Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with CEO and founder of Culture Energized, Mo Abdullah. We met at The Molecule Effect located on Santa Fe Blvd, Denver, Colorado. For those who haven’t been, it’s a nice atmosphere for professionals of any age to vibe out comfortably while getting work done. Mo arrived in a CE logo shirt with a wide smile and bright energy. She was gracious enough to buy The Juncture Magazine coffee and Energize us with all Culture Energized as to offer.
Juncture Mag: Thank you for taking the time to speak with The Juncture Mag! How are you today?
Mo: “Fantastic! Living my best life!” *laughs*
JM: *laughs* I love that! Before we start, I want to preface that you don’t have to feel obligated to answer any of these questions. I want this interview to feel empowering, not invasive. If you’re comfortable answering, what do you prefer to be called and what are your preferred pronouns?
Mo: “This is a tricky question,” Mo began before deciding to stick with the nickname. She teasingly shared, “I may reveal my name later.” As for pronouns, Mo shared that she/her/hers are preferred, and that she identifies as “LGBT+.”
JM: I’ll tell everyone to stay tuned for the name!
Mo: *laughs* “Yeah, stay tuned!”
JM: I’m pretty stoked about Culture Energized, and I think you all are doing big things. Can you tell everyone a little bit about CE?
Mo: “Culture Energized is a training and consulting company that specializes in interactive diversity and inclusion trainings and workshops. The basis of our business is the interactive component. We want to create a platform for all different types of learning, and not just a traditional way of listening to a presenter. You’re going to learn from conversation, from listening, from our different activities.
“It’s a very collaborative approach, where I’m going to give you solutions, but solutions w[ill] also come from the group. No one has all the answers. The reality is that issues are constantly changing as new information comes. It’s important that we involve everyone in how we solve issues. We [foster] creative safe spaces, by presenting with a unique facilitating style. We use icebreakers. I’m vulnerable as well. I share my story. That’s what really creates the Culture Energized experience. Everybody’s at a different stage of diversity. There’s no one size fits all. We gear our trainings towards our customers, providing something for everybody.”
JM: I like that you said there’s no one size fits all. So true. What are some of the services/programs you offer?
Mo: “Standard 3-part DEI series of trainings, individual trainings, team building trainings, in-person or customized consulting by video or phone. We offer 1-3 hour training or full day workshops. I also have a background working with youth [and host] workshops for children 5-18. And Energizers!”
JM: What are Energizers?
Mo: “Energizers are short games/movement activities that help people move around, laugh and smile, and also help create connection. Conferences can be boring, and networking can be awkward.”
Mo briefly reflects on how Culture Energized actually stumbled into one of their most important services, Energizers. On Women’s Entrepreneurship Day November, 2018, Olivia Omega (independent entrepreneurial consultant) was emceeing when Mo approached her. “Hey, if you’re looking for an Energizer, we’re Culture Energized, and we would love to do an icebreaker for you,” Mo recalled brazenly stating. “People don’t know what they don’t know,” she laughed, referencing the fact that she had just started Culture Energized and had little more than her logo shirt to the brand. Mo’s expertise for branding and entrepreneurship came early. “I started really, really young as an entrepreneur.” At age 11, Mo created a drink called, “Sour Water” while attending boarding school, and wowed her classmates. A concoction of Sprite and sour pop, siphoned through a Sour Straw, Mo’s drink was such a hit, her peers wanted in. “If you wanna work for us at Sour Water, you have to interview,” Mo recalled telling her friends. “That was the first time I felt I had the gift of persuasion.”
JM: Do you work in school settings or predominantly professional settings?
Mo: “Half and half. Working with youth—that’s my passion. For kids & adolescents, we offer interactive diversity, inclusion, leadership, and teambuilding trainings and workshops. They are more movement based and always a lot of fun. We need to start working with them way earlier. One of my goals this year is to [work] with Denver Public Schools (DPS). I already have before, but not as Culture Energized.
We found a lot of growth with small businesses. In corporations, it’s hard to change the culture. There’s just systematic things. At the top there’s such disconnection. In small businesses, people work multiple jobs, wear multiple hats. But if you’re a larger business looking at this—we love [to work with] you.”
JM: I’m feeling the caffeine from this coffee. I’m getting Energized!
Mo: *laughs* “Good! I’ve actually gone 13 years without coffee. I think I just have a natural [energy]. It’s not a game with sleep, though. I do get nine hours.” *laughs* “If I could give any advice—you need sleep. Because you wake and you have more ideas, vs. being sleepy and can’t think.”
JM: That’s solid advice. What does diversity and inclusion look like to you? How do you train staff on being more inclusive toward diversity?
Mo: “Through this process, I’ve learned myself. It’s a focus on inclusion first, and then diversity. [Companies] just bring people into a room and just leave them [t]here. You have to understand the people you have in the room. Just because you’re nice doesn’t mean you’re inclusive. Inclusivity is daily acts of caring, conversation. People who don’t necessarily fit the images of who you think [they should be]. Inclusion to me means you have a system in place. I think diversity adds depth and a more colorful experience.
“I watched the debates and seeing whose on the panel now vs how it used to be. I think now it’s just really exciting that people are interested now. And not riding off of other people’s waves.”
JM: I agree. I recently read that women and POC were elected at the same rate as white men in 2018. That’s major.
Mo: “Yeah, big things are happening right now. It’s great.”
JM: This may be redundant, but do you think the work you do is important, and why?
Mo: “Yes, I know the importance of my work because [customers] straight up tell me. I think that people appreciate our approach and how we can customize our trainings so we can meet you where you are on your DEI journey. I think we are in this new stage where consumers are more concerned with the overall stances of the business and corporations they support. There are a lot of people that want to do better but are not sure how. For years the terms “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” have been used without any real push to educate or examine systems and practices. Now with the power of consumers and social media, I think many businesses are starting to take it more seriously but there is a lot of fear about making mistakes. That’s where Culture Energized comes in. Mistakes happen when we are not educated on the real issues and make assumptions because we don’t have the courage or freedom to be vulnerable. What makes Culture Energized special is that we educate and build community at the same time. We believe that learning about the people in the room is just as important as the training content. It’s how we build trust and break down barriers on the issues that cause conflict or make us uncomfortable. I think what I love the most about the work I do is how we gracefully balance the seriousness of DEI with a freshness of positivity, icebreakers, and genuine conversations. For change to happen, safe spaces need to exist for individuals to really feel safe to reflect on biases but most importantly talk about the things that make us uncomfortable.”
JM: Did you celebrate Juneteenth?
Mo: “Yeah. I celebrated by educating myself and others. I think history is told from one point of view, and there are things we don’t learn in school. I only found out a couple of years ago from Black-ish.”
JM: “Yeah, I found out in college when an old high school classmate posted on social media that she was celebrating it. I felt guilty!”
Mo: “I did, too! I don’t know why it’s not recognized. This is a substantial date and time in our history. So I focused on learning more and making a post to educate others. The third thing I did was—I thought it would be amazing to be in front of people on that day. We were at a conference during that day. As most conferences go in Denver, not very demographically diverse. We were delivering an Energizer. And I remembering being the only person of color on stage. When I was done this, black woman pulled me aside and said, ‘I am so proud that you were up there. It’s so great that you’re doing what you’re doing. It’s so great that you’re in these spaces.’ She said, ‘You’re just like a baby, and you were up there doing your thing and being a CEO.’ It reminded me that representation matters. Any opportunity that we have to be in front of people is important. One of my goals this summer is to visit one of the museums at five points. I encourage others to do so. I try to travel as much as I can. I also try to go to people of color owned coffee shops and businesses as well.”
JM: Thank you for speaking with us. Is there one last message you want to send out before the interview closes?
Mo: “Umm, I think…that, I don’t know. I want to say something that’s awesome.” *laughs* “I think with this movement, it’s important to know that change can come slowly, and that’s okay. Because we are working through centuries of ideas and systems and culture, and unpacking all of that. And sometimes I think people get discouraged because we’re always talking and there’s [seemingly] no action. But I think talking is important. And more important, listening. And understanding that it’s okay to take it slow in order to make better decisions down the line. I think a lot of people have the best intentions; they want to make change. But even intentions can fall short because you’re rushing. So, my best advice is that these issues can’t be solved in a three-hour training, or a day. You have to make it a part of your culture by intentional daily actions with how you interact, how you own your stuff, and how you bring people—everybody—into the conversation. And I cannot stress enough how important self-awareness and owning your stuff is. It’s a slow process and one that cannot be done in solitude. You have to surround yourself with people that will challenge you and make you ask yourself ‘Where did I get this information again?, Why do I think that this is correct?’ I think that’s how we can help move forward.”