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Exploring Life & Business with Ishmael Osekre of The Jollof Festival

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ishmael Osekre.

Hi Ishmael, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Do not despise little beginnings.

I started by organizing potlucks and meet ups in my off campus apartment during college.

At the time, my focus was to fundraise through college and share my story, as I arrived with $30 as a freshman with the ambition of achieving an Ivy League education.

I wanted to create spaces for meaningful connections and cultural exchange because I’ve always had a story to tell about my journey, and I found music, food, and fashion as the most organic medium to convey those stories.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
It’s been far from smooth, but then when I look back on it the great designer of all things knows best.

My first major food experience about 6 years ago was attended by about 5000 people. My vendors were late or run out food too quickly, and our attendees weren’t having it.

As stressful, and challenging as that shortcoming was, it also taught me everything I now know about curating food experiences.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
The Jollof Festival is a blind tasting of the popular West African dish, Jollof Rice, to settle who makes the best Jollof rice in a festive setting.

The festival spans 8 cities, and draws crowds from all cultures looking to have a taste of the popular dish which has been a huge source of contention between West African countries.

I have been blessed with the opportunity and the gift of curating this series, but my strength is in community focused analytics based marketing.

While I love to develop ideas and execute them, finding the audience of a niche through social media and traditional marketing is my happy place.

I specialize in building online platforms for communities around an idea, whether for the jollof festival (@jolloffestival), the ankara bazaar (@anankarabazaar), my other project around African fashion, or the (@selfcarefestival) now on hiatus because mans doesnt have the bandwidth atm, or (afropolitaninsights) the meme based socio-political commentary platform, I’ve often found joy in connecting people through a cultural lens.

What probably sets me apart from others is my focus on meaningful cultural exchange.

Without the focus on culture, we are just another eating event, or clothing pop up.

I believe as a society that we see each other clearer by understanding the cultures, contexts, nuances, and even biographies that have shaped who we are as individuals or a collective.

To allow ourselves opportunities to drink from the well of each other’s experiences is truly where the party is at.

I am excited about our collective gifts because in a true exchange what we all bring to the table makes up for our individual blind posts and weaknesses.

I am most grateful for a community who didn’t give up on me at my lowest when I was figuring it out, and kept falling short.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
I’m a huge advocate for risk-taking. The level of risk you take is often determined by your level of privilege.

For those of us with very little privilege, risk is all I see as our way out into the places of our dreams.

For those with privilege, managing risk is perhaps what it takes to maintain and grow what is already handed down, or in motion.

Each of the groups I just mentioned can calculate their risks to reduce their downside, and properly manage what they can afford to lose or are ok with gaining. I do not recommend carelessness.

Risk-taking doesn’t mean an absence of strategy, or lack of discipline.

Risk-taking for me is deciding to study for the SATs when I could neither afford the fees or afford the resources to prep.

Risk-taking was committing all my savings to going to the internet cafe to apply for college, and literally typing my essays in these cafes over several visits, saving them in drafts whenever I run out of money.

Risk-taking was taking my tests, gaining admission, getting on the flight to Columbia University without housing or full funding.

Risk-taking is knocking on doors and sending emails, advocating for myself and fundraising your way through college.

Risk-taking is failing at my first few events and becoming the talk of the town for the worst reasons, but scaling down and giving it a go because I knew it was only a matter of time.

Some people call it risk-taking, I call it an extension of life.

I am committed to the unrelenting pursuit of excellence, but I’m also not naive about what it takes to achieve anything.

There are no major breakthroughs I know of that didn’t begin with failed experiments. I remember when Elon Musk failed at his first couple of Space X flights, and run out of funding.

I’ve often wondered how lonely and depressing that may have been for him pre-twitter fame.

Perfection and excellence are fun and all, they are goals, and in order to arrive at them, we have to be ready for a whole lot steps which often involve an inordinate amount of failure, and setbacks.

Let’s call it what it is, “Life is hard,” and so we are gonna have to do a whole lot of risk- taking in order to figure out so much of it out.

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