Bolanle is a CFO & NGO Founder & Birthday Party Planner
Bolanle Williams-Olley, CFO & Partner at Mancini Duffy, talks about discovering her passion for creating NGO organizations and planning birthday parties and why she feels it is important to have something to be passionate about outside of the office!
• Starting her first NGO
• Building her first school
• Throwing parties
• Why it is important to have an “And”
• Setting an example as a firm leader
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Pictures from Bolanle’s Book Launch
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Welcome to Episode 463 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett, and each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. To put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and”, those things above and beyond your technical skills, the things that actually differentiate you when you’re at work.
If you like what the show is about, be sure to check out the book. It’s on Amazon, Indigo, Barnes and Noble, Bookshop, a few other websites. All the links are at whatsyourand.com. If you want me to read it to you, that’s right, this voice reading the book, look for What’s Your “And”? on Audible or wherever you get your audio books. It goes more in depth with the research behind why these outside-of-work passions are so crucial to your corporate culture. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s reading it and listening to it and writing such great reviews on Amazon and more importantly, changing the cultures where they work because of it.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast, so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week, and this week is no different with my guest, Bolanle Williams-Olley. She’s the CFO at Manzini Duffy in New York City and the author of the book, Build Boldly: Chart Your Unique Career Path and Lead with Courage; and now she’s with me here today. Bolanle, thank you so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Bolanle: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to have this conversation.
John: This is going to be a blast, and I can’t wait too, just because you’re living this, and it’s such a great example for everyone to hear. Before we get into the fun, I’ve got super fun, starting out with some rapid-fire questions, get to know you on another level. Maybe an easy one, I don’t know. Favorite color.
Bolanle: Yes, teal. Actually, I have two things I have. Teal is my all-time favorite color, but I love to wear white.
John: Oh, okay. All right. All right. It is funny when I ask that, how often the answers are related to what looks good wearing, clothes-wise.
Bolanle: Oh, really?
John: Teal is a solid color, absolutely, and white. How about a least favorite color?
Bolanle: Maybe, but I wear a lot of black too.
John: It’s just the opposite of teal and white. They’re so bright.
Bolanle: It’s just the opposite.
John: Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. How about, you live in New York City area, favorite toppings on a pizza?
Bolanle: I am so boring with my topping. Maybe a veggie pizza instead, I like a veggie pizza.
John: All the veggies?
Bolanle: Yes, give me the peppers, give me some spice with jalapenos.
John: Oh, okay.
Bolanle: Yeah, that’s good.
John: All right, a little bit of kick to it. I gotcha. All right, do you have a favorite actor or actress?
Bolanle: Yes, Nicolas Cage.
John: Nicolas Cage. Okay. All right. He’s actually super serious but also really funny. He’s been in so many funny movies as well.
Bolanle: Yes. Maybe that’s why I like him. People think I’m serious, but I’m funny sometimes.
John: There you go. How about diamonds or pearls?
John: Oh, okay. Both.
Bolanle: Give me a nice pearl necklace, but let the clasp be like diamond or like my name, my initial in diamond.
John: All of the things. Okay. There you go. There you go. A little Beyonce going on there. I see it. I see it. There you go. How about more cats or dogs?
John: Dogs. Yeah, me too.
Bolanle: Yeah, I’ve got a dog. His name is Jack.
John: Oh, nice.
Bolanle: He’s a Portuguese Water Dog who is going to bust in, any moment.
John: That’s very cool. How about puzzles, Sudoku, crossword or jigsaw puzzles?
Bolanle: Give me Sudoku.
John: Sudoku. Okay.
Bolanle: Yes. I have a jigsaw on my table right now that I’m working with my kids, and they’ve abandoned it, as always.
John: Right? They’re like, the picture’s on the box. Why are we putting this together?
Bolanle: We started it on Sunday, and then here we are. It’s what, Thursday, and we haven’t made any progress. Probably our second attempt at it.
John: That’s awesome. That’s so funny. How about Star Wars or Star Trek?
Bolanle: Star Trek. Star Trek.
John: Star Trek.
Bolanle: Star Trek.
John: Or neither, it could be neither. Computers, PC or a Mac.
Bolanle: Everything else is Apple. Even though I’m talking to you right now on a PC, but my whole world, I’ll only use PC because of work. Everything else, big Apple girl.
John: Everything else is apple. I gotcha. How about a favorite season, summer, winter, spring, fall?
Bolanle: Spring and fall.
John: Oh yeah.
Bolanle: Give me a nice 75 degrees.
John: Definitely. Yeah. No, that’s perfect. How about favorite ice cream flavor?
Bolanle: Coffee ice cream on a waffle cone. That is what I’ve done over the past, I don’t know, 15 years. Give me coffee ice cream on a waffle cone.
John: Awesome. Okay. You’re easy. That’s great. How about a favorite day of the week?
Bolanle: Friday, and I’ll say why. Because that’s my no-meetings day. I can actually get work done. I’m the opposite, right? People start Monday, but I have meetings all week. Fridays, for me, I can get some heads down work.
John: That’s great, a no-meetings day. That’s brilliant. I have seven of those a week. No, I’m just kidding. Just joking. Since you have the CFO, accounting background, balance sheet or income statement.
Bolanle: Show me cash, cash. Give me cash.
John: Oh, cash flow. There you go. Okay.
Bolanle: Give me cash.
John: There you go. You’re being honest.
Bolanle: Income statement, I love that, but it’s vanity, man. If that revenue doesn’t convert to cash, we got a problem.
John: Exactly. Exactly. We’ve got four more. Do you have a favorite number?
John: Yeah. Is there a reason?
Bolanle: Yes, there’s a reason. My birth date is June 27. Then my son is November 2nd, two, and my daughter is January 7th.
John: Oh, there you go. That’s awesome.
Bolanle: You see? That’s why, two and seven.
John: Yeah, absolutely. That’s so good. Are you more of an early bird or a night owl?
Bolanle: Early. Early. I’m up early. In bed by 10.
Bolanle: Yes. People are always shocked if I’m awake after 10:00.
John: Right. Something bad is happening.
John: Or it’s about to happen because I’m still awake.
Bolanle: Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah.
John: Since you’ve written the book, Build Boldly, when you’re reading books, audio version, e-book or real book.
Bolanle: I like a combo. I like audio and then the e-book. Have you seen that version?
John: Yeah, where it follows along.
Bolanle: It follows along. However, like right now, I’m reading, I’m listening to Will Smith’s book. He has taken audio books to another level. There’s a full production. If he’s saying a rap line, he’s actually rapping it, and then the music is playing in the background. Everyone needs to listen to that book.
Bolanle: I keep thinking how people are reading it. You have to experience Will. Yes, it’s so good.
John: Yeah, that is so good. Now, people are going to be like, why aren’t you rapping in your book, John? Because I’m not a rapper.
Bolanle: Listen, John, we all have to step our games up with our audio books.
John: Yeah, yeah. No, absolutely. The last one, the favorite thing you have or the favorite thing you own.
Bolanle: Favorite thing I have, what’s my favorite thing? Maybe this ring that I have, my husband, we’ve now been together since 2008. We’re in ‘22, so, 14 years. He gave me this ring. I always wear it all the time. I think it’s one of my favorite things ever.
John: That’s awesome.
Bolanle: Yeah, I wear it every day ever since he gave me, Valentine’s Day, 2009.
John: Wow. There you go. Very cool. That’s so good. Let’s talk throwing parties and then NGOs and all that fun stuff. Maybe the NGOs, how did you get started? Because there are so many that you’re behind and supporting, how did that get started?
Bolanle: Yeah. My NGO is now about to be nine years old.
Bolanle: Yes. It used to be called BolaKraft Cares. That was the origin. I used to crochet and knit hats, and I was essentially forced into a business because someone said, “I really like your hats. I’m going to send you money. I’m going to send you money, and send me some hats for my nieces and nephews.” While people used to buy those from me, I really wanted to give back. I was like, I’m going to start a nonprofit, called BolaKraft Cares, where I crochet and donate to NICUs donate to hospitals with cancer or kids with cancer, and that’s how it started. I started doing one project. I was very ambitious. I was like, I’m going to do one project every quarter. Then life happened. I had kids. When you have two under two, you don’t have as much time anymore.
John: Oh, my goodness.
Bolanle: Then really quickly, it evolved because I’m very passionate about education, as well as improving the quality of education for children in Nigeria where I’m from, so, children living in low income communities. I was like, well, what if I made scarves, sold the scarves, get money and then buy resources for children in a school in Nigeria? People just loved it. I said I’ll raise 500 bucks, and I could buy whatever I need to. Well, I ended up selling 30 scarves, which ended up giving me like $1,500, and I was able to support maybe over 200 kids, buying them textbooks, buying them book bags, whatever it is that they needed, buying one of their first computers in this floating community called Makoko in Lagos, Nigeria. The school is on water. That just continued on, in terms of like, okay, I really think I have something here.
John: Yeah, that’s so great because they don’t need scarves in Nigeria.
Bolanle: No, no, they do not. They need resources and opportunity. What happened is that the nonprofit’s vision or mission changed over the course of this nine years where our sole purpose or focus is really going around different low-income communities all across Nigeria and either, one, building schools. In 2019, I built our first school.
John: Nice. That’s so awesome. Wow.
Bolanle: Right? I think it’s incredible because something that started off with me crocheting 20 hats, has now led to.
John: Built a school and more.
Bolanle: Yes, that’s the dream. That’s the dream, to have free centers in all these communities where the children can come in and learn, get education, but also other things, like nutrition. You’re living in low-income community, your only problem is not education; it’s like, what am I going to eat? How do I take care of myself, health-wise? It’s this idea of building an ecosystem of other nonprofits that come together to do great work in these places.
John: That’s really, really awesome.
Bolanle: Thank you.
John: I imagine, with the kids, like you said, two under two, and being close together there, that’s how the throwing party started, or was that even before that?
John: I’ve always liked to throw parties. It started off with my mom throwing me parties, and so maybe I caught the bug there. When I was 27, it became my golden birthday. Like I mentioned, June 27, I was like, I have to have a golden birthday This only happens once in my life. Then I had my daughter. I was like, I have to have a Little Miss Sunshine theme. She’s sunshine. Then I started thinking about her second birthday ahead of time. I really love that outlet because, like you said, I’m a CFO. I’m in numbers every day. My family is full of artists. I was like, why couldn’t I have gotten that bug too? My uncle’s a metal sculptist.
John: Oh, wow.
Bolanle: Yeah. Other folks have the artistic side. This became my outlet. It became a way for me to express myself or lean into the “right side of my brain”. I’m like, oh, I’m using both. I use my left all the time in numbers. Now let me do something fun. That’s the genesis. We’re always thinking about themes. Last year, my daughter turned seven on the seventh, so we had a James Bond themed party. How cool is that?
John: Like 007, I see what you’re doing there.
Bolanle: Like 007 theme, the girl with the golden birthday.
Bolanle: How could I not do it?
John: Right. Right. We had to, literally. I love how you said that, where it just takes your mind off of, yeah, being a CFO isn’t necessarily an easy job all the time. How important is it for people to have an “and” or something as a release?
Bolanle: I think it’s so important. Again, nine to five, or more hours, you’re spending 40 hours working all the time. If you don’t have some sort of outlet, or you suppress it, you can look back on a 20-year career and be full of resentment. What did I do with my time? What happened? All these things that I love, I put them on the back burner, rather than exploring it, as your career is going, to find fulfillment. Sometimes, there are different situations that could come up. You could be in a job that you’re not fulfilled, but having that outlet allows you to show up every day. Or you’re in a job where you’re fulfilled, and you’re now increasing your capacity to either help others or just have fun. I think it’s so important to have that “and” so that when you look back on life, you look back, and you’re like, yeah, I enjoyed myself. It doesn’t even have to be looking back on life. I say that because it is important, but in the present, though, doing these small things that help you just find your joy.
John: Exactly, and it doesn’t have to always come from work. Sometimes it can. Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s work, but your “and” is always awesome.
John: When you’re planning and throwing these parties, when you’re helping these schools and children in Nigeria, that’s always awesome. That’s always great. You can always turn to that as being a source of confidence and joy and all the good things.
Bolanle: Yeah. For me, it’s all about impact. It’s all about serving, which is why I think it’s so important that I lean into the nonprofit. Right now, I think I didn’t mention, but right now, it’s called SheBuildsLives. That’s literally, I’m breathing words into existence. You’re literally building lives of children who may never have had this opportunity to go to school. Some of them are first generation elementary school. Their parents didn’t go to school. I’ll give a really quick cool story.
John: Yeah, please.
Bolanle: Of course, we know COVID happened in 2020. One of the ways in which we pivoted was, how can we deliver education to these children who don’t have access to internet? They can’t go virtual. We thought about radios.
John: There you go.
Bolanle: We can do radio school, and we found out that the state was broadcasting lessons. I was like, why don’t we raise funds to provide radios to these children and think about what happens. Now, not only are the kids listening, their parents also have to listen. Their parents who are not educated and now at home and are able to maybe pick up one or two things from their kids’ education. That was pretty cool.
John: Yeah, because it’s educating not just the kids now, it’s the parents who maybe didn’t have the elementary education, that are also now getting it. That’s so great and such a simple idea where it’s, because here in the US, well, we’re just going to go virtual, everyone’s got laptops, we’ve got internet, whatever. Well, that’s not how it is.
Bolanle: No, no, that’s not how it is. You think about that widening gap. Now we’re getting serious. You think about that widening gap and think about what has happened now in COVID for them.
John: Yeah, it’s even more.
Bolanle: It’s even more, so how could we help during this period to make sure that they are not that far left behind?
John: Yeah. Then what happens is, when they graduate elementary school, you go over and throw the party. Everything’s coming together.
Bolanle: I’m telling you, I’m telling you. This past, in 2021, summer, I visited the school that we built for the first time. I’ve adopted the school over six years, since 2014, sorry, seven years, and they threw me the most amazing welcome. Again, I mentioned, this is a floating community, so it was like a river dance presentation. The moms had on beautiful clothes. They did full presentation for me. I was like, I’m in heaven. I was overwhelmed with all the welcome and the way they did everything. It was perfect. It really was.
John: That’s so great. Do you feel like any of this, the “ands”, translates to work, any skill that you bring or, at the very least, maybe humanizes you for others to be able to relate?
Bolanle: Yes, yes. For me, it’s the relatability too. It’s allowing, because I’m a firm leader, I think it allows my teams or the employees that work at our firm, it allows them the freedom to really be themselves. It’s like, well, if she’s doing that, maybe someway, somehow, I can go do that too. I’m not saying, go do the 100 things I’m doing, but think about, what is it that you want to do? What are you interested in, and why does it really have to be on the back burner? It shouldn’t. It just makes you a stronger employee. You could see in the subtitle of my book, I talk about charting your unique career path. It makes you unique. It’s your differentiator.
Outside of the relatability part, I’ll give one example of someone on my team. With one of my organizations, SheBuildsWaves, we used to host panel sessions, and she never knew she was great at organizing events. She never explored it, but then I was like, no, come, you’re going to help me. She worked on my team, and she found out that she enjoyed it. She was like, I actually like to plan things and get everything together, see it all come beautifully. It’s something that she might not have explored if, one, her boss didn’t give her the platform, two. Now, I don’t know she’s doing what parties outside of work, but I hope that by that exposure, it allows her to explore that.
John: Yeah, absolutely. That’s so great, where it’s, yeah, there’s work to get done for Manzini Duffy, but there are also other things that the work shouldn’t consume 24 hours of your day. That’s cool that you have that mindset. Not everyone does, to say it as easily as possible. How much is it on the organization or leadership to create that space? Or how much maybe is it on the individual to jump in if the space is created or to maybe create a little space themselves?
Bolanle: Yeah, I’m fortunate to have explored it two ways. One, the first, we’ll call it, ten years of my career where I was an employee, and how did I show up with my other skill sets or my other passions? How did I show up at work? I literally worked at a company that’s more corporate, and in the Accounting Department, it was very quiet. You would see me there with these crocheted hats that I had. People were like, what is that on her desk? Did you really make an owl hat?
Bolanle: Yeah, because I used to make all these character hats. Other people would show interest in that. Or I would be with one of our partners, and I would talk about this stuff. It’s like, wait, what, we’re not talking about my project? We’re actually connecting?
Bolanle: It’s so important, one, as an employee, two, as a leader, to actually make space for this because it just connects people. It’s how you build relationships. We’re all doing really hard work, especially if you’re an A player. Yes, we know your work is tough, but how do you connect with folks that you’re spending so much time with, on a deeper level? I’m not saying you now have to become best friends, but sharing common interests, sharing common interests.
John: Yeah. Or even like, I don’t crochet, but the owl hats, cool.
Bolanle: It’s cool, right?
John: What’s that all about? What is that for? Because so many people, they’re like, well, it’s not the same. It’s like, well, it doesn’t matter. Actually, I found, from doing my comedy, that I was the only one that I knew doing that, and that’s the one that people remember. It’s almost like, the more unique, the stronger the connection actually is.
Bolanle: Yes, yes. I feel like, at least for me, if you’re an employee and you’re thinking about, oh, how do I show up; I think it actually helps you be remembered in the rooms that you’re not in. When I’m thinking about, when we’re having leadership conversations, it’s folks who have either shown other interest or mentioned something, they come up in conversation. I just posted a quote from my book that talks about, it’s not just about doing heads down work. Let yourself shine. I’m not saying that if you’re an introvert, show up as not yourself, but there are things about you that are special, and begin to start speaking about that. Speak about that to your teammates. If you’re not comfortable going to the boss yet, then share with your peer. Start small.
John: Yeah, the special isn’t your Excel wizardry or your mastery of whatever it is, the work, technical skills.
Bolanle: We knew that when we hired you.
John: Yeah, right? Your special sauce is the other stuff that no one else is doing or not everyone’s doing, and that’s, like you said, the differentiator. That’s so great. Yeah. Do you have any words of encouragement, well, I guess you just did that, but to people that are listening that maybe they have an “and”, and they feel like no one’s going to care?
Bolanle: Oh, there’s always somebody that cares. There’s always somebody that cares, whether it’s in your workplace or not, and the person who should actually care the most is you. Again, because you are the one in control of or in the driver’s seat of your career, of your life, and so you should care to make space for these things that are important to you. Just think about them as parallel lines. I think that was an article that was written about me was like Bolanle and her parallel lines. She is going, she’s not putting one thing down. I was like, yeah, literally, it’s because of that. I don’t want time to pass, and I haven’t at least given it a shot.
What I will share is, think about capacity. You might say, oh, look at her, but she has a nonprofit. The story I shared was I started with crocheting 20 hats in a year. That’s not a lot of time. When you think about it, it’s not a lot of time. So, dream big and then start small. Before you know it, the impact, you’ll enjoy yourself.
John: Yeah, such good encouragement. This has been so much fun. I do feel though, because I so rudely peppered you with questions at the beginning, that it’s only fair that I turn the tables and make this the first episode of the Bola podcast. Thanks for having me on as a guest.
Bolanle: Of course.
John: I booked myself. I booked myself in. I’m all yours. Any questions you have for me?
Bolanle: Yeah. At my SheBuildsWaves events, we always ask people to sign up this way, and I want you to share you. You say, my name is John, and I build waves when I… Finish it.
John: Oh, wow. Okay.
Bolanle: How do you build waves?
John: My name is John, and I build waves when I encourage people to share their “ands” and share what lights them up. I do see the ripple effects of it too, which is cool. Now, with the implementation programs that I have, working with firms and companies and organizations, before, when I was speaking, I would speak and then I would go home. I don’t know what happens. Maybe a couple of people email. Now, when I’m working with places, I get to see the light switch come on, and I get to see it come alive, similar to SheBuildsLives where you get to watch it happen. It’s like, wow, that’s cool. I think there are waves. I don’t know if they’re tsunami waves, but they’re waves. They’re happening.
Bolanle: Multiple ways to create that tsunami, so we’re good. Perfect. I love it.
John: That’s good. I’ve never done the fill in the blanks. That was super fun. Thanks so much, Bola, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was really, really great.
Bolanle: So fun. Thank you so much for having me.
John: Yeah, absolutely. Everybody listening, if you want to see some pictures of Bola outside of work and some of her NGO work or throwing her parties or maybe connect with her on social media, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com Everything’s there, also the link to the book, Build Boldly, definitely check that out. While you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing to the podcast on Apple podcast or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread, that who you are is so much more than what you do.
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