Barkue Tubman-Zawolo On Supporting Black Women, Strengthening Diaspora engagement, and telling powerful stories at Essence Ventures.

Barkue Tubman Zawolo is the Chief of Staff, Diasporic Engagement and Talent Relations at Essence Ventures, a portfolio of brands that aims to activate a boundary-less and frictionless global Black economic ecosystem. Acknowledged by Fast Company as a “Brands That Matter” 2023  Honoree, Essence Ventures brands include ESSENCE, the number one  media, technology and commerce company dedicated to Black women and communities.

As the granddaughter of the late President Williams V.S Tubman of Liberia, she firmly believes legacy building is very important to one’s choices in their journey.  

In this inspiring conversation, she talks to us about her strategies, implementations, and diasporic affairs at the Essence Ventures. 

Can you provide an overview of your role as the Chief of Staff, Diasporic Engagement, and Talent Relations at Essence Ventures, specifically in the context of supporting initiatives related to African women?

As Chief of Staff, Diasporic Engagement and Talent Relations at Essence Ventures, I serve as an integral member of the company’s leadership team in a range of key areas inclusive of driving the organization’s success and supporting the President & CEO. Essential responsibilities include ensuring operational efficiencies, making strategic decisions aligned with our organization’s goals, and leading cross-functional teams. An important aspect of my role includes developing strong relationships with stakeholders globally, particularly with the African Diaspora and specifically African women. In addition, through my position leading efforts across the Diaspora, I create strategies that foster deeper engagement, emphasizing the power of our collective stories and strength. By prioritizing inclusion, partnership, and participation, I have leveraged our company’s legacy, experiences, platforms, and pillars to bridge the gap and connect the disconnected diaspora of global Black communities, with African women playing a critical role.

How do you envision leveraging your position to empower and engage the diasporic community, especially African women?

As the granddaughter of the late President Williams V.S Tubman of Liberia, I firmly believe in legacy building, and it is very important to one’s choices in their journey. With a passion to enhance the influence and empower the African woman as the CEO and leader within our communities, I spearhead initiatives that celebrate diversity, cultural heritage, and encourage cross-cultural understanding within Essence Ventures and the broader cultural community. These initiatives include developing programs, partnerships, and franchises that strengthen the bond between African women in the diaspora and those on the continent. Recognizing that Africa is not a monolith, our platforms aim to educate, inform, and showcase the remarkable strength of the African woman. Furthermore, I am dedicated to advocating for the diasporic community, fostering connections and collaboration between African women across the continent and the global Black diaspora, placing economic advancement at the forefront.

Essence Ventures is known for its commitment to amplifying diverse voices. How does your role contribute to fostering inclusivity and representing the varied experiences of African women?

In my current position, where I lead talent engagement across Essence Ventures for the company’s portfolio of brands inclusive of Essence Communications Inc, AFROPUNK, Beautycon™ and Essence Studios, I consistently prioritize inclusivity across our stages at events, pages of our editorial content, and brand platforms. By implementing strategies that require diversity in talent curation and storytelling, I acknowledge every day that Black is not a monolith, and it is my responsibility to serve and ensure representation of all the beautiful facets within the Black community.

In what ways do you collaborate with talent and stakeholders to ensure that the platform reflects the rich diversity and talent within the African women community?

Recently I had the pleasure of bringing an exciting opportunity to amplify the diaspora to our editorial team at ESSENCE, as we featured the incredible Roberta Annan of Ghana in our “Chief to Chief” franchise, in conversation with our President & CEO Caroline Wanga. The Chief-to-Chief platform brings together chiefs of culture, corporate, nations, and community allowing our President & CEO to engage them in conversations about their accomplishments, struggles, and journeys to becoming chiefs in their own right – thus allowing our audience to recognize the chief within themselves. Notably, we filmed this franchise in Ghana. We have also had the privilege of sitting down with the President of Tanzania, Her Excellency Samia Suluhu, further emphasizing our commitment to showcasing the power of diverse chiefs from across the global Black community. By leveraging my experience of  the last 15 years that I spent in West Africa and being a Liberian woman, I have gained valuable insights into the strengths and power of Africa, as well as the significance of the global Black community and by working with high-level clients and organizations has granted me access, valuable intel and has fueled my passion to truly understand and appreciate the immense value that Africa brings.

Diasporic engagement involves connecting with various cultures and communities. How do you approach cross-cultural communication and collaboration to ensure effective engagement on a global scale?

Strategic partnerships and storytelling have been important characteristics in how I engage cultures and communities across the Diaspora in my current role. At the 2023 ESSENCE Festival of Culture™, I took a deliberate approach to showcase the talent and vibrancy of Africa, as we proudly featured two African artists, Tems and Wizkid, on our Mainstage at the New Orleans Caesar’s Superdome during the four-day event. By including these African artists at one of the largest festival’s in the U.S., demonstrates the commitment to giving Africa its rightful spotlight. Additionally, I strategically dedicated specific days at our 2023 ESSENCE Film Festival to Nigeria, Ghana, and the Caribbean, where I hosted top talent, actors, and filmmakers from Africa’s thriving film and television industry. From art to music, fashion, tech, wealth and lifestyle, it is essential to me that the importance of intentional connections across various industries are visible and executed on. 

As Chief of Staff, what strategies do you employ to support and nurture talent within the organization, particularly those contributing to the African women platform?

As Chief of Staff, my goal is to continue the company’s mission of fostering strong bonds that celebrate and promote African women, talent and culture globally. Through the dedication and deliberate efforts engaging the Africa Diaspora thus far, I aim to harness the strength and potential of Africa and the global Black nucleus to elevate it to new heights on the global stage and continue to fulfill the nearly 55-year legacy within our company to love and uplift Black women, and African women are essential in this legacy, as they possess an undeniable force that has shaped communities, cultures, and nations worldwide.

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