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Meet Alison Duke & Ngardy Conteh George, Co-Founders of OYA Media Group

2021 Ones to Watch Award Recipients.

In 2018, celebrated veteran filmmakers Alison Duke of Goldelox Productions and Ngardy Conteh George of Mattru Media joined forces to create OYA Media Group: a woman-led, award-winning production company based in Toronto. Named after a powerful African goddess, OYA brings an authentic perspective to media platforms, from film and TV to virtual reality through socially relevant, life-changing stories that amplify Black experiences.

My first job ever was…

For Alison: as a clerk in a department store. I was in the jewellery department and was responsible for changing watch batteries and bands. I got a lot of props from the customers for being a young woman working with tools. I enjoyed that.

For Ngardy: Delivering newspapers with my older siblings, I must have been 6 or 7.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because… 

For Alison: I wanted to be an independent filmmaker who made socially conscious films that catered to underrepresented communities. Early on in my career, I knew that there was an untapped market that was hungry for quality entertainment and programming that reflected their realities. I thought it would be a great business model to make work specifically for this market. For 15 years I produced community films to understand the type of films this audience wanted. Now I’m incorporating this research into mainstream films.  

For Ngardy: Opportunities were not coming my way to tell the stories that I wanted to tell so I created my own production company to create the opportunities for myself.  

My proudest accomplishment is…

For Alison: I have two: being a co-founder of OYA Media Group, and turning it into an award-winning production media company with full-time staff in just a few years is something I am extremely proud of;  and creating the OYA Emerging Filmmakers program, which gives back by providing a pathway for young talent who are eager to work in our industry, is equally rewarding.   

My boldest move to date was…

For Alison: getting an agent. I am now represented by Gary Goddard Agency. (So is Ngardy) 

For Ngardy: Walking away from a full time job while being offered a promotion to work full time for myself.Then over ten years later pivoting from that to form OYA Media Group with Alison.  

I surprise people when I tell them…

For Alison: that I am inducted to the Sports Hall of Fame at the University of Windsor for Basketball. 

For Ngardy: My age.

I knew it was time to launch my business when…

For Alison: Ngardy and I were about to produce the television documentary Mr. Jane and Finch for CBC. We had similar business and creative sensibilities but working in different silos. It just felt like we would be much stronger working together under one company instead of in our separate companies with redundancies. Working together allowed us to develop more projects at a faster rate while lowering our business expenses.

For Ngardy: I realized how well we work together and that we clearly had a similar vision that would be better achieved together. 

My best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is…

For Alison: Start slowly, and build as you gather information. Understanding what works best for both you and your clients takes time. Finding successful entrepreneurs that you can talk with is key. We participated in a few different business accelerators that teamed us up with successful entrepreneurs. They gave us a fresh perspective on how to assess our business properly, in terms of productivity and growth. They were also able to advise us on how to overcome certain challenges that we were facing. It was great to hear that we were not alone. A lot of entrepreneurs go through the same things so why not get a mentor who can help walk you through some of the challenges. Getting information is the key. 

For Ngardy: Under promise and over deliver.  Listen to your inner voice, it’s there for a reason, trust yourself.

My best advice from a mentor was…

For Alison: find an easy way to communicate your business structure and how your business works to your staff.  

For Ngardy: Definite your long term goals and dedicate a percentage of your time and energy to them each day/week/month/year.  

When the going gets tough, I tell myself…

For Alison: The sun will rise again tomorrow. 

For Ngardy: I’m strong enough to get through. 

If I had an extra hour in the day, I would…

For Alison: Learn to speak French. 

For Ngardy: Play tennis more often. 

I stay inspired by…

For Alison: Setting goals, working on our OKRs (Objectives, Key Results), talking to other female entrepreneurs through networking groups and accelerators. Also reading a lot of books. It could be fiction, biography, or even non-fiction. I am always inspired by a good story.

For Ngardy: Learning, constantly learning through multiple mediums, these days it’s mostly watching documentaries and television shows, listening to audiobooks and podcasts.

The future excites me because…

For Alison: We’ve planted creative seeds over the past 3-4 years and many of them are starting to sprout. It’s exciting to see our company grow in the number of staff and projects. I am excited by how well we are doing. 

For Ngardy: Underrepresented and systematically excluded perspectives are being centred in all aspects of creation and across the industry. I look forward to telling these stories and working with these creators.

My next step is…

For Alison: We are looking to expand our slate of projects internationally. There are a few Canadian companies that do that quite well and we are building relationships with them. Slowly but surely, we will find the right international partners because our audience is there too.  

For Ngardy: To keep growing and to see OYA grow into the force it’s on track to become.