Ahdora Mbelu-Dania is currently a Director at Trellis Group (@trellisgroupco). Trellis group is a group of companies in the brand development and experiential marketing space that has worked on several projects across various industries, with brands such as Microsoft, Google, Sterling Bank, Union Bank, Lagos State Government, Nokia, Diageo, Absolut.
Ahdora has a passion for innovation and a belief in the power of creativity to achieve extraordinary business results. She moved to Nigeria in 2008 and found that there were so many young Nigerians in the creative sector that were unable to harness their creativity and build sustainable brand/business structures – Trellis group bridges this gap.
In 2017, Adaora was mentioned in Entrepreneur Magazine’s “11 Africans that are changing the business landscape in Africa.”
She was also nominated in the “Entrepreneur Of The Year” and “Prize For Media Enterprise” Categories of the Future Awards Africa. She has been featured among Nigeria’s Under 40 CEO’s, and Top 30 Under 30.
Ahdora talks about finding passion, purpose, and creativity.
How did your family background and rich cultural heritage prepare you for the success you experience today?
My family background provided a diversity of thought. My parents are from different racial and cultural backgrounds, and this provided an opportunity for me to understand diversity very early in life.
Hence, I keep a very open mind, and this allows me to forge relationships with people without bias for their backgrounds.
You seem to value creative thinking above traditional practice, has this always worked for you?
I actually value both creative thinking and traditional practice. I think both ideologies have their place in my life’s journey. The important thing is that I know how and when to apply either one to produce positive results.
Many people view creativity as rebellion and going against the norm. But I believe that everyone is born with some level of creativity, and thus there’s nothing to really rebel against.
We just need to harness this creativity to solve problems and produce great work. I try to stay away from the tag of “Creative” vs “Non-creative”.
At the very core, what is your company – Trellis all about?
As the name implies, Trellis is about providing a structure/framework that supports people to get their greatest work out to the world.
Trellis Group was created from the need to solve and bring light to the existing challenges faced in the African creative sector. We are a creative consultancy made up of a group of companies in the sectors of Brand development (Gr8an), Experiential Marketing (A2Creative) Talent Management, and Community Development (Socially Africa).
You definitely fit the idea of a superwoman. Do you face challenges as a creative strategist?
Being superwoman definitely comes with various challenges – even the superheroes in the movies have to fight people, and even their own emotional struggles.
I have my fair share of challenges, especially as I not only work on the client side but also manage operations.
I am continuously dealing with solving people’s problems, and that sometimes means fully immersing myself in understanding the problem first, before I try to solve.
How do you identify ideas that are competent and sustainable and those that are not?
There two things I usually consider when I’m presented with an idea. Does it solve an existing problem And can it progress without the creator? I think the best ideas are the ones that can grow without the person who developed the idea.
The world has got this entrepreneurship game all wrong. From my perspective, it isn’t about founders, as much as it is about solutions.
It isn’t about who did it, but rather that it was done. This is why as much as I respect investor pitches and all that good stuff, I also know that Purpose will always trump what everyone else thinks.
What do you look out for in ideas/projects that come to your agency for actualization?
With the projects we work on, we choose our clients as much as they choose us. Many times we focus on the people behind the projects.
We have been through the start-up phase where we’ve worked with people and projects that we didn’t necessarily have a heart for because it was profitable. However, we are now at a stage where we measure value very differently.
These days, we choose peace of mind over financial gain. I know it’s a bold statement to make, but it’s factual. I’m not as concerned about quantity, as I am about quality. Hence, a lot of our business is either return business or by referral.
How have you been able to juggle your demanding career and your role as a mother altogether?
I am still learning to juggle it all. I don’t have a perfect response to this question, especially because I really don’t believe strongly in “work-life” balance. At least, I don’t believe that it must be 50/50, and thus I don’t put pressure on myself or feel that I am falling short in my responsibilities.
I take each day at a time, and give as much as I possibly can, per time, with the understanding that to whom much is given, much is expected.
I mean, my family and friends believe that I am an amazing mother, and I know I am. However, I have read mommy blogs that just make me look like child’s play. But I have learned to abandon comparison, and just enjoy my mommy moments – they are mine.
Your dress style is fiercely distinct and bold. How come you decided to stick with the classy suit and tie look?
This wasn’t a conscious decision. My father was a banker, and he wore a suit every day throughout my childhood.
He’s a very stylish man, and I remember him having socks that match every one of his ties. I think it seeped into my subconscious.
It’s really just comfortable for me. I wear a suit (no tie) or Kaftan for professional outings. However, on my dress down days (which are very often now), you’ll find me in a T-shirt, Jeans, and a Hat.
We know Ahdora as a woman with many hobbies, one of which is horse riding. We’d love to hear all about it?
The Lagos city grind is intense, and horse riding is my way of tuning out from the hustle and bustle to relax my mind. For the few hours that I’m on a horse, I do not check on my phone or emails. It allows me to breathe, and while I’m riding, I often get clarity on some ideas or projects.
It is also a way of spending time with my Husband – we both get on our horses and ride off.
What do you say to young creative people who want to turn their passion into reality?
Passion is great, but the purpose is better. There’s a misconception that Purpose is about our “Why” alone. But the purpose isn’t just about “Why are we doing this”.
It is also about “Who will benefit”. When you understand that this journey is really about the solution, you’ll express yourself more confidently.
Be open to collaboration – if you don’t care about who gets the credit, you are more likely to do many amazing things. Finally, be Patient – Time is a great storyteller.
How have you been able to deal with multiple business ventures including your social projects in Socially Africa?
Socially Africa is a full embodiment of who I am. In fact, I run the for-profit side of my business, as a way to fund Socially Africa.
In the past 2 years, we have accomplished so much with the organization, with initiatives and projects funded primarily by Trellis, with support from friends and family donations.
With all the platforms that I deal with, there is an underlying philosophy that runs through them. So, as much as it sometimes seems as though I am doing too much, it’s actually one big circle with a thread of purpose running through it.
Recently you launched your first single, tell us about your singing career.
I don’t know if I can call it a singing career. I’ve always written poetry, and been a fan of conscious music – I’m intrigued at how the lyrics and intensity of a song can consciously influence people.
On a spiritual side, I’ve always likened myself to Joseph the Dreamer, as we share similar qualities and journeys.
Last year, I started reading closely about David’s transition from Shepherd boy to King, and how he wrote love songs to God through what we now know as the Psalms.
It’s very powerful. I ran away from music for a long time because I was worried about what my clients would think, and how people would perceive Lumina (The Rapper) versus Adaora (The Creative Industrialist).
Self-awareness is a beautiful thing I’m now high up on Maslows Heirarchy of needs. I’ve hit Self Actualization, so I’m out here swag surfing as a “Rapper-preneur”. (I should copyright this tag).
Purpose is something you emphasize on. How did you discover your purpose?
I have always been interested in helping people become the best versions of themselves, and get their greatest work out to the world. I was always told that people were using me as a stepping stone and then abandoning ship once they were elevated.
At some point, it bothered me and it was very frustrating until I realized that it was a gift. Many people are searching for purpose, without realizing that it’s staring them in the face, but they’re too afraid to accept what it is. They think it’s too glaring, and they want it to be tough to find.
My purpose is simple, I am a Bright Light, and I shine on other people. Simple.
Your hair looks moisturized and beautiful always! What’s the secret?
The secret is…. wait for it… Water! I get this question a lot, but really I think my hair texture is as a result of my mixed heritage. I don’t have any regimen or specific preference for products.
However, I am sure that my hair would grow better if I considered product – I just don’t know how, and yes, I’ve watched YouTube tutorials.
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