Debola Deji-Kurunmi… Raising new breed of African innovators, thought leaders
Since 2014, she has helped over 40,000 multi-influential women upgrade into higher versions of themselves to serve their precise purpose, and build a life of influence. A passionate teacher, she left her high-flying consulting job to build a growing empire out of her courageous work of helping women experience personal success.
In 2017, DDK, as she is fondly called, released her 14th book, Firebrand, which continues to reach thousands of readers in powerful ways and eventually gave birth to the Firebrand Movement. She has served twice as a distinguished mentor on the Queen’s Young Leader Awards (a fellowship by the UK Government in honor of exceptional young leaders in the Common Wealth). Last year, the US Government selected her as one of Africa’s most promising young leaders and a Mandela Washington Fellow. She was also listed as one of the 100 Most Inspiring Nigerian Women in 2019 and continues to serve as a Youth Representative at the Nigerian Economic Summit Group. In this interview with IJEOMA THOMAS-ODIA, she speaks on her passion for influencing women, and vision for social change.
You are known as a transformational leader, mentor, and coach, take us through your journey so far?
MY leadership and mentorship journey started about 18 years ago while at the University. From 2002, I started rallying several hundreds of young women into a Christian community, which later morphed into a ministry in the city. In the last two decades, I have carried and served with relentless commitment to help people find, fuel, and fulfill their life’s purposes, beyond the hustle for survival. The idea is to help them look beyond themselves; they will find a compelling vision to change the world.
In particular, I have my eyes on Africa, and I am using my different assignments to equip a new breed of African visionaries, who will enthrone the continent into global prominence. This is at the heart of all my work, whether as a Personal Transformation Coach at Immerse Coaching Company, a Public Policy and Impact Advisor at Ideation Hub Africa, a Ministry Gift to the Body of Christ, Speaker, or Author.
What really drives your passion for social innovators, entrepreneurs, and change agents?
Oh yes, I am! In 2013, I quit my high-paying consulting job to step into the social impact sector, because I caught an exponential vision that burned like fire within me, and still does. My conviction is that the third sector (consisting of social entrepreneurs, innovators, changemakers, nonprofit professionals, civil societies, and corporate social investors amongst others) constitutes the next most significant engine for any nation’s development, after the government. This is as a result of the nimble interventions of its players, in closing the gaps and inefficiencies in leadership, governance, and markets.
As a continent, Africa sits right at the interesting center of a paradoxical mix. On the one hand, we are contextually rising with ecstatic projections about our economic growth, industrial revolutions, and exports of creativity to the global stage. Yet, on the other, we may seem the proverbial pregnant woman with gold in her womb; as we still grapple with extreme dimensions of deprivation, slow progress on SDGs and sitting at the bottom of the human capital index for example. My belief is that government has a huge role to play, but will only go so far, without the systematic engagement of social saviours – as I love to call them – who can partner at policy levels, as well as deliver transformations to low-income communities at the bottom of the pyramid.
I am driven by the commitment to empower these social saviours through education, incubation, and collaborations so that they can effectively trigger transformations and become significant changemakers who accelerate Africa’s prosperity in small and big ways.
Running Ideation Hub and IMMERSE Coaching Company, can you take us through your activities?
IMMERSE Coaching Company is a 40, 000+ strong tech-driven global coaching community, with our members in 99 countries of the world, through which we deliver breakthrough personal transformation coaching to help men and women step into a life of peace, purpose, and prosperity. I founded this coaching practice in 2014, and so far, we have grown into a powerful movement of visionaries who are activating personal growth and success in their lives. Our membership is open, as I do four times every year, and we are currently welcoming over 2, 500 members into the Immerse Inner Circle.
We provide one-on-one coaching, executive masterminds, courses, close-knit learning communities, resources, eBooks marketplace, and conference access all in one place. For Ideation Hub Africa, we run a social impact incubator providing early-stage social entrepreneurs and non-profit professionals with experiential education, enterprise incubation, growth advisory, and collaborative platforms to start, scale and sustain their big ideas for changing Africa.
What are some of the challenges you have encountered being an entrepreneur in Nigeria?
Personally, the biggest challenge I have faced as a growing entrepreneur in Nigeria is the dearth of excellent human capital. I am so troubled by this crisis that it further fuels my passion to build people. People are the ultimate resource of any organisation, nation, economy, movement, or continent. As long as our people are disempowered, under-skilled, incompetent, and demotivated, we have our future predicted. Until we fix that, we are not going to move forward as much. Across my different expressions, we work hard to make the right investments in our people – whether full-time staff, interns, volunteers, or partners – and that has yielded great benefits so far. I lead a cumulative team strength of over 1, 000 co-laborers at different cadres of their service partnerships. This puts pressure on my leadership and people development in very creative and interesting ways.
What’s the idea behind the African Masterclass series, what’s the initiative all about?
The African MasterClass Series is a six-week learning immersion, that shows early-stage non-profit professionals, entrepreneurs, social innovators, and changemakers how to solve Africa’s pressing problems and scale impact through innovation. We cover 15 competencies for creating and scaling social Impact and this is delivered as a fully online programme, with mentorship interviews, resources, and a social impact project delivered by teams.
This is a continuation of our work at Ideation Hub Africa, in raising innovators, thought-leaders, and visionaries with big ideas for our collective future. A key goal of the Series is also to facilitate valuable mentorship access, by connecting global leaders with young changemakers. We believe that an energetic ecosystem is needed for these social saviours in Africa.
You have influenced thousands of women through The Deborah Initiative for Women and Firebrand, could you take us through your spiritual side? Was there any encounter that birthed this dream?
At the core of my life assignment is a devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Of all the things that I do, and I am known for, my relationship with God is the anchor of my identity. So, these ministry assignments draw from that place of love and service to God. Godly parents, Pastor and Mrs. Adedayo Adeoye, raised me and their parenting formed the foundation for who I am today.
Growing up, I saw the vivid impact of a spiritual anchor, a life of prayers, and intentional commitment to spiritual growth. Let’s just say I was caught early. And because my parents truly love the Lord, it imprinted huge desires in my spirit to also encounter the God they know. Then, from those earlier days, to more recently, the last fifteen years, I have been deeply transformed by the guidance of other spiritual mentors and leaders, in a way that convinces me about the power of discipleship. With Deborah Initiative for Women, which started in 2010, and the Firebrand Movement, which began in 2017 – both of which have spread to several countries of the world – the underlying drive is discipling men and women in the faith of Christ, as well as advance the Kingdom Agenda in their sphere of influence.
At a time like this, following the pandemic, what should women leverage on to be at their best?
The global pandemic is a difficult occurrence on the timeline of our history, and my heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones, businesses grappling with losses, and even governments desperate for answer. As a people, we were not prepared for this, but we can ride on the waves of this crisis to experience a rebirth; let us reach out to one another. Secondly, this pandemic has permanently altered the way we live, communicate, do business, and engage the markets. It is thus important to learn, unlearn, and relearn the ‘new normal’ going forward. Riding on the wave of a shift created by COVID-19, the knowledge economy has now gained ascent more than ever before, and I believe this is an excellent time for women to step up as voices, visionaries, influencers, change brokers and thought-leaders, within their areas of expertise; I see women rising in this season.
With rising cases of rape in the country, what role should women play to put an end to this menace?
UN Women is an organisation I follow closely and look to partnering with for our international development efforts for women. It has an excellent blueprint online, sharing a manifesto on ways we can categorically stand up against rape. I believe this is the kind of knowledge all women should embrace, as a weapon to combat this social menace. Let us end Victim-Blaming – a very destructive culture that suggests a victim, rather than the perpetrator, bears responsibility for an assault because they were not sober, appropriately dressed, or behaved in a flirtatious manner.
All of these are irrelevant but instead, fuel the idea that men and boys can obtain power through violence and empowers the notion of sex as an entitlement. Secondly, is the need to demonstrate zero tolerance for sexual harassment and violence in the spaces we live, work, and play. We must also be very upfront through our words, actions, and advocacy, that we will refuse for sexual violence and sexual harassment to be normalised or trivialised in our communities.
What principles should women imbibe to become successful and fulfilled at what they do like you?
Well, the goal is to be a successful human being. The same fundamental principles shape our evolution and move us toward lives of meaning, contribution, and influence – whether man or woman. So let’s strive for that. I have shared an original three-pillar pathway in my coaching programmes for upgrading the outcomes in your life in a predictable fashion. Let me state them briefly here. As you work towards success and fulfillment, start with Personal Growth or what we call Radical Evolution, and this is all around the process that makes you into a person worthy of the vision you have. Don’t just desire to achieve, desire to become. Grow in the areas of your weakness, so that your character will not undermine your competence. Next is Rapid Execution. You must grow the set of skills that facilitate quickly turning around your wildly important goals so that you work in an agile fashion and create results in sustained increments. Some of the most frustrated and cynical people have met are those who experience a huge gap between their big vision and their real manifestations. Final is the versatility of expressions that free you from ‘being known for one thing’. I don’t know who sold the lie that our best is released only when we are known for one thing. Many women will find themselves pulled in more than one direction and may have multiple visions they want to explore. Go for it. Just get schooled in how to launch your multi-influential flows, as I love to call it.
As a wife, mum, motivation speaker, CEO, preacher, author, and more, how do you marry all these roles and still be your best?
There are many tips I could share, but my foremost personal wisdom for juggling many balls is first, you must determine the balls to juggle in the different seasons of your life. Your life has many balls, but not every one of those balls is a priority in every season. Determine what requires foremost focus and set your eyes on them. Vision is what refines and confines our options. It helps us know what to do and what not to do. And these things are never cast in stone because our lives consist of several fluid transitions from time to time. Secondly, I operate as a God-inspired government with foresight, planning, strategic scheduling, prioritisation, and self-renewal. I am thankful to be an entrepreneur who is mostly in charge of my time, as this helps me determine a function work system within which I house my demands as well as set up a structure for my retreats and rest. I also closely watch how my mentors balance their lives too. I thankfully have parents and mentors who have full, productive lives and they hold it up well. So I keenly observe, obtain wisdom, and apply to my own life. There’s however need to adjust to suit your unique reality. Finally, I cannot overemphasize the great importance of a support system. My super amazing husband, our parents, my friends, ministry associates, team members, volunteers, support coaches, and mentees all stand as significant support systems in my life. Being able to leverage these powerful alliances have been helpful as well.
What key message do you have for Nigerian women?
Don’t copy anyone. Please don’t. Until you find your message, don’t seek a platform. Let your voice be formed and fortified before you start to speak from the top of the mountains. Don’t allow any other person’s success to put you under pressure. Be under the creative pressure of personal growth and evolution. As you grow, your relevance will grow.
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