Crowdfunding success for their first-ever scholarship shows how much people in Canada want new perspectives in media, says founder Nana aba Duncan

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Despite the realities of a world under lockdown, Media Girlfriends’ volunteers and its founder, Nana aba Duncan, have been hard at work.

Between early morning studio recording for CBC and taking care of two children, it hasn’t been easy on Duncan.  But along with her colleagues, she’s produced four Instagram Live broadcasts to date — keeping connected a network for women and non-binary people in media that the team has built over the last four years.  

That momentum has culminated in the platform’s first-ever scholarships. Two aspiring women or non-binary students of journalism, communication, media or tech will receive $7,000 from the Media Girlfriends network when the awards are announced this June. 

The scholarship’s success in raising funds on  GoFundMe.com demonstrates people’s acceptance of and support for an increase in women and emerging perspectives within Canadian media.

The Media Girlfriends network had originally hoped to fundraise two scholarships of $1,000 each. Within three days of posting the callout on Oct. 29, they had raised more than $10,000. 

“To be frank, we weren’t surprised that there was so much support,” said Duncan. She sees the fundraiser’s success as a measure. “How much do people support the idea of women like us being in the industry? This much.” 

There’s a lot that Duncan wants for the two winners of the first Media Girlfriend scholarships. (One award will go to a currently enrolled student at a post-secondary media program; the other to someone entering one).

“I want them to run … [and] create media companies. I want them to create institutions. I want them to understand the very top is attainable. I want them to think of it as a possibility,” she said. “I want them to have more influence than me.” 

Media Girlfriends, which started as a podcast in 2016 and has since aired 17 episodes on Apple Podcasts, starred a diverse range of women speaking to the challenges and triumphs of their intersectional identities within the media industry around the world. 

The podcast was Duncan’s next personal challenge in a career defined by a love for the hustle. It “was my way of kick-starting my own professional development as an interviewer,” said Duncan, who explained she found that her job with CBC Radio didn’t give her an opportunity to do interviews. “So I thought, why not start a podcast?”

Duncan had worked for six years prior on CBC’s Radio 2 and CBC Music. Before that, she was the country director for Journalists for Human Rights in Ghana. Both roles came after finishing her own journalism degree at Western University, where she fell in love with audio work. 

(“There was a small room [at Western University] where we would use a program called Cool Edit,” Duncan recalled. “And I loved spending hours editing in that room and spending like so much time over the same three seconds … when I’m really into a story, I still find that pretty delicious.”) 

It was years later, while on maternity leave, that Duncan tried her hand at a podcast featuring the commentary and critique of her friends in the media industry.  “I swear, I just did it because I wanted to get better.” 

The eventual testament to Media Girlfriends’ content and creator come from its incredible reception. “It went beyond being a podcast,” explains Duncan. The personal project grew to encompass peer mentorship and events, including a Media Girlfriends panel with program volunteer Garvia Bailey and the CBC’s Anna Marie Tremonti

“It is Nana aba’s vision and her passion for storytelling and inclusion that has taken this from a podcast to events, to an active social media community and now to scholarships,” said Jennifer Hollett (incoming executive director of The Walrus), who has been a part of the Media Girlfriends network since being featured in its second episode. 

Championing underrepresented students from the beginning of their ventures into media is driving Media Girlfriends’ scholarships, said Hollett. 

“I never thought of the hurdles as I went through my life,” said Duncan, who is Ghanaian-Canadian. “I took it for granted that I belonged. For me, it was just like, ‘OK hustle, just hustle.’”

Her mother, years earlier, had told her: “’Nana aba, you are Black, and you are a female… you have to do very well, you will always have to do very well,’” Duncan said. But that reality wasn’t the motivation for years of radio work or developing the Media Girlfriends podcast: “I was just hustling because maybe it’s a part of my nature.”

In going to her friends – many of whom are women of colour and women who aren’t straight – Duncan had created a new platform for racialized and marginalized voices in Canadian media. 

For the future generations of women in Canadian media, “I would like there to be less explaining that this perspective is equal or is of the same value.” 

That aspiration is picking up a lot of steam, she’s found.

Duncan said several parallel efforts are giving her confidence. The How She Hustles Network from communications specialist Emily Mills has connected diverse women entrepreneurs throughout Toronto since 2010, and the Poynter Institute’s Leadership Academy for Women in Media has offered management workshops with the goal to raise women to “the highest levels of media leadership” for the past six years.

The Code Black Communicator Network hosts a podcast dedicated to the Black experience within Toronto’s communications industry.  

Each, said Duncan, has shown “a lot of great intention towards making things equal, and supporting racialized people and supporting women.” 

The success of the Media Girlfriends podcast-turned-network comes from the openness of the women and non-binary people featured in it, she said. “I appreciate that they were so willing to go give themselves, not just to me, but to anyone who might listen,” said Duncan. 

The Media Girlfriends Scholarship is open for application until April 30 and recipients will be announced in the summer.