Damilola Feyide is more than just a name – she’s a beacon of hope for the Nigerian educational system. With unwavering dedication and an unshakable spirit, Damilola transforms young lives through Let It Shine Secondary School, a non-profit institution, and Let It Shine Academy (LISA), a creative haven nurturing young talents.
This creative academy fosters young talents to build and improve on them. On this week’s #MCNWorkLife, we sat with Damilola Feyide to talk about her journey with running a secondary school and a creative academy at 28 while being team lead of the strategic partnership and business development team at Providus Bank.
Who is Damilola Feyide?
Damilola is a versatile soul who refuses to be defined solely by her work. She believes in being whoever God calls her to be in the moment. At 28, she radiates a love for the Lord, a passion for family, and a vibrant openness. From dancing to music, she embraces multiple roles. Splitting her time between Lagos and England, she’s like a cultural bridge between continents.
How did your childhood aspirations shape your journey into adulthood and your eventual career path?
In primary school, I was all about embracing the spotlight as an actress—trust me, I still use that to tease my mom playfully. In high school, I set my sights on becoming a lawyer. I even had my sights on studying Law at university. But life has a way of throwing surprises our way. My dad, a pragmatic thinker, pointed out that there were countless lawyers in Nigeria already, so he encouraged me to explore other options. That left me at a crossroads as I applied to universities. Eventually, I settled on economics as my field of study. Although it wasn’t exactly part of my initial plan, my decision was influenced by my dad’s background in economics.
I won’t lie; my university years didn’t have a meticulously mapped-out plan. Economics didn’t excite me, but its extensive influence across various sectors intrigued me. Then came 2018, a year of unexpected turns. I became a certified personal trainer, a dream come true. I joined a gym and embarked on a journey that led to me shedding a remarkable 30 kilos. But life has its ways of guiding us. While I initially revelled in personal training, I soon realised it required a more sales-focused mindset than anticipated. The passion waned, and the dream took a backseat, though I continued to help people part-time.
Fast forward to my return to Nigeria for the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), driven by a deep sense of belonging. Little did I know that this leap would lead me down an utterly uncharted path. Fate had different plans, guiding me towards banking and education—two spheres I had never thought of before. It’s pretty fascinating, considering how different my current journey is from everything I had ever imagined. Life, indeed has a knack for surprising us.
Speaking of banking, you are currently the Strategic Partnership and Business Development Team Lead at Providus Bank. Can you take us through the journey that brought you into this field?
Absolutely! My journey into my current role at Providus Bank is quite the tale of twists and turns. It all started with my return to Nigeria to complete my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), where I interned at Providus Bank. Initially, the plan was straightforward—I’d finish my stint and return home. But as life often does, it had other plans in store. Over those months, I started feeling that perhaps this was where I was meant to be. Admittedly, I resisted this notion at first. There was a strong desire to reunite with my family, and I wasn’t particularly keen on a career in banking—especially since my dad had his roots in that field. I never considered myself a “finance person.” However, life’s unexpected twists can be pretty transformative.
During my NYSC, I worked in different departments, with my final stop being finance and strategy—a crucial turning point. When my NYSC concluded, Providus Bank offered me a chance to stay, and I took it. Then came the surprising part. Last year, brimming with ideas, I found the bank not only listening but putting my suggestions into action. This was a significant realisation for me. Growing up, I didn’t think of myself as exceptionally innovative, so seeing my contributions making a real impact was refreshing and healing—an affirmation that my ideas held weight.
And then, the pivotal call came from the bank’s executive management. They’d been watching my efforts closely and saw something in me. They were interested in harnessing my energy for something more substantial. That’s when the idea of creating a new department—Strategic Partnerships and Business Development—came to life. To provide context, Providus Bank, still relatively young at just six years old, was looking to enhance its strategic approach. My ongoing work in strategy and solutions aligned perfectly with this vision. This alignment led them to establish a distinct department focusing on partnerships, and they asked me to lead it. The official launch happened in January this year, marking the beginning of a new chapter.
The journey has been incredibly humbling—watching the dots connect from my initial internship to becoming a driving force in a brand-new division. It’s been a powerful reminder that unexpected paths can lead to extraordinary destinations.
Your path from the University of Sheffield to your current position as a Team Lead at Providus Bank and the founder of Let it Shine Academy is remarkable. How have these diverse experiences shaped your determination to drive meaningful change?
It’s interesting, you know. While I can’t pinpoint an exact moment, a series of experiences gradually led me to a profound realisation—that I’m here for more than just existing. This awareness started taking shape during my time at Providus Bank, but the sentiment holds true throughout my journey. It became evident, whether at Providus Bank or in founding Let it Shine Academy (LISA), that my purpose revolves around making a meaningful impact through service.
My driving force is rooted in the desire to serve and illuminate the lives of others. Whether in the corporate realm at Providus Bank or through the creative haven of LISA, my mission is to bring light into people’s lives. This intrinsic motivation to be of service and create positive change guides me in everything I do. I firmly believe that the essence of existence lies in how we touch the lives of others, and this philosophy is the driving force behind my journey—from the academic halls of the University of Sheffield to the dynamic roles I embrace today.
Your expertise encompasses economics, child rights, and business management. How do these diverse realms intersect, empowering you to create equal opportunities for every child’s dreams?
It’s a beautiful fusion where these seemingly distinct fields converge to amplify my ability to drive change. Let’s start with economics—it’s the backbone that bolsters my work. While I’m fortunate to have a dedicated finance team, my background in economics lets me dive into the financial intricacies, ensuring resources are allocated with precision.
Here’s the captivating twist: Let it Shine Academy (LISA) has been an unexpected university. It’s expanded my expertise in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Managing LISA has turned me into a multi-dimensional expert—think leadership, education, child development—the list goes on. This convergence is where the magic happens, especially when it comes to nurturing equal opportunities for every child’s aspirations.
My economics foundation and banking role are a launching pad for strategic thinking. It empowers me to craft revenue-generating strategies for LISA, leveraging both the analytical prowess I’ve acquired and my practical banking experience. This synergy doesn’t just stay within LISA’s confines—it spills over into my role at Providus Bank, enriching my ability to strategise and innovate.
Moreover, Providus’ organisational structure insights have been invaluable in structuring LISA seamlessly. It’s like a bridge connecting two worlds, allowing me to create a nurturing environment for young talents while drawing lessons from the corporate realm. And it’s not a one-way street—LISA’s teachings also weave into my corporate life. The leadership and management skills honed at LISA resonate in guiding my team at work, creating a harmonious loop of learning and application.
This confluence of disciplines propels my mission: to dissolve barriers and empower every child’s dreams. The intersection of economics, child rights, and business management is where my determination to create meaningful change thrives. It’s a journey where each piece strengthens the others, weaving a tapestry of empowerment that stretches far beyond what I could have envisioned.
Your work life underscores your unwavering commitment to combatting education inequality, fostering child development, and championing children’s rights. What sparked this profound dedication? Could you pinpoint a defining moment that set you on the path of child care and development?
It’s incredible how certain moments can engrave themselves on your heart, propelling you toward unwavering action. It was an awakening—an experience that left me wide-eyed and drove me into action. Returning to Nigeria, seeing children begging on the streets, was a heart-rending reality I couldn’t ignore. It sparked an overwhelming urge to contribute, to make a difference in whatever way possible.
Then came a poignant Valentine’s Day. My friends and I visited a children’s remand home in Mushin, Lagos. Armed with simple supplies like snacks, cardboard, crayons, and art tools, we aimed to share a little joy. What struck me was their awe at seeing cardboard—a stark reminder that many had never ventured beyond the facility’s confines, this moment ignited an unshakable resolve. Let it Shine Academy (LISA) seeds were sown from this juncture.
LISA wasn’t merely about art; it was about nurturing potential. From painting to bead-making, baking to ballet, I aimed to empower these children to explore their capabilities with their hands. I aspired to offer them the same opportunities I had enjoyed as a child, irrespective of their circumstances. The drive was simple yet profound: no child should face limitations imposed by circumstances beyond their control.
Further along the journey, my quest for understanding child development led me to Harvard X. However, there was a glaring gap—the data primarily focused on America, leaving Nigeria’s context in the shadows. This void spurred my curiosity. I delved deeper, questioning Nigeria’s correctional system, until I found myself at the Oregon Correctional Centre for Boys. Here, the vision for the creative academy took root. The boys, yearning for creative outlets, delved into art, coding, and shoemaking under my guidance. These Saturday sessions were like sparks igniting a transformative flame.
Seeing the limitations of the facility only fueled my determination to dream bigger. A secondary school emerged as a vision for the older children; thus, Let It Shine Secondary School came to life. This journey is a tapestry woven with poignant moments—each solidifying my commitment to reshaping these children’s lives. From LISA to the secondary school, each venture is a testament to the belief that every child deserves the chance to radiate their brilliance regardless of their circumstances.
Your journey began with the inception of LISA in 2020, followed by the establishment of Let It Shine Secondary School in 2021, amassing around 150 students since then. : Your journey kicked off with LISA’s inception in 2020, followed by Let It Shine Secondary School in 2021, attracting nearly 150 students so far. Could you share a moment that genuinely makes you proud and explain why it holds such deep meaning for you?
Amid the whirlwind of experiences, a recent standout moment has to be the kids’ exhibition at the end of the term, where they flaunted their creations from the artistic haven of LISA. What makes this moment shine is how it perfectly aligns with their infectious excitement for learning and self-expression.
Earlier this year, the children had attended an art exhibition, and it was like a spark igniting a flame. This fired them up to put together their own showcase—an ode to their passions. The young coders proudly presented games they built, budding ballet performers taking the stage, and the young artists beaming as they unveiled their imaginative works. Watching their enthusiasm and hard work in action filled me with immense pride.
Looking back, there were times when I thought about focusing solely on the secondary school and putting LISA on hold. Yet, this exhibition was a wake-up call. It underscored the value LISA adds to these kids’ lives, reaffirming its importance. This realisation has reinvigorated my determination to keep pushing forward.
At its core, this exhibition embodies the potential we nurture within these young souls. It resonates deeply with our mission—empowering kids to explore, learn, and let their brilliance shine. This moment, with its contagious enthusiasm and the growth it represents, sits high among my proudest achievements in this journey of shaping lives.
Let It Shine Academy’s influence is undeniably profound. Could you paint a heartwarming picture of a child whose life was genuinely transformed by your organisation?
Let me tell you about a remarkable young individual I encountered at the Oregun Correctional Centre. Despite his circumstances, this young boy demonstrates an unwavering determination to rise above challenges. Currently residing in a rehabilitation centre, he commutes daily to our academy, with LISA covering his transportation. What’s more astounding is that he’s attending and excelling, topping his class.
At 17 years old, he stands at a crossroads where most would expect him to have completed his schooling journey. Yet, due to the lack of access to essential resources, he’s had to battle tenaciously to reach where he is today. Incredibly, he’s pushing boundaries and defying odds, showcasing his resilience in the face of adversity.
A heartwarming aspect of this story is that his potential has been recognised beyond LISA’s walls. His aunt is diligently working to secure his admission into Waterman College. What adds a touch of pride to this narrative is that he’s been nominated as our head boy for the upcoming year. When we reconvene, he will step into this role with the determination that has carried him through.
It’s easy for society to write off individuals who have faced time in correctional facilities, assuming that their futures are irreparably compromised. However, this young man’s journey underscores a different truth. His life is far from over; it’s just beginning, brimming with promise and potential. The world stands before him as an open canvas, waiting for him to chart his path and prove that resilience and determination can rewrite even the most challenging narratives.
That’s truly amazing. We can feel how proud of this young man you are. When do you feel most fulfilled in your work with the children at LISA?
Honestly, it’s a feeling that sweeps over me every single day. Witnessing the children’s growth daily and knowing that I’m playing a role in shaping their journeys is where my heart finds its fullest joy.
What truly resonates with me is the remarkable transformation I witness—these young souls embracing courage and faith, evolving right before my eyes. It goes beyond education and development; it’s about seeing the emergence of remarkable individuals destined to become integral parts of society.
The fulfilment I derive from this journey is not a sporadic event; instead, it’s an ongoing cascade of emotions that flow through every interaction, every lesson, and every discovery. As they evolve, I remember that each step they take towards their dreams showcases our potential to create a meaningful impact.
Running Let It Shine Academy is undoubtedly a substantial endeavour that comes with its share of challenges. Can you shed light on the most formidable challenge you’ve encountered while managing LISA and how you navigated it?
I won’t mince words—running LISA is hands down the most challenging undertaking of my life. It’s a venture that encompasses more than just educating children; it involves a tapestry of complexities. The most formidable aspect, I’d say, is the intricate dance of guiding the children and engaging with their parents. This isn’t just any set of parents; many of them require education themselves. Communicating effectively with them can sometimes feel like navigating uncharted waters. Their perspectives on life are distinct, which demands a patient process of helping them unlearn and relearn.
Beyond that, the challenges span everything from fundraising to managing staff and utilities. It’s a continuous learning curve that brings new insights and lessons each day. I often refer to LISA as the most beautiful and sacrificial endeavour I’ve undertaken. The passion that fuels it also demands sacrifices, but I undertake a journey with my heart wide open.
As a young woman leading this initiative, I’ve encountered instances where others underestimated my capabilities. These moments fuel my advocacy even further, especially when it comes to championing the safety and well-being of these children. In the face of these challenges, I am reminded that every obstacle surmounted only strengthens my commitment to the cause, reinforcing my resolve to create an environment where these children can thrive and succeed.
Your journey is a testament to resilience in the face of challenges. Could you share a pivotal difficult moment you’ve encountered and how you transformed it into a catalyst for positive change?
Absolutely, there was a moment that genuinely tested my determination. A child in our care went missing, and the incident hit me like a wrecking ball. It was a nightmare scenario, and I felt overwhelmed to the point of wanting to shut the school down. The child’s guardians were understandably distraught and even raised concerns about the child’s safety with me.
The accusations and stress were nearly unbearable. I reached a breaking point, and giving up seemed tempting. However, I turned to my faith and found solace at that moment. I realised that giving up wasn’t an option for me and certainly not for the children who depend on the academy for their future.
With renewed determination, I took decisive action. We launched an intense search, and thankfully, we found the child safe and sound. This incident became a turning point. I used this incident as a catalyst to overhaul our security measures. In addition, implemented stricter protocols, sanctioned those responsible, and implemented a comprehensive set of rules to ensure the safety of every child under our care.
I’ve learned to rely on my faith, seeking guidance, strength, and resilience in moments like these. Every challenge is an opportunity for growth and positive change. I’ve come to understand that with the right mindset and unwavering determination, we can overcome even the most challenging obstacles.
Your academic journey into child rights and public education reform has been impressive. How do these educational pursuits empower you to navigate the intricate landscape of enhancing education accessibility in Nigeria?
These academic pursuits have been like a compass, guiding me through uncharted waters and enabling me to forge a path that deviates from the norm. They’ve shown me that I’m not bound by the confines of tradition but can carve my own trail. It’s like questioning why we all follow a single blueprint set by one person for our education system. What if we dared to build our own, to tailor it to our children’s and our nation’s needs? This mindset fuels my approach.
At Let It Shine Academy, we incorporate the Nigerian curriculum to prepare our students for their NECO and WAEC exams while integrating elements of the British and Netherlands curricula to ensure a holistic and practical learning experience. My studies have given me the insight to identify where our existing system falls short and how we can engineer a more effective model for these children.
Furthermore, this academic foundation empowers me to advocate effectively. I understand the policies and practices that can bring about positive change. It’s about putting the children’s dreams and potential at the forefront, nurturing their growth against all odds.
In this journey, I’ve witnessed transformative moments that exemplify the impact of Let It Shine Academy’s interventions. Take, for instance, our focus on STEM education. Last year, our coding students were invited to collaborate with Xbox and Microsoft. The experience took them to the Microsoft office, where they pitched a game they had created to the head of Xbox Africa and other organisers. The sheer realisation that they can conceive, build, and present something of value to industry leaders shattered limitations they might have felt. These instances open their eyes to boundless possibilities, showing them they can achieve far beyond their imaginings.
We’ve loved learning about your accomplishments, including your Harvard X certification and ongoing pursuit of learning. Do you intend to obtain more certificates in the future?
Absolutely, I’ve only just begun. Education is a vast realm full of challenges and opportunities waiting to be explored. I intend to continue this learning journey, not just for personal growth but to enrich the lives of the children under my care and contribute to the betterment of Nigeria as a whole.
The more I learn, the more equipped I am to make informed decisions, advocate effectively, and bring about meaningful change. It’s about ensuring that every step I take adds value to the lives I touch and the causes I’m committed to. So, yes, more certificates are on the horizon, all aimed at making a difference where it truly matters.
Balancing the demands of a corporate role and your commitments to Let it Shine Academy undoubtedly requires exceptional time management. Could you share some insights into your daily routine that help sustain your passion and energy?
My routine is quite dynamic and changes daily, reflecting the fluidity of my responsibilities. I’ve learned that effective time management is now a crucial skill in my life. I’ve embraced feeling overwhelmed as a regular part of my current journey. However, I’m fortunate to have access to resources that help me navigate these challenges. One technique that has proven invaluable is the art of prioritisation. I jot down tasks, breaking them into actionable steps, and systematically check them off as they’re accomplished. This gives me a sense of accomplishment and keeps me organised and focused.
Additionally, I’ve recognised the power of delegation. While I am hands-on and wear many hats, I’ve come to understand that I don’t have to do everything single-handedly. I’ve built a dedicated team around me, each member entrusted with specific roles that play to their strengths. This collaborative approach eases my workload and ensures that LISA’s vision is propelled forward with collective effort. It might mean expanding the team as needed, but I see it as a wise investment in LISA’s growth and impact. Ultimately, I’ve learned to lean on my team and reach out for assistance when needed, recognising that no significant endeavour can be achieved in isolation.
Maintaining a successful work-life balance can be challenging, but you seem to have found your way. Could you share a tip that has been instrumental in achieving this balance?
Absolutely, finding that balance was a learning process for me. One strategy that I swear by is setting clear boundaries. I struggled with this initially and felt the effects of needing a well-defined line between work and personal life. But with time, I became intentional about it. Weekends are strictly off-limits for work-related matters. After 10 p.m., I consciously disconnect from anything work-related. It’s a rule I adhere to steadfastly.
During this “me time,” only calls from my parents get through, and even my personal assistant knows that post-10 p.m. is my time for myself. It’s essential for my well-being and peace of mind. This sacred period is reserved for me to unwind, relax, and recharge – a vital aspect of maintaining balance.
Furthermore, weekends are dedicated entirely to me, my friends, and my family. It’s a deliberate decision to prioritise quality time with my loved ones. And, to ensure I don’t neglect self-care, I set aside at least an hour a day just for myself. By establishing and honouring these boundaries, I’ve found a rhythm that helps me excel in my professional and personal spheres while ensuring that I remain present for those who matter most.
You’ve become a beacon of inspiration for aspiring female leaders. How do you see the interplay between your corporate role and your philanthropic initiatives shaping the legacy you’re leaving behind?
Honestly, I haven’t dwelled on that thought too deeply. It’s overwhelming and incredibly humbling to realise that I’ve become a role model for others. Before all of this, I never imagined I could build something like this. This journey has opened my eyes to the vast potential within me, and I’m immensely grateful for that realisation.
One of the things I advocate for is breaking free from the moulds society tries to fit women into. There’s this preconceived box that people often place women in, and I’ve been determined to shatter those confines. It’s about dispelling misconceptions and embracing that, as women, we can thrive in unconventional roles and defy societal norms.
In my daily life, I challenge perceptions that might not align with traditional ideas of femininity. Even in my corporate role, where I am the youngest team leader, I’m a living example that limitations only exist if we allow them to. I firmly believe that the only person who can genuinely hold me back is myself – my own limitations are the ones that matter.
My journey is a testament to the boundless potential that resides within every individual. It’s a reminder that there’s always more we can do, more we can achieve, and more we can become. By embracing this mindset, I hope to inspire other women to step into their power, break free from constraints, and blaze their own trails in the corporate world through meaningful philanthropic endeavours.
What advice would you give younger women embarking on their careers and uncertain about maximising their opportunities?
My advice is simple yet powerful: arise and take action. The most challenging step is often the first, but once you take that step, you’ll find your fears diminishing. There is an abundance of work waiting to be done, especially when it comes to making a difference in the lives of children. So, rise up and start. I won’t sugarcoat it – the journey might not be easy, but that should never stop you from beginning.
Moreover, as you enter your career, remember the importance of diligence and faithfulness. These qualities can take you far and bring about tangible changes in what you do. Allow yourself to dream big, envision the end goal, and pursue it with unwavering determination.
Always keep in mind that your only limitation is yourself. Don’t let doubts or external barriers hinder your progress. You have the potential to achieve remarkable things, but you have to take that first step. So, my advice to you is to start, create, build, and act. There is much to accomplish, and while one person can ignite change, it’s through collective effort that we truly make a lasting impact.