How to be decolonial in an entrepreneurial program?

One of the questions on the application form for the Entrepreneurial Journalism Creator Program of City University New York was about how I would share my lessons from the program with the outside world. I think I mentioned Instagram stories and writing blogs, but after the first week of the program, I figured I actually don’t have time for sharing my reflections publicly. So now, around Day 79 of the 100-day program, if I’m correct, I use this opportunity to finally write down my insights and lessons so far.

First impression

When the program started it was immediately full on: at least two but often three lectures a week with homework, the request to keep a personal journal with questions for reflection, a huge file of resources to pick at least two from to put on the reading list, introduction videos of classmates to watch and comment on, creating such a video myself, planning for taking notes during classes, biographies of speakers to read, a mentor to reach out to and speak with regularly, teammates in the same timezone to catch up with, and I probably forget something. The program is very well organized with all the online tools and an accompanying Slack group for direct contact, but it definitely felt a bit much in the first week. Luckily I met alumni Rayaan Mohammed from India at Splice Beta conference in Thailand and he told me the workload would get better very soon. He was right.

In the first meeting, Jeremy Caplan explained why we were part of the group:

  1. You’ve already accomplished something that stands out from others 
  2. We are excited and optimistic about the impact you’ll have in the future. We are excited about the ideas you have, the vision, and mission.
  3. You seem like nice human beings.

It made me realize I need to be grateful to be part of this because some people might have sent in an application and didn’t get through. 

Being more vocal 

Anita Zielina emphasized in the first lecture the importance of being vocal about why you’re doing what you’re doing. My mentor had similar advice in the first chat I had with her: you need to create more content in order to stand out. I certainly noted these suggestions. I already write a weekly newsletter but I don’t share it too much on social media. My subscriber list is growing at a very slow pace. I want to write more blogs but my head feels often too occupied to write something coherent.
And thoughts flow through my head criss-cross strangled into each other, about inviting freelancers to write pieces for the newsletter, interviewing interesting experts, or mainly focusing on educational content. There are days that I just don’t want to think about Inclusive Journalism anymore. And, I didn’t even mention yet that I might want to change the name. It all feels overwhelming and I remember saying to a friend: “When I signed up for this program I was actually hoping someone would hold my hand, go through everything I’ve done so far, and then give an advise: this is what you should do”. Of course, I knew the decision about what I wanted to do with my life and work needs to come from myself, but boy, it can be exhausting. Do I actually want to be a media entrepreneur or creator? In the first weeks, everything I’ve been working on in the last couple of years suddenly felt like one shaky foundation, easy to collapse if I won’t focus on getting it right.

Entrepreneurial well-being and dilemmas 

What is the problem you are solving? Who is your audience? Make sure to talk to them regularly! Position your solution against the current alternatives. Think about your value proposition and your pricing. What is going to be your content strategy? Social media, blogging, will you hire someone to do this part for you, or not? How will you define your success? What is your funnel going to look like, where is the start, and where is the end? 
All these questions are excellent questions to ask if you want to build a business. I have been working with and also in close connection to startups in Southeast Asia for a couple of years now and this approach isn’t new to me. Which doesn’t mean that I can easily apply it to my own work. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be part of an entrepreneurial program now. Knowing and doing are two different things. I do see startup or business founders struggle mentally with the first stages of building something and I recognize what they’re going through. The constant focus on creating something that needs to deliver revenue or pay the bills in some way can stress me out. And it affects my mental well-being.
It also makes me contemplate about the topic I focus on – inclusion and decoloniality – and if I want to make a business with that. There are a ton of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity (DEI) consultants and most of them are people of color, and that’s how it should be in my opinion. There are some critical views on white people earning money with DEI consultancy, Robin DiAngelo maybe the most famous one. She apparently earns quite a lot of money doing talks based on her book “White Fragility”. I personally don’t have a strong opinion about this because I do value her book and I also see other white people in the space doing important work. If there is one thing I learned in studying decoloniality, it’s that we are in this together and we all have a role to play. However, when focusing on such a sensitive topic, the last thing you want to do is offend people. 
I can see there is a space for me too in this field as long as I keep my values at the centre of my work. To me, a decolonial way of running a business includes:

  • Communal work, maybe a cooperative or membership model where the profit goes back into the community; 
  • Well-being at the core, instead of solely focusing on becoming profitable. 
Inspiring examples vs lone wolves

The program is filled with expert speakers who have been through part of the entrepreneurial journey already or who work in the field of supporting creators and startups. Anita Li of The Green Line Toronto, Ariel Zirulnick (former Membership Puzzle Project), Bola Awoniyi of Black Ballad, professor Jeff Jarvis, Dan Oshinski of Inbox Collective, Eric Silver and Amanda McLoughlin of Multitude Productions, Aldana Vales of The Atlantic, and talks about Radio Ambulante, Substack and Swapstack. 
What I learned so far is that there are multiple ways of doing things and you really need to find your own way, nobody else can do it for you. The trends in media and journalism are quite clear: there is a lack of trust in our work, there is a decrease in willingness to pay for content, there is space for journalists to do more with education, community building is very important, and advertisement isn’t really working anymore. And of course, there are exceptions to each of these statements. Most of the examples in the program are about people who have built something that is big enough to hire staff.
I personally get a lot of inspiration from solo creators. People like Tanmoy Goswami who set up Sanity by Tanmoy (and who also participated in EJCP). Or someone like Fariha Roisin who wrote a book about well-being and decoloniality and uses marketing in a very personal and more disruptive way. Also, Mongolian Youtuber and content creator Any Harchu and newsletter writer and founder of Backscoop Amanda Cua speak to the imagination. Their persistence is admirable. And I guess based on their experience I need to conclude: just do it. Write that blog, publish that newsletter, feel shit some days, and then celebrate your wins on other days. It’s a journey, it’s a ride. 30 days left in the program, let’s see where this ends.

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