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How this Nigerian American with Guyanese roots is shaping the future of women in music

Founded by a Nigerian American with a Guyanese mother and Nigerian father, Girls Who Listen (GWL) is a Brooklyn, New York-based, women-led nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting and shaping future female creatives and executives within the music industry.

The organization hosts curated events and mentorship programs for a diverse community of women while also compiling an internal networking database of students, executives, and companies aimed at creating opportunities for women breaking into the music industry.

Since its launch in 2020, GWL has hosted over 40 workshops, matched 150 student mentees with industry mentors, and has over 70 professionals and students in its database.

The nonprofit was founded by Kadijat Salawudeen, who was born in Ibadan, Nigeria and moved to Brooklyn at the age of five.

Read on to learn more about Kadijat and her work with GWL.

How does your work positively impact culture + community?

Kadijat: Girls Who Listen positively impacts culture and community by addressing the gender disparity in the music industry. With only 15% of executives and 11% of Grammy nominees being women, our organization is committed to change. Through strategic partnerships and targeted programs, we create opportunities for the next generation of women, particularly women of color. From resume building to 1:1 mentorship, we provide holistic career development, resulting in over 30% of our students securing freelance, internship, or full-time positions. By empowering women in music, we contribute to a more diverse and inclusive industry, reshaping the cultural narrative.

How has your Caribbean and African upbringing impacted your work?

Kadijat: Growing up with Nigerian and Guyanese roots, my Caribbean and African heritage have deeply shaped my journey in the music industry. The idea of music has been an integral part of my core from the early days of a Barbie-themed karaoke machine gifted by my dad to the soulful tunes of Bob Marley filling our home. I’ve always had an extra love in my heart for music.

Faced with limited opportunities and a lack of mentorship, I founded Girls Who Listen to empower the next generation of female leaders. In my culture, music is more than a passion—it’s a love language and a celebration of identity. This background instilled in me a drive to work harder, challenging societal expectations. Now, our organization strives to redefine success in the music industry while honoring the rich cultural tapestry of the Caribbean and Africa.

Coming up as a young Black woman in the music industry, I faced roadblocks that precluded me from reaching my goals. Opportunities were scarce, and established executives who had the power to be change-makers weren’t as open to mentoring or willing to give back to the next wave of female leaders. Having this kind of first-hand experience was tough to navigate, so I started the very organization I needed myself. Now Girls Who Listen builds relationships and mentors the next generation of female executives in the music industry.

My Caribbean and African roots have always encouraged me to work harder. Deciding to take an unconventional career route (vs. the desired path of becoming a doctor or lawyer) means having to work extra hard. For me, success is defined as being able to provide for my family and community – something I strive to accomplish every day.

What has been one major highlight and one major challenge you’ve faced on your entrepreneurial journey so far, and how have you found balance along the way?

Kadijat: Each day, we witness the profound impact GWL has on the aspirations of young women striving to break into the music industry, marking a significant highlight. Since our inception, we’ve welcomed 109 mentees into our program, with 70.41% currently employed in music and entertainment roles. Our programming is deliberate and holds immense significance.

We still face the fact that many of our goals are unattainable without financial intervention. For example, with additional funding, we could (1) build out our scholarship fund for mentees to support themselves in college and (2) launch Girls Who Care, our mental health division. We have designed and planned these two pillars and have yet to find a source to fund these endeavors.

We’re four years in and still finding our balance and footing. Thanks to the dedicated team of volunteers, we’re taking our goals one step at a time and brainstorming ways to scale the business so that we can fund these ventures and expand on our offerings.

What is a crucial piece of wisdom you have learned as a founder that you can pass on to others who are either dreaming of starting their own businesses or nonprofits?

Kadijat: You will not see much success without passion and genuine love for your business. GWL has been able to grow, even with funding posing challenges, because we find alternative ways. We’re passionate about what we do and our impact on the community. If you’re truly passionate about it, keep pushing through. Everything else will fall into line.

Follow Girls Who Listen at www.girlswholisten.org and on IG @girlswholisten

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