“If you can’t have it, create it. If you’re passionate about being involved in something that isn’t accessible enough or out there yet, don’t be afraid to take the first step to lead a project that speaks to your truths.” Jessica Nguyen, Project Voice Founder
It goes without saying that people consume podcasts like water nowadays whether you’re looking to laugh, meditate, learn, get inspired and motivated, we could honestly keep them our companions all day. The format blew up in recent years and it’s not an exaggeration to say that they will continue to dominate the digital media landscape this year and the next ones.
It is also exhilarating to see the rise of non-white hosts and speakers on this space over time. Enter Project Voice: a podcast spearheaded by womxn and non-binary folx of the Asian diaspora. One of the flourishing platforms that influence discourse on everything from politics to pop culture, career and relationships, social justice, etcetera hailing from diverse voices who came from backgrounds in the arts, tech, academia and more to lay out traditional and contemporary womxn and non-binary folx, Asian and Asian American issues and narratives in nuanced, deeply personal, yet accessible ways.
And after wrapping up their fourth season that includes smart, funny, empowering and often heart-warming stories, this new year, Project Voice will expand its flagship podcast into a scholarship program for fellow creators and will continue to lead political and cultural conversations in 2020 — inspiring more womxn, non-binary folx and minorities of the Asian diaspora and beyond to reach for the mic.
Project Voice 2020 Scholarship Program will be led by experienced Asian podcasters aimed at training the next generation of podcasters to cultivate a diverse roster of early-career talent and continue the mission of honest storytelling. The program will provide recipients with a $500 scholarship and work one-on-one with mentors. New voices will find a network of peers and mentors, opportunities to meet fellow podcasters, and chances to share their interests, concerns and work altogether. Over the course of training, all mentees will launch their own podcasts.
Jessica Nguyen, founder of Project Voice, meticulously crafted the works for this platform matched with sincere collaboration and stories of fellow Asian creatives. Coming up to their crowdfunding launch, I spoke with her while she was working on the scholarship program last year and we discussed its making behind the scenes, the transition happening and the empowerment she hopes to provide others with this new chapter:
So I just want to start off the interview by saying I’ve been following Project Voice for almost two years now, alongside the rest of your creative projects, and I think it’s really inspiring that there are womxn like you who creates safe spaces for Asian / Asian-American community and aren’t really afraid to express what you think on topics you delve in. I was wondering, how does it feel to know that you’ve been such a great role model for Asian womxn, non-binary folx and the rest of your audience throughout your journey with Project Voice?
Jessica Nguyen (Founder of Project Voice): I really appreciate your kind words, Marj. I would like to acknowledge that Project Voice would not be as an expansive and impactful of a digital platform that it is today for the womxn and non-binary folx in the Asian / Asian-American community without our podcast guest speakers and team members. It has been a humbling experience for me leading Project Voice. I originally founded Project Voice with the intention of only releasing about 15 podcast episodes. We just hit our 3rd-year anniversary in November, which was definitely an unforeseeable milestone for me, and we now have over 50 interviews with more than 60 community leaders, creatives, and changemakers published.
Ah, congratulations! It’s great listening and watching your platform grow though I remember a point where you’ve made an announcement that you’re closing it to pursue other endeavors yet revived it again and even came back with this exciting Project Voice 2020 Scholarship program for this year. Can you share with us how did these all came about? What’s it been like transitioning Project Voice podcast to launching a scholarship program of its own?
Jessica Nguyen: Yes, I really thought season 4 would be the final season of Project Voice’s podcast, but after revisiting the final episode last season during my hiatus, I realized that I wanted to finish strong with Project Voice not solely by making an announcement that we were no longer producing new content on our terms, but by giving our Project Voice brand a new purpose as an established community storytelling-oriented platform. We have a few years of experience working in podcasting under our belts, a strong network of Asian-led projects and communities that we keep in touch with, and a loyal and engaged follower base who love our published and shared content, so I didn’t want to let go of such a powerful momentum that we have built for our audience and ourselves these past several years and as a result, proposed an idea to transition Project Voice podcast to launching a scholarship program for aspiring digital storytellers.
Launching a podcast scholarship program was a challenge of itself. The preparation process behind the launch of our crowdfunding campaign, which would fund our scholarship program in summer 2020, took a year to complete. I’m grateful to have a small team of hard-working interns and talented freelancers who helped me with the all aspects of our program – from posting on social media and co-hosting season 5 podcast episodes (Julie McConnell), to conducting research and maintaining communications with potential business sponsors, podcast guest speakers, and industry mentors (Anna Wu and Dianne Le), to spearheading website design (Alexis Kilayko), to graphic design and filming for our crowdfunding video and social media (Hanna Cha, Grace Abe, and Aaron Mak), to designing and writing for our email newsletter series set to release in January 2020 (Joanne Nguyen and Alexis Kilayko). I’d also like to thank my New York-based law firm that took us on as a pro-bono client, for advising us during our project entity proposal; without them, we would not have received a fiscal sponsorship from The Slants Foundation. Overall, this transition has been a huge learning journey for me and I look forward to sharing with our community what we as the Project Voice team has spent the last 365 days working on to prepare for Project Voice’s next chapter.
Well we’re all keen to see where this goes once its launched. It’s transparent tthat Asian / Asian-American womxn and non-binary folx are your main focus as far as audience is concerned. Would you particularly call for scholars in the same group? Is there any sort of background limitations you have to those who can only apply?
Jessica Nguyen: We are calling for scholars who identify either as an Asian womxn or non-binary. As of this year, we are currently only accepting Asian-Americans. Prospective applicants are highly encouraged to submit their application if they are from marginalized Asian identities (e.g. non-East Asians, TLGBQIA+ folx, individuals with visible and invisible disabilities, etcetera). Both individuals and teams can apply, though teams have a higher chance of being selected.
Ah, that’s fair enough and admire your inclusivity. Do you think there are any certain stereotypes or expectations of what an Asian womxn/non-binary folx podcast should sound like? Do you ever feel like your work is categorized into that area exclusively?
Jessica Nguyen: I think that because my work is targeted for a very specific group in the Asian diaspora, many people who do not identifty as an Asian womxn/non-binary assume that the topics discussed on the podcast are not relevant to their own personal experiences when in reality, I’ve heard from non-Asian womxn/non-binary listeners who have shared that Project Voice to still be very relatable to the masses, especially if they care about social justice, personal growth, and professional development. The social and personal issues we discuss on Project Voice arise in conversations that take place in other POC/WOC communities as well (i.e. sexuality and relationships, workplace discrimination, immigration policies, anti-blackness/racism, sexism, and etcetera).
I can agree to that, its true. Well, for your potential candidates, can you tell us what’s it been like catering to this community in podcasting in case this is an area they’d like to take as well? Would you say podcasting is more of a white or POC game at this point?
Jessica Nguyen: I would say that podcasting is becoming more of a POC-friendly game. A few years ago, I could only name a few POC- and Asian-led podcasts off the top of my head. Now, there are hundreds of them and the awesome news is that the list of POC podcasters is still growing; I can’t even keep track of them anymore! There’s even been a growing interest and investment in making the podcasting community a more diverse and inclusive space from corporate-sponsored podcast education opportunity programs such as Spotify’s Sound Up accelerator program, Google Podcasts Creator Program, and Air Media’s New Voices Scholarship. In fact, my rejection from a few of these programs led me to take the initiative to create my own scholarship program under Project Voice.
It must be quite liberating to do it your way and know that you’re kick starting this project soon. How do you feel it’s finally happening? Any hopes you have as the founder? What can we all expect? What’s the biggest takeaway you’d like everyone to have?
Jessica Nguyen: I started planning and putting a team together since January 2019, so in other words, it took a whole year to get everything ready for the official launch. I didn’t want to burn out like I did when I was actively podcasting for Project Voice from 2016 to 2018, so I spread out the deadlines to make the project more manageable for myself and my team. I still considered myself being on hiatus, so I wanted to make sure that I will be able to keep my physical and mental health in check while maintaining a more balanced work lifestyle.
As the founder who is spearheading our transition, I am hopeful that we would at least raise some amount for our scholarship program. I’m a few weeks away from the official launch, so I have been too focused on finalizing all the important details of our crowdfunding campaign to worry about the results right now. As much as it would mean the world to me to reach our funding goal by spring 2020, my hope is that I continue gaining a learning experience from the destination as much as I did from the journey.
You can expect Project Voice to serve with a new purpose in the coming years if our first campaign becomes successful enough for future renewals. The biggest takeaway that I’d like everyone to have is that if you can’t have it, create it. If you’re passionate about being involved in something that isn’t accessible enough or out there yet, don’t be afraid to take the first step to lead a project that speaks to your truths.
Please sign up for our newsletter on our website and follow us @projectvoicepod on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to keep yourself in the loop for the official launch of our scholarship program’s crowdfunding campaign video! Here’s the soft launch of our campaign: https://ifundwomen.com/projects/project-voice-podcast-scholarship-program.