason Africa is just viewed through a different lens. Everything we're seeing here is happening over there.
MM: What do you think its going to take, to tell our fellow Africans Stories in a positive light?
DP: I don't know if you know that amazing Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie who wrote her story? We have to tell our own stories, if we're not. Certainly on Africans in the diaspora, its up to us to tell their story so I take that responsibility quite seriously. I always have African speakers at my events and I am telling our stories from our point of view.
MM: What are the intentions and hopes you aim to feel at the end of "The Other Festival" within yourself and the participants attending?
DP: I want to feel two things. One is that everyone leaves feeling that they got their extra boost of confidence. There is a lot of entrepreneurs coming. It's a lonely place you know theres a lot of hard knocks and sometimes its hard to keep picking yourself up. So, I'm hoping that by hearing the people on stage and interacting with the people they do-- that people will get that little bit of extra oomph. I'm also hoping that they will have some questions answered by being there. Maybe if they have an obstacle or issue they are trying to figure out, we can provide some answers. If I can achieve a little bit of that, I'll feel amazing!
MM: How have you through this process of organizing "The Other Festival" learned to further embrace yourself?
DP: I think I have embraced myself by forgiving myself. I can be pretty hard on myself, maybe thats being a Virgo. I don't know what it is.
MM: I'm a Virgo as well, that's what it is! haha
DP: Yeah! So, I forgive myself and know that I am doing my best at all times.
MM: Well, you did amazing with this interview. I thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed our chat. Wishing you loads of success at "The Other Festival" this Saturday June 11th.
DP: Thank you, I really appreciate that!
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