The connector, founder, and women’s advocate blends outspokenness and optimism in a way that will inspire you to keep dreaming big, too.
– KEYS SOULCARE
Dee Poku sees connections between people, ideas, and culture wherever she looks — which is likely why she’s so good at connecting her values to ideas, and using them to better the world. After spending years in Hollywood strategizing marketing for impactful films such as An Inconvenient Truth, The Constant Gardener, and Lost In Translation, she moved to New York City and pivoted down a path of purpose-driven entrepreneurship.
A decade ago, Dee launched WIE, a community focused on elevating women in the workplace and as drivers of worldwide change. She also recently founded Black Women Raise, an online platform focused on accelerating growth and scale for leading Black women founders.
We chatted about the values and vision that keep her moving forward with equal parts tenacity and empathy.
How would you define yourself to someone who’s never met you?
I’m an entrepreneur, a women’s advocate, a mother, and a Ghanian-Brit transplant in New York who has focused the majority of my career on using my talents to elevate the issues I care about.
What’s unique about you that’s driven that path and where you are today?
I began my career in the movie industry — first working in a mini U.K. studio, then Focus Features at Universal, then Paramount. Initially working with very small budgets and independently produced films, I’m used to taking “small” ideas into the mainstream.
I don’t really see a separation between activism, social justice, business, and making money. I [believe] the two can meet quite comfortably, and I think we would have a better world if that was more often the case.
What else has helped you succeed?
I would say embracing the idea of networks to help me. I couldn’t have done it without having a network of people around me who were invested in my success, and who put themselves on the line to help me succeed. For anyone who wants to succeed in the workplace — whether it’s in a corporation or as a business — having that network you can call on is invaluable.
And so for me, bringing together women creatives, founders, and executives (and all of our talents, experiences, and relationships) to the table means we can all rise together.
Something truly inspiring about you is your ability to unify while not shying away from consequential issues such as access and intersectionality. For example, Black Women Raise originated after hearing from a friend on a panel you’d hosted. It discussed the realities of sitting among white founder peers able to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to her 1.5, when they had no more intelligence, effort, or experience than she had. How do you remain motivated to keep bringing these issues forward?
In that moment, personally, I understood how grossly unfair it could feel to be held up as the pinnacle of success but still sit with that disparity. It motivated me to educate myself, and realize that the numbers back it up. (In fact, only .1% of funding goes to Black women founders.) And that motivates me to keep advocating for that to change.
I believe in storytelling as a call to action and a way to highlight issues. You can voice issues into the world or a vacuum and often people gloss over them. It’s on the human level — and sometimes in one-on-one conversations that I have or host — that stories like that resonate.
What are a few big lessons you keep learning?
I definitely believe in the power of the individual to make a difference. I think that we can all feel so helpless and there are so many issues that feel unsurmountable. But it just takes one person to say, ‘You know, I want to speak out, I can do something, I have an idea….’ to bring others along with them and create a movement.
When I did my first conference in 2010, it wasn’t this brand-friendly, cool thing. It was kind of odd to be doing a conference all about women and our experiences [in work and life]. But now everyone loves it. To keep the courage of conviction — for anything — you have to believe on some level that people eventually come around. You also have to advocate, advocate, advocate. Sometimes it takes the world a while to catch up. But it eventually does.
What is your highest vision for the work that you do?
To see a level playing field for women — across business, politics, and society. I truly believe that many of society’s ills would be eradicated with more women in charge, and that that’s been brought to light over the last few months with the pandemic and looking at the commonalities between the countries that were getting a handle on it versus the ones who weren’t.
What’s your highest vision for yourself?
I would love to be in a position financially where I can really pay it forward in a meaningful way or move [my] money down in a meaningful way that can create wholesale change. And for me, that would be funneling into underrepresented founders, to create a fund for them, and then keep investing in them. That would be amazing.