There is a spirit of giving. And then there Policies of giving.
Emma Caro Grofum, founder of Kimbap Media and the newest provider of scholarship funds for the Poynter Academy for Leadership for Women in Media, provides a compelling example of the latter.
“I came through a high school journalism program called ThreeSixty. I met major players in the media market in the Twin Cities that have helped me through my career,” Caro Grofum said. “I had an early policy to give back to this programme. Every time I get an A1, I send them $25. Every time I get a new job, I send them $100. I believe in the mission, and I believe in supporting the programs that have helped me.”
Another program that Caro Grofum credits with driving her media career forward was the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in Media. She was one of 28 women selected for the March 2018 program after a record year for applications: more than 600 applied, prompting Poynter to expand the number of annual academies from one to three. A year later, Carew Grovum returned as a faculty member to teach about navigating newsroom culture.
Now, ahead of the 2022 Women’s Leadership Academies, Caro Grofum is including the program in its corporate donations. It funds three full scholarships for participants of color from news and media organizations outside the United States.
I met with Caro Grofum to talk about what led her to pave the way for more alumni-funded scholarships, how the program has enabled her to start her career in consulting and coaching, and what she hopes to achieve for scholarship recipients. Below is our conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Mel Grau: You’ve already done a lot for the Poynter Leadership Academy for Women in the Media. I’ve returned as a teacher, reviewed applications, promoted the program on social media, contributed to The Cohort newsletter and mentored at digitalwomenleaders.com. What inspired you to give money for a scholarship?
Emma Caro Grofum: I’m in my third year running my business, and I’m making really good money. I feel confident about what I’m doing now and I attribute a lot of that to my colleagues…as a participant and as a faculty member. And I never want anyone to be able to get that experience because the employer won’t pay for it or because they’re like me and they’re under contract. Or because they live abroad. These look like really stupid barriers! If I can split it, that’s what I want to use my money for.
Mel: Why now?
whatever: For Poynter, cost was not a barrier for me because my company paid for it. But I was very lucky. That was before the pandemic. I can see that the first thing that happens (in the budget cuts) is the people’s professional development money. But for a news organization to say “we can’t save $1,000 to invest in someone we think is the future of our news organization” is completely unsatisfactory.
Mel: Why is the scholarship for international applicants?
whatever: When I heard that there was a need for international people funding, it surprised me. I think we often think of the international media as being more well funded than the American media, especially in Europe. But the truth is that there are journalists all over the world who do not have access to the kinds of training that we provide here in the United States. And I can’t imagine my team, or the group I coached, without the international participants. This need had a real resonance with me, and I felt like I was in a position to do something.
Mel: What are some of the things you learned during the Women’s Leadership Academy experience that helped you succeed in emerging as a coach and consultant on your own?
whatever: In the past, I didn’t value my voice very much because others told me it wasn’t worth it. I thought my thoughts were not worth sharing because others told me I wasn’t old enough, and I wasn’t experienced enough. Through the cohort program and meeting my Poynter sisters, I learned that I am more capable than I know.
The group was also there for me when I was in my lows. I lost my job and my sisters sent me flowers. I lost my job and Katie (Gar Hawkins, co-founder of the academy) was like, “Come on and be on the faculty.”
Opportunity to be a participant – I learned a lot about myself. The opportunity to become a faculty member – I learned I’m good at coaching!
What I see now is that my skill set is really geared towards helping people, and helping people is what I’ve always wanted to do. I thought I would help people by telling stories from their communities. But I believe when I moved to this stage in my life, I found that my superpower is helping others reach their full potential as journalists, especially women, and especially journalists of color.
Mel: It’s so amazing to hear you talk about your Poynter sisters.
whatever: Scream for my collection! One year, we raised $1,000 together as a group and this is the first time I’ve realized that we should continue to support the program. Tuition fees can be a barrier and we as alumni can help break down these barriers for the Poynter Sisters in the future. This was the natural way to move this business forward.
Mel: What do you hope the experiences will be for the people who have been awarded these scholarships?
whatever: I just hope it’s magical. I don’t have any expectations as to what they will accomplish or what they will achieve, but I know it will be awesome. I’m really excited for who these people are. I hope they make the most of it, and I hope they walk away as changed as I have been.
Mel: In the last week before the 2022 program recruitment ends, what advice would you give to potential applicants or applicants?
whatever: Application! Let someone else say no to you, but don’t say no to yourself. Don’t say no to yourself. Never self-eliminate.
What I tell people a lot is focus on impact. What are the challenges before you today? And how will you be able to better break it down as a result of going through this program? What tools are missing from your toolkit?
Sometimes the answer is, “I just need that kick in the ass to get myself moving.” “I want to see myself from a different perspective.” “I need to understand my skill set and the value of my skill set in the open market.” Gaining peers through the group, understanding their circumstances related to yours, and their experiences with you helps you validate what is right for you and what is not.
The deadline to apply to the 2022 Poynter Leadership Academies for Women in Media is Tuesday, November 30, 2021. Learn more here.