Lola Plaku & Maria Giuliana discuss the empowering Girl Connected Mentorship Program

With the launch of our LUV Concert Series right around the corner, we thought it would be the perfect time to share a recent interview conducted by HipHopCanada’s Remi Louis Harris with Girl Connected Mentorship Program founder Lola Plaku (a former HHC editor), and program leader Maria Giuliana.

Tune into the LUV Concert Series starting April 20, 2022 via and help us spread the love!

The Canadian music scene as a whole is known to many as a male dominated cut throat industry, where most are fending for themselves and female artists are often forced to work three times as hard as their male counterparts. But, not all hope is lost.

Over the past couple of years multiple organizations have taken rise to change the narrative as well as to help clear the way for both female artists, as well as creatives of colour. Toronto’s Girl Connected Mentorship Program, founded by Lola Plaku, is one of the amazing institutions that has shifted the culture within the music industry.

Together with FACTOR (Foundation Assisting Canadian Talent on Recordings), Plaku and program leader Maria Giuliana have created a safe space where female artists, industry professionals and creators can develop the necessary framework needed to achieve growth, and success in the music industry.

Girl Connected provides a year-long mentorship with an industry executive based on their area of interest to 20 aspiring female professionals, artists and creatives. Some of the fields they cover include Music Business & Administration, Media Broadcasting & Public Relations, Event Production & Touring, Artist Management & Brand Building, Digital Marketing & Online Platforms, as well as Label Services.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Plaku and Giuliana to speak about the mentorship program, what inspires them and what’s next. Check out the Q&A below.

Girl Connected Mentorship Program grads

Q&A: Girl Connected Mentorship Program

HipHopCanada: What inspired you to start the Girl Connected Mentorship Program here in Toronto?

Lola Plaku: I started my career in Toronto, and I learned things along the way. I didn’t even know what my life goals were when I first got started. I actually wrote for HipHopCanada and thought journalism was my calling, until I started producing events and live shows, and then moved into artist management and artist development. With every experience, my goals changed. I’m thankful that I had an incredible and supportive community of like-minded peers when I got started in Toronto, but everyone was figuring it out along the way too.

I didn’t really have anyone sit down with me and ask me about my short term and long-term goals, or my business structure, profits vs. losses, etc. I started Girl Connected because I wanted to offer the opportunity of mentorship and guidance to the amazing and hard working women in the city who, like me, aspire to be a part of the music business but may not have it all figured out. The business is a learning process, and we want to provide our peers with the tools necessary for success. Additionally, I want to meet and hire reliable people in all aspects of the music business, from A&R to management, touring, marketing, and so much more. Not just for me, but for other companies that are constantly hiring and looking to build the right team. I’ve always believed in building an impactful network and there’s no better way to do that than helping shape the next generation of women professionals!

HipHopCanada: What are some of the roadblocks that Girl Connected aims to help women professionals overcome within the male-dominated music industry?

Maria Giuliana: Girl Connected aims to help women professionals overcome roadblocks that prevent access to resources and available work positions. We help the mentees refine their professional development and instill confidence and empowerment by providing tools necessary to inspire success and growth.

HipHopCanada: What are some of the key classes/workshops that the program mentees participate in?

MG: Mentees participate in both our public and internal workshops that involve speaking to key industry professionals ranging from booking agents, promoters, major label marketing managers, artist managers, publicists, immigration law attorneys, and entertainment attorneys as well as representatives in the realm of music royalties and rights, digital marketing, licensing & syncing, radio and A&R.

HipHopCanada: Are the classes/workshops day-to-day or weekly?

MG: Our public workshops take place monthly, however the duration of the program is a weekly commitment to attend internal workshops, group townhalls, and one-on-one check-ins with mentors and instructors.

HipHopCanada: What have been some memorable moments for you both?

LP: Getting to know our mentees and seeing their growth is definitely the best feeling across the board. Also being able to rely on my peers to be mentors and speakers, to give us their time answering questions, leading workshops, and so much more. I can never say thank you enough to everyone involved. There have been a few moments though where I shed a tear or two. One of those moments was when Girl Connected was announced as the only Canadian organisation to join Spotify’s EQUAL Collective, among several other worldwide organisations, just one year after inception. Another moment was during International Women’s Day last year when Girl Connected took over Flow 93.5 for 4.5 hours with mixes from nine Canadian and US DJs. We raised $22,000 for Jessie’s Centre in partnership with PUMA for their She Moves US campaign. Flow had a commercial running a few days prior to the takeover as well as the day of, and hearing Girl Connected over and over on a station I grew up listening to was very emotional for me.

MG: Memorable moments for me are during the end of programming when mentees present their final projects to heavy hitting music executives. This is a culminating act where we can observe the impact and progress mentees have made building up their confidence and knowledge. Witnessing mentees realise their true potential and that their goals are attainable is so satisfying.

HipHopCanada: What motivates you both to continue to run this extensive program every year?

LP: The feedback from the mentees. We do exit interviews with everyone at the end of the program, and getting their feedback is instrumental to how we structure the program. Seeing our mentees take up space and run shit in the label system and at management companies, touring agencies, and working with brands and artists that are leading in the entertainment space…that only motivates me to keep building and keep growing.

MG: The motivation comes from observing the impact it has on each of the mentees. Seeing the progress they’ve made in their personal and professional career goals fuels the passion and desire to continue to provide support and resources to build up our community. The interest expressed from applicants in the music community is a great indication we are working to fill a void; that’s a huge motivator.

HipHopCanada: What is a key piece of advice you’d give to anyone reading this feature, who wants to pursue a career in the entertainment industry as a whole?

LP: Know your shit.

MG: My advice would be to research the positions available in the entertainment industry and what they entail. Many are unaware of the positions available and are therefore limited in their pursuit. Taking a deep dive into different roles in this field widens your horizon and gives you a bigger picture of what opportunities you can pursue. Seek out internships in related fields, as it will help rule out what you will and will not enjoy. Study the landscape of the industry and ask yourself, who are the major players? Management companies? Booking agencies? Also, it’s imperative to develop your networking skills and learn the importance of nurturing relationships. This builds your cultural currency and value. If you can bring value to a team or company, you will remain unforgettable and in demand. One more thing, if you have an idea or initiative, don’t be afraid to breathe life into it. Creating platforms for creatives via showcases, radio shows, podcasts, etc. is a great way to create value for yourself.

HipHopCanada: Where can readers find you on social media if they want to follow and support?

MG: You can learn more about Girl Connected at our website and on Instagram.