Debola Deji-Kurunmi


This feature story was written by Ude, Ugo Anna – Creative Director of Book O’Clock & Team Lead of The Book Drive Bayelsa. She is also one of the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees in the Impact Maker Category. 

I would write that rarely would one find sisterhood forged as finely and as quickly as that formed between the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees. But then, I would risk oversimplifying hundreds of years of women uplifting one another and trudging hand-in-hand through the difficult realities of their time. 

Yet, if anyone keenly observed the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees  floating into the Shell Hall, MUSON Centre in our dazzling dresses, complimenting and cheering one another as we all walked to the Awards Gala stage to receive our awards, they would affirm a number of things. Some of these would include the fact that there was a uniqueness, a cheerful mood, and without a doubt, a divine orchestration to our being celebrated together. They would perhaps also see in their mind’s eye the formidable change our sisterhood, leadership, and transformative projects would bring to Africa’s most needy sectors for centuries to come. 

There was something very distinct about the evening of the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards Gala. Beyond the elegant dresses and numerous smiles, it was clear that there was something significant about a gathering of leaders both young and old who at their core believed in transforming Africa for good. 

Going back to the very first moment

It is August 22nd, 2023. I’m heading to a café somewhere in the heart of Yenagoa when a new reminder on my phone makes me scroll through my notifications bar. I almost squealed in the tricycle when I read the email notification which said, “Ude, Congratulations! You Made It!”

I opened the email and I couldn’t believe the words I was seeing. “Congratulations! We are thrilled to inform you that you have emerged as one of the winners of the highly esteemed Future-Forward Female 25 under 25 Awards.” My heart is beating fast at this point, but I kept on reading. “This momentous achievement is a testament to your exceptional talent, unwavering leadership, and undeniable influence as a voice in our generation.” The words wash over me and pull tears to my eyes. Could this really be happening? 

From that moment until I finally find a place to sit in the café, my mind is racing with so many thoughts. I couldn’t help but remember the urgency that accompanied my starting a Book Drive Campaign during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide books to the children in my neighbourhood who needed textbooks to study at home. I mull over the trajectory of my education advocacy journey and my early resolve to remain in service of God, people, and my community. There are no words to capture how much my dreams of building libraries all over Nigeria are affirmed by those words I had just read in that email. At that very moment, I was in awe, maybe a little overwhelmed. But I honestly had no words. Thankfully, I would find the words later. I’ll hear them from Rhoda Aguonigho and she will help me articulate the words I need to express.

Rhoda Aguonigho is a fashion consultant and a fellow Future-Forward Female™ Awardee in the Culture Ambassador Category. Here’s how she described the impact of Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards. She said, “It felt like the icing beautifying a cake. It is definitely a much-needed validation that our service and purpose is deserving of recognition and a reward.” 

Considering that out of the 500+ nominees and over 2000 nominations seen by the FFF Jury, 25 of us were selected reinforces how meaningful and special a recognition of this nature means to each of us. All 25 finalists modelled the strongest values of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement which are personal transformation, visionary leadership, ethical excellence, and outstanding impact. I’m sure you can now understand why Rhoda’s feelings resonated so strongly with all the awardees. 

Yet, it is not so much the recognition as it is the responsibility that comes with being spotlighted as a Future-Forward Female™. The award, I sense, is accompanied by a duty and a responsibility. A responsibility that includes but is not limited to:

(1) Remaining on the path purpose (2) Being courageous and radical in the face of Africa’s biggest challenges, and (3) Recognising that our visions will fuel many other young women with the audacity to take their dreams head-on. 

Similoluwa Sowunmi puts it perfectly when she describes 25 of us as having been “…Enlisted into an army of women that God is spotlighting in this decade.” The weight of our leadership mandate is clearly indisputable.

A night we won’t forget

The day finally came. This was the evening all 25 ladies had been waiting for – The Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards Gala. A night to celebrate our outstanding impact. But at the Awards Gala, we are all scribes. 

Amidst the alluring purple and gold decor, the clinking of spoons on plates, the mumbled compliments, and the tap-tap sounds of the shoes of some women catwalking to their seats, all of us (the 25 Awardees) scribble in our journals or type in our digital notepads the words of enthronement and affirmation spoken over us by the women of then and now (as I call them.) The Visionary Debola-Deji Kurunmi, Founder of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement; Mrs. Adenike Ogunlesi, Nigeria’s foremost fashion entrepreneur with over 35 years in the Fashion and Retail Business and Matriarch of the Evening and Keynote Speaker at the Awards; and Her Majesty, HRH Olori Atuwase III, Queen Consort of the Warri Kingdom and Distinguished speaker at the Awards Gala send us forth into the next decade and century with charge and encouragement to remain phenomenal. 

Mrs Adenike Ogunlesi’s words will certainly ring in our consciousness. “You must first be a leader of yourself to lead others. Lead yourself well,” she said. 

Now, We Begin a Journey

This is where we go from here.

We have chosen to be student-teachers who learn and lead. We know that the spotlight on us as leaders is a clear invitation to keep learning. We anticipate keenly the mentorship and internships that come with being a part of this phenomenal community. We are also bracing up for the personal transformation required for this new journey. As we fully recognize the weight of the expectations that come with being spotlighted as young African women leading a decade of change. We are already forming strong bonds of sisterhood, friendships and  partnerships.

So where do we go from here? This next chapter beckons us (the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees) to keep pressing forward. There is no relenting now because we will continue to break barriers, lead boldly, create change, redefine narratives and transform society for good. 

We choose to lead ourselves through discipline, self-care, and forgiveness. We commit to constantly showing up for and investing in our dreams, and we refuse to cower in the face of self-doubt or the fear of our inadequacies. 

We commit to leaving our minds open for possibilities. We will reimagine the Africa and Nigeria of our dreams for as long as it takes for it to materialise. We will uplift the young female leaders coming behind by amplifying their service.

There are only open doors from here, and we are thankful.

The smiles on our faces at the Future-Forward Female™ Awards Gala will not only remain in our pictures and highlight reels. They are reenacted on the days when we read the Future-Forward Female™ Folio or happen to glance at the gorgeous plaques handed to us at the Gala. And so, for granting us this honour and being the catalysts of an upward drive for our leadership journeys, we are thankful to the Visionary and Founder of the Future-Forward Female™ Movement, Debola Deji-Kurunmi and the entire Future-Forward Female™  Movement team.

Here’s an ocean’s worth of gratitude.

For more information on the  Future-Forward Female™ Movement, visit our website – https://www.futureforwardfemale.com/
Kindly follow the Future-Forward Female™ Movement on social media here –  @futureforwardfemale_  for more updates. 

Founded in 2021 by Transformational Catalyst, Coach and Public Policy Adviser, Debola Deji-Kurunmi, the Future-Forward Female™ Movement was established as a global conscious collective for the advancement of visionary women of African descent, who transform the world, through the power of compelling vision, legacy leadership and collaboration.

At the heart of the Movement’s vision is a belief that women who break barriers and lead boldly are instrumental in shaping and delivering Africa’s prosperous future.

Driven by this vision, in April 2023, the movement ignited its manifesto to catalyze, connect and celebrate Future-Forward Females™ (16-24 years old) who model true leadership in solving humanity’s toughest challenges and elevating our collective prosperity. It was in line with this mission that the movement launched the Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards. This was a quest to spotlight and recognize 25 extraordinary young African female leaders who are breaking barriers, leading boldly, creating change, redefining narratives and transforming society for good. 

 Future-Forward Female

On September 30th, 2023 at the Muson Centre in Lagos Nigeria, these 25 exceptional young female leaders who emerged as our finalists alongside other nominees will be celebrated and honored for their outstanding impact and contributions towards shaping Africa’s future. The Awards Gala which kicks off at 7PM will be an exclusive evening of high significance amidst heartfelt inspiration, elegant experiences, fine dining, a truly memorable Awards Ceremony and the Release of Future-Forward Female™ Folio 2.0.

The Matriarch of the Evening and Keynote Speaker at the Awards is Mrs Adenike Ogunlesi – Foremost Fashion Retail Mogul, Industrial Garment Manufacturing Pioneer in Africa and Founder, Ruff ‘N’ Tumble Kids. In addition, her Royal Highness, Olori Atuwase III – Queen Consort of the Warri Kingdom, Visionary Leader and Lawyer will be the Royal Guest of the evening and Distinguished Speaker at the Awards. Visionary and Convener of the Awards, Debola Deji-Kurunmi when speaking about the Gala stated that, “This Awards Gala has been specially curated to provide amazing opportunities for young female leaders to connect with other amazing leaders as well as inspiring voices and role models.”

The Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees also model the Movement’s strongest values of personal transformation, visionary leadership, ethical excellence, and outstanding impact across 7 Distinct Dimensions namely – Visionary Leader, Impact Maker, Transformational Voice, Culture Ambassador, Disability Champion, Queen of Enterprise, and Partner in Purpose

An expert Jury deployed a rigorous, criteria-based system which was  a thorough and objective process to ultimately select our final Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awardees who are mentioned below. 

Awardees in the Visionary Leader category are: 

Abiola Adebiyi- Founder, Elevate Development Foundation

Gloria O. Akanni- Founder of the Global Eagle’s Digital Academy (GEDA) & The Eagle’s Foundation

Peace Umanah- Public Health Practitioner & Director at IYAFP

Krimkat Dalang – Best-selling author, Podcast host, Ministry gift

Awardees in the Impact Maker Category are:

Grace Amuzie- Founder, Isrina Schools

Ude Ugo Anna- Creative Director of Book O’Clock & Team Lead of The Book Drive Bayelsa

Janet Isesele-  Executive director, Build A Child Initiative

Funmilayo Oyekanmi – Social Entrepreneur and Impact Consultant

 Awardees in the Transformational Voice category are: 

Haoma Worgwu – Marketing Insider at Linkedin

Oluwaseyi Moejoh- Environmentalist -Executive Director U-recycle Initiative Africa

Deborah Ijeoma – Idea Launch Strategist

Modupe Laja- Community Development Enthusiast

Awardees in the Culture Ambassador category are: 

Rhoda Aguonigho- Founder/ Executive Director Lhaude Africa

Doyinmola Paul-Oyewusi- Creative Director, DHONEY Adire and Crafts 

Favour Chioma Godwill- Development Professional

Awardees in the Queen of Enterprise category are: 

Aderinsola Esther Omirin – CEO of Solasoles, Lead Coach at Startupspaceng, Founder of The Radiant Tribe

Ibukun Akinkuotu – Founder, Stylecentric | Brand Influencer & Lifestyle Creator

Naomi Bominuru- Entrepreneur, Home Fragrance Expert and Coach

Awardees in the Disability Champion category are: 

Oluwadamilola Precious Oyewumi- Executive Director of The Victor’s Talk Africa & Sickle Cell Advocate

Anifat Sadu- Author and Disability Rights Advocate

Agnes Atinsola- President of Precious Seeds Foundation & Disabilities Studies Champion

Awardees in the Partner in Purpose category are: 

Alexandra Ighodaro – Data Engineer & Career Coach

Esther Kolade – Sustainability Advocate & Award-Winning President of Rotaract Club of Medilag Golden 2022-2023 Rotary Year

Similoluwa Sowunmi  – Software Engineer | Product Manager | Certified Scrum Master

Precious Damilola Babatunde – Nutritionist

Through these awards and other projects, the Future Forward Female Movement seeks to advance the goals of the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent (2015-2024), which aims to celebrate the significant contributions of Africans, who transform the world, through the power of compelling vision, legacy leadership, and collaboration. 

According to Debola Deji-Kurunmi, “The Future-Forward Female™ is the aspiring young girl, the emerging woman, and the accomplished matriarch who carries a vision for our shared future. She hopes and dares to dream, against all odds as she fights for the oppressed, speaks up for what is right, nurtures the next generation, and creates solutions for our world today.” 

The Future-Forward Female


For more information on the  Future-Forward Female™ 25 Under 25 Awards Gala and the 2023 Awardees, visit our website and follow the Future-Forward Female™ Movement via social media here –  @futureforwardfemale_ for more updates. 

Website – https://www.futureforwardfemale.com/gala/ 

Social Media: 

  • @futureforwardfemale_ 
  • @immerseinnercircle 
  • @deboladejikurunmi


Adebola Kupoluyi is a seasoned professional with over nine (9) years of valuable experience garnered in diverse challenging roles. She possesses general management experience overseeing key functions of Finance Operations, Quality Assurance, Health& Safety, and Network Operations.

Burdened by the number of street kids, she started Mantle of Mordecai (MOM) foundation many years ago, a registered non-profit organization with the mission to reduce the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria and by extension Africa. Adebola Kupoluyi also champions the Culture Preservation Initiative with the mandate of ensuring that the culture of her home country Nigeria is preserved all over the world. As part of impacting her world she is a volunteer mentor of The Tony Elumelu Foundation tasked with empowering young entrepreneurs in Africa.

Adebola Kupoluyi was recently appointed Country Ambassador, Nigeria for Rise &  Lead Netherlands; a global knowledge sharing, education and advocacy platform that connects leaders, emerging leaders, NGOs and change-makers to promote the inclusion of women in leadership in the workplace, marketplace and society to foster peace and prosperity in society.  Adebola’s mandate in life is to impact all lives she encounters; she shares her Inspiring journey with me in this Interview.

Growing Up

I had a relatively tough childhood because I was diagnosed of chronic asthma before I turned five. I lived most of my life on admission in the hospital and sometimes I wrote my exams in the confines of my hospital bed. I was a very frail child and all I found comfort in was my books, so I guess that made me appreciate the importance of education.

However, I know that seed of what I do now was sown at the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) orientation camp of Yobe state in Fika town in April 2009. While in camp I had  two “adopted” sons Musa and Mohammed whom I connected to immediately I met them. They were part of the group of kids that came to camp for menial jobs daily. Once they came into the camp it was always straight to my hostel; my roommates knew them already so they would call out to me that my kids were outside.  Off we would go to the canteen together once it was time for any meal to eat.

During our last week, my friends and I put funds together and we bought necessities such as slippers (they were always bare footed) and clothes.  Seeing the way their faces lit up because of this seemingly insignificant gesture made me realize there was so much more that could be done. Although, I did not know how to go about it then but the desire to help kids had been sown in my heart and it kept germinating.

Mantle of Mordecai Foundation and Its impact since Inception

Mantle of Mordecai foundation popularly known as MOM foundation is an inspiration from God and our mandate is simply to reduce the number of out -of -school children in Nigeria and by extension Africa . Every time I see a kid that should be in school hawking during school hours my heart breaks knowing the kind of potential that is being wasted.

MOM is a registered non-profit organisation in Nigeria and our primary aim is to seek funds to enable out- of -school children have access to quality education. MOM has children from different parts of Nigeria, but currently focuses on the children in Dustbin Estate, a slum in Lagos State, Nigeria where families literally live on refuse dump.

Our success stories have been what has kept us going. As at December 2019, we had our first university graduate Olatunji Benedict from Ondo State University of Science and Technology, Okitipupa. He studied B.Tech Applied Geophysics . I met Latunji Korede about 5 years ago petty trading on Lagos streets, because his father lost his only source of income and became bed ridden, hence Korede had to step up to cater for the family. Another beneficiary Solomon Aare, who is currently in his final year at the university,  after graduating from the polytechnic with a distinction, has also become a serial entrepreneur even while still in school. He runs Point of Sales (POS) agency shops in three different locations in Lagos. This is a boy that lived in dustbin estate prior to MOM sponsorship.

How my Strong Background in the Corporate World Impacted me  

I will say I have been privileged to have an interesting and positively challenging career that has spanned over nine years now. Valuable experience has been garnered in diverse roles and sectors. I am currently the Senior Manager, Finance Operations at American Towers, a New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) quoted company. This is a general management capacity role which sees me managing key functions and team members working within the Finance Operations, Health & Safety and Network Operations. At the early stage of my career I gained four(4) years consulting experience in KPMG with specialty in Enterprise Risk Management (ERM). I have also had the privilege of mentoring at the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP), coaching four promising women in their chosen field of entrepreneurship.  I am also a New Leader for tomorrow at the Crans Montana forum, Monaco.  Advancing in my career despite all odds shaped my thought process; made me realise that I am here for a time such as now and that beyond my success in career there is more I should be doing to impact my world.

My appointment as Country Ambassador for Nigeria rise and Leads Netherlands

The Rise and Lead is an education and social impact organization founded in the Netherlands in 2018, providing skills, knowledge and thought leadership to individuals, entrepreneurs and

organizations. Our mission is to support women to achieve their personal and professional goals while leading the change towards closing the gender leadership gap.

As Country Ambassador that is leading a new Country Forum from scratch, I have the  opportunity to grow my leadership and impact and develop more leaders in my circle of influence.  Some of the expectations are to create, manage and lead all local events, meetups and training programs  as well as planning and execution of all major summits and local meetups.

Challenges of being an Advocate

The major challenge I face as an advocate is the resistant to change on all fronts. As human beings, we seem to be quite set in our ways and find it difficult to embrace another way of doing things.

An example is changing the mindsets of the parents of our beneficiaries at the MOM Foundation. Specifically, some parents do not believe that education should be prioritised therefore they are not usually very supportive of the beneficiaries. Asides, providing funds to the beneficiaries, there is usually a need for an orientation of the other stakeholders involved in the process. This ensures that the entire programme is not frustrated and our mission is accomplished.

Adebola Kupoluyi

Our International Women’s Day Summit

Rise and Lead team decided it is the best time for us to have the inaugural African summit, after two successful summits in the Hague, Netherlands in 2018 and 2019.

The summit is called the Rising Leaders’ African Summit, taking place on 27th March 2020 at Four Points by Sheraton, Victoria Island, Lagos, Nigeria.

Theme is: Leadership. Women. Inclusion

The Summit will host progressive panel conversations, keynote speeches and impact workshops which will focus on Digital Transformation, Entrepreneurship, and advancing more women into leadership positions”. High-level business leaders, policymakers and international keynote speakers will attend to share their experience and best practices in innovation and leadership while addressing the significant potential of Women and Youth to transform the African Societies.

As part of the summit we are also gifting 25 women with free entrepreneurial training under our Inclusive Founders program to enable them grow and expand their businesses.

Registration is currently ongoing at https://riseandleadsummit.com/summit-african/ and we have discounts for corporate bodies and group registrations. Attendance of the summit is a perfect gift organizations can give their women in celebration of the International Women’s month.

The Nigerian Government and it’s impact on Women and Children

According to Edmund Burke, “the only condition necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”. This is my summation of the way the Nigerian government has prioritized issues regarding women and children.  I do not see any visible or targeted effort to alleviate the peculiar issues faced by women and children.

To buttress my point, according to UNICEF data in 2014 Nigeria had the highest number of out of school children in the world ( 10.5 million). Despite all the promise made by the Nigerian government to correct this anomaly, UNICEF declared that the number had gone up by 25% to 13.2 million in 2018. This shows a complete neglect for the cause of children and lack of focus on the future of the country. My question is if education is a priority for developed countries why isn’t it a priority for a country like Nigeria contributing the highest quota to the pool of uneducated kids?

Same concerns are valid for women, in a country with such diverse and talented women, it shouldn’t be out of place to have a quota system that ensures that women are able to compete on the same levelled playing field as their male counterparts.

Adebola Kupoluyi

Being a Woman of Rubies

I have decided to dedicate my lifetime to impacting my world in every sphere I find myself. When others see problems, I search for solutions to fix the problem. I will love to die empty one day, knowing that the world knew I was here because of the lives I would have touched just like the lyrics of the song “ I was here”

I want to nurture kids, put as many of them in school, I want to mentor teenagers especially the ones that have gone through some form of molestation because I am also a sexual abuse survivor. I want to coach young women in career and also empower the currently disempowered women. I just want to give my ALL to my world, because I have realised that waking up every morning is actually a gift  that should be maximized and not taken for granted.

To Female Change-makers who are trying to find their Voice in the World

Be the light the world is desperately looking for. Have an audacious goal that is greater than you on your journey to changing the world; divide that goal into smaller subsets, tackle it daily, celebrate small wins and learn from your failures. Never forget to thank God for the doors that are being shut currently, because not every opportunity is a good opportunity. Be very deliberate about self-leadership and self-development, be yourself always and never doubt your ability to change the world. Although your sphere of influence may look small, you are actually a critical and crucial part of a greater battalion of army whose common goal is to make the world a better place; however, the tasks have been apportioned to us all in different dimensions .

You can and you will change the world in your own sphere of influence. Keep at it!!

 Mention 5 women who inspire me and why

  1. Olajumoke Adenowo – we fondly call her Mrs A. She has been of huge influence in my life since I started listening to her and eventually getting to know her. One thing she stands for which unfortunately has taken the back burner these days is excellence in the marketplace. She has shown in all her endeavors that she is on earth for a purpose and has taught us that; purpose should be fulfilled on any pillar of life we stand on.
  2. Ibukun Awosika– she epitomizes integrity as a woman in business. I have learnt from her that though taking an ethical stand may be unpopular at the time you are taking that decision, it speaks for you behind closed doors years later and takes you to places your certificate or experience couldn’t have.
  3. Debola Deji- Kurunmi – we fondly call her General DDK! Meeting her healed me of a small mindset. She is my Coach and one thing she has done for me is open my eyes to see that I can be multi-influential and productive at it. She debunked the “jack of all trade and master of none” theory. This has brought me to where I am today and all I am doing and the more that is still coming.
  4. My Mum– Mrs. Bolanle Salako- seeing her struggles and limitation as a woman who innately had it in her to be successful, who did all the hard work but just couldn’t break even. toughened me up. Unknowingly, I just wanted to be a way better version of her. I decided that apart from no one stealing my joy; I was going to be the light that is desperately needed in this world.
  5. My late Grandma -we fondly called her “Abby”. I say to myself that I am who I am because I had a praying grandmother. She was a warrior who fought wars on her knees for us. She took care of me as a sickly child and nurtured me for year(s). I am eternally grateful I got to spend time with her before she passed on 8 yeas ago.

Please reach out to the Rise and Lead team and Adebola Kupoluyi on adebola@riseandleadwomen.com or support@riseandleadwomen.com 

You can also follow our conversations on social media with the hashtags #RiseandLeadWomen #RisingLeadersSummit, #RLSummit2020 #drivethechange #leadtheconversation #togetherweriseandle