Earlier this week, Dillard University President Rochelle Ford announced that President & CEO of ESSENCE Ventures, Caroline Wanga, will deliver the commencement address during the 2023 graduation ceremony on Saturday, May 13. 

Wanga is the president & Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Essence Ventures, which include ESSENCE Communications Inc, the number one media, technology and  commerce company dedicated to Black women and communities; Afropunk, the multi-medium platform that uplifts and unleashes Black  expression and individuality now and in the  future; BeautyCon, the experiential and content  focused platform that aims to transcend the aesthetic of attraction and enable an individualized empowered existence and experience on what beauty is; and Essence Studios, a production studio and original content hub focused on authentic Black story-telling, story-making, story-sharing, and story-doing. 

Attendees will enjoy her “real-talk” delivery, witty thought leadership and unmitigated perspective on democratizing authenticity as a differentiator for individuals and organizations. Wanga is often quoted saying, “Who you are is who you are. If you cannot be who you are where you are, you change where you are not who you are.”

“Wanga is an excellent voice for students to hear from as they graduate, as the next generation of leaders,” Dr. Ford says. “While being a young mother, she graduated and then worked her way up from several entry-level positions to become one of the most influential, powerful thought leaders. With nearly 70 percent of our student population being Black women, I’m confident that she will share encouraging words that will inspire both men and women to be great contributors to society. Additionally, the Essence Festival of Culture has made an indelible impact on New Orleans, economically and culturally. Her leadership has deepened this relationship between Essence and New Orleans.”

Wanga joined Essence Ventures, parent company of ESSENCE, as chief growth officer in 2020 from Target Corporation, where she served as chief culture, diversity, and inclusion officer. She began her Target career in supply chain, serving in a variety of transformational leadership roles, including modernizing supply chain, business intelligence, digital and strategy capabilities. Prior to that, she held several non-profit roles. A self-proclaimed cultural architect with a passion for constructing, deconstructing, and reconstructing organizational culture, she champions authenticity and thrives while she inspires in innovative environments.

With a background in corporate and community leadership, her career expands over several disciplines and capabilities including youth development, grant-writing, community organizing, supply chain, human resources, culture and media.

She has two honorary doctorate degrees from her alma mater Texas College, and Dillard University will bestow an honorary doctorate at commencement. She has been previously named Top Executive in Corporate Diversity by Black Enterprise and recognized by Savoy as one of the Most Powerful Women in Corporate America. She is a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC,) the American Airlines Community Council, and the McDonalds Multicultural Marketing Advisory Council. She is a former member of the Talladega College Board of Trustees, previously served on the Intersectionality, Culture, and Diversity Advisory Board for Twitter and served as co-chair of the Retail Industry Leaders.

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