Coffee With: Nonprofit Founder Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun

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Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun
Location: New York, NY
Job: Executive Director, Tomorrow's Leaders NYC
Education: B.A. in Elementary Education, Temple University
Twitter: @leadersnyc

What inspired your path into education?

I am Nigerian, but was born and raised in East New York, Brooklyn. I’ve been inspired by education since my senior year in high school. I always felt that it was imperative for me to give back to those younger than me and that education plays a huge role in the longterm trajectory of someone’s life. Seeing the lack of support services and resources for my peers inspired me to create something unique. My nonprofit, Tomorrow's Leaders NYC, helps over-aged middle school students overcome social, emotional, and academic challenges to become positive and productive leaders in their community. Many people may not get the same opportunity because of their circumstances. We want to change that.

What's something about you and your professional path that people might be surprised to learn?

For the first four years of TLNYC’s existence, I did not pay myself a salary – I funded the company with my unemployment insurance money. Working for myself has taught me the importance of sacrifice, self-discipline, and prioritizing budget and living expenses. Nothing worth fighting for comes easy. Experiencing adversity will help strengthen the sustainability of the work you are doing.

Toyin Ayanfodun

How do you spend your days?

The majority of my work day is spent providing guidance and support to TLNYC’s 15 mentors and completing administrative tasks. Our mentoring program matches high school students with professionals in one-on-one sessions. Our mentors range in age from 18-27. We also have an in-school program that serves about 80 of our students and an after-school program with about 20 students.

What is the advice you wish you could have given yourself on day one of your career?

Looking back, I would have advised myself that it’s not about working hard – it’s about working smart. Consider how your decisions will affect the short and long-term sustainability of the organization. It’s also important to engage people and leverage their strengths and expertise to enhance the mission and vision of your work.

Do you have any favorite reads as of late?

I recently read Martin Luther King Jr.'s Why We Can't Wait. I believe in supporting at-risk and underserved populations, but when it comes to strategies to spark others' interests in getting involved and supporting this mission, this book really helped me.

What's the most memorable moment of your career to date?

The most memorable moment of my career was when I was selected as a fellow for Echoing Green, a global nonprofit that provides funding to social entrepreneurs committed to social change. Being selected as a fellow helps validate the work we're doing at Tomorrow’s Leaders NYC. I also love hearing from students in our program. I recently got a text from one student expressing how our program had helped change her perspective on the world for the better. That's what it is all about.

Images courtesy of Oluwatoyin Ayanfodun