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Deshnie Govender is an influencer you need to know

Deshnie Govender, Image: Supplied
Deshnie Govender, Image: Supplied

Digital Marketing Expert, Deshnie Govender has launched her podcast Influence Insider by Digi Hype, which breaks down the walls between corporate and influence, helping influencers better navigate their relationships with brands.

Deshnie uses the platform to give influencers the tools to better understand the world of influence and digital.

She is formally known as DJ Roxxi, and is the first Indian female DJ in Africa as she burst into the scene in 2007.

The DJ and digital influencer’s drive to understand the brands booking her, she pivoted to the “other side”, launching a career in digital marketing and strategy.

It became her mission to champion and drive digital (social media, content and influencer) education amongst millennials as a digital disruptor as well as her peers in the music and entertainment industry (leveraging her past music experience).

She is the former head of Channel of Influence at ABinBev Draftline where she developed the influence marketing strategy and execution for the Africa Zone, working on brands such as Stella Artois, Brutal Fruit, Castle Lite, Castle Lager, Budweiser and Shine Club to name a few.

Glamour South Africa caught up with the young and upcoming influencer coach to chat about her resolve and what it means to be Indian and black in South Africa in an age of Digital media.

What does being black mean to you?

Being black to me as a South African Indian female means that I am aware of the benefits I have now due to my parents experiencing the harsh realities of Apartheid. It means I embrace my South African Indian heritage and culture and that as a woman of colour in corporate South Africa - I strive to open as many doors and keep them open as I am acutely aware that we have a long way to go before we even the playing field. Lastly, being black is also a state of mental awareness of understanding who I am, where I have come from, and striving to ensure that not only myself but my brothers and sisters are always afforded a seat at the table.

What does the Black Lives Matter movement mean to you? How has it translated in your chosen career?

Personally, and professionally, it had now allowed for us to have THE conversation. So often in corporate, we tip-toe around topics of diversity and inclusion and your "wokeness" was not always embraced with open arms.

Although individually important the BLM has really allowed for a plethora of voices to be heard and organisations to change their policies and practices. It will forever be one of THE key moments in history where we all felt (around the world) that we can stand up and be vocal on what matters the most.

Furthermore, BLM and Me Too movement have also shown us how the power of digital can change decades-old behaviours and (try) to right the wrongs. We are not just seen as arm chair activists but behind the tweet or IG story, there is a black man or woman sharing her reality.

What are some of the books you've read that have really stuck with you/ that have had an impact and help shape the way you think and see yourself as a young, gifted black person?

What got you here, won't get you there by Marshall Goldsmith. This is a constant reminder that I need to improve myself that I need to work 10 x harder to get even half the opportunities that a white woman would get. The book is not written with the intention that a black woman would view it as such but this is the reality and learning I took away from it.

What are the three things you are most grateful for?

My mom who has been my support system and my best friend since my Dad died.

My tenacity - I really don't know how I have pushed through some of the most challenging phases of my life including career.

Deshnie Govender, Image: Supplied

My stubbornness - It's a strange one but earlier on in my career and when I was a DJ I would get picked on a lot for being so "Indian" from the songs I would play to certain phrases I would say. I would hear every stereotypical Indian joke you can think of. It was my stubbornness to not "white wash" myself and own who I am that has made me who I am today.

Being a black entrepreneur is at times associated with poor service delivery, as a successful business person of colour how do you take such criticism in your strides?

I really struggle with this concept. For me, I ask for functional feedback. Show me where I went wrong, articulate how I could have met your expectations in a different manner? The duty is on me to not make it about my blackness (even if the intention is there) I take on the feedback and encourage an open conversation on how we can step change.

Most entrepreneurs and business people of colour complain about the lack of access to capital to start, how would you advise other young black entrepreneurs on how to handle the challenge of start-up capital?

I feel their pain and as a consultant, I've been in that position before. Depending on the industry you are in, sometimes there is a romanticism around having capital.

Some companies are dropping their 90/120 day pay cycle and a good relationship with your bank can help with cash flow. But there are some that need the capital and if the traditional methods are not working, start thinking like a tech start-up and look for incubators and hubs that invest in young black talent.

It's also critical to network and build your personal brand - as an entrepreneur now more than ever you ARE your brand and simply showing up online can lead to the right reach and great conversation starters.

In your own words, how has been a person of colour set you back both personally and professionally?

It was enveloped in the "pull her down syndrome" many years ago I had someone in leadership who I thought very highly of. I expected more from her as a leader and especially a woman of colour but for her - it was just a job. Years later we chatted and she admitted that she did feel threatened not just by me but also the many other girls that would also rise up the ranks to take her role.

I remember at that time questioning so much about myself, my identity and feeling so alone. Together with her we were all less than 4% of black representation in the agency so I could not understand why she alienated me & did not want to help us chat to management about the struggles we were going through. That taught me a lot and has definitely inspired me to be a leader with a different set of values.

How can we create a better future for the next generation? Of all colour/ gender and orientation?

There will never be a time where we say "ok our job is done" It will be an always on mindset but on an individualist level its as simple as "We lift as we rise" - Lets stop with the selfish mentality and try to keep more doors open as we kick them open the first time.

What does Black Excellence mean to you?

Personally it's a mindset. A black man working in finance, a black woman in creative agency, am Indian women as TV show director - we are all in different environments with challenges that vary and so the mindset approach for me is to be acutely aware of your "blackness" and try in your own way to strive to be better, help others and work towards balancing the ever-shifting scale. On a micro-level - within your environment - be aware of other brave black men and women who have worked hard to open the door that you have walked through.

What are some of the pressures that come with being a black person in a position of influence and power, and how do you manoeuvre them?

It's a dichotomy. You have the pressure of your family and then of work. From a family perspective, you know that you need to take care of your parents and siblings and always be there for them as your parents sacrificed so much to give you an education.

Growing up ( I did so during apartheid) it wasn't always an option to do X or Y and a lot of that stress our parents shielded us from. So for me, it's a constant reminder that I cannot fail or fear and I need to be strong.

On the work front, when you get to leadership positions your peers and those that want to be where you are placing a lot of trust and faith in you to excel. The fear is not that you are just going to let your boss down but you have a whole lot of pressure from your black brothers and sisters to "not mess this up!|

What are the things you love the most about being black in your industry?

If I niche it down to the corporate space it's always been a struggle bringing my whole self to work. You felt that you needed to "fit in" Whether it be how I dress (I am that girl with sneakers and a suit) or sharing insights that's not typically a "strategist view" I am being real and authentic"

The last few roles required working with global brands and international and local influencers - this allowed me to work with such diverse talent and really disrupt the status Quo when it comes to the corporate world.

Black Panther became a blueprint for many people that 'It can be done' which person of colour was a blueprint for you and how so?

She may not be the obvious choice but it's Lilly Singh.

Her very start was on Youtube out of rebelliousness to not take a "traditional job for a traditional Indian girl" after college. As her numbers and followers grew and she had interviewed everyone from Michelle Obama to Bill Clinton - she never conformed to "Industry entertainment standards" She was just being a regular Canadian Indian girl doing what she loved.

Most recently she was the first-ever woman of colour to get a late-night show on NBC and for me, that is inspiring. She did it her way, her rules and never was apologetic about her heritage or tried to whitewash herself to "fit in"

To you what does it mean to be young, gifted and black?

It's about having a sense of self-awareness & even a responsibility. We've grown up with lists such as 40 under 40 & Top 30 & personally during my earlier corporate years circa 2007/8 it was hard to see people that looked like me.

Now we have articles being written that highlight diversity and inclusion but being included in the list is one thing, I want to selfishly say that when you are given a platform and some power, use it to show and share: how you got there, what it takes etc. As we rise we HAVE to lift others.

How do you measure success?

In digital, you are surrounded by numbers and metrics to quantify KPIs and success. I take the opposite approach personally when it comes to measuring my personal success as a black woman. It's all about feeling.

If I can feel happy, content, satisfied and leave a project or job knowing I impacted someone then for me that is success. Money is relative and you always want more - my moral compass check is what my success ecosystem thrives on.

As a person of colour what kept you going even though things were not easy?

I constantly do the "reality check" with myself. When I find myself in a situation that is unfair or biased and I feel like giving up, I think about Desh at 18, Desh at 24, Desh at 28 - what she went through and how she survived with so much less.

At that moment I realize that if I gave up then I would not be where I am now. So you could say, I wipe the tears, put on a brave face and know that 40 years old Desh will thank me one day.

What inspired you to do what you do?

I live by the motto, "Each One Teach One" and in all my roles that I've had being able to share what I have learned was critical. There are so many young women that have a distorted perception of what corporate is and don't see themselves represented.

So, putting my life out there (Instagram, Youtube, blog) has been critical in not only keeping myself honest but inspiring both myself and others.

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