In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, many businesses have either folded completely or vanished altogether. However, if you are fortunate enough to navigate the ebbs and flows of getting a business off the ground and into the air, then what an admirable feat. We spoke with Towanna Burrous, CEO of CoachDiversity Institute, to get a 30,000-foot view of business soaring from a solo consultancy to a full-fledge institute with a global footprint. It is said that success is not success at all unless it prepares and positions itself for succession. This is the evolution of what CDI is currently doing—and it is paying off!

When you launched CDI, did you have any idea of the accelerated growth and success that the institute would experience five years later?

I knew that there was a gap in the market for the need to have more coaches of color. Coaches who were disempowered or in marginalized communities needed the support. Eventually as the popularity of coaching increased, more people of color desired or needed coaches. So, I wanted to make sure that I answered the call projecting that this would be a trend because it is such a great skill/skillset to acquire. My intention was to increase people of color inside the industry so that we could fill the gap.

Why did you transition from your prior business/business model to launch CDI?

Back in 2008, I ran my management consulting firm, Towanna Freeman and Associates. While running that consultancy, there were many clients who wanted to be serviced by coaches of color. That is when I started searching for people of color to respond to these contracts. The transition came when I realized we needed more coaches of color. Once they started to come, we built a community and created the Black Life Coaches Network (BLCN.)

BLCN was created to increase awareness that there were a lot of coaches out there who were growing in communities of color. So, we found a space where we could call home and then realized that not all our coaches were being equally trained. I strongly believed that for coaches of color (especially black coaches) to be competitive we needed to be better trained and equipped. That’s when I started studying and developing a curriculum, and really creating a broader and expanding market for training.

As the BLCN community grew, I noticed that more people from other affinity groups also grew. They started to become intrigued of what was I doing in this space that attracted other communities of difference.  It was at this pivotal juncture of when the concept of “coach diversity” was born. Go forward, I was no longer solely concentrating on Black life coaches, but rather all types of coaches that represented other affinity groups.

While statistics show that most businesses fold within 5 years, what has been your journey?

Well, I’ve been in business for over 20 years and brought a lot of momentum and experience prior to launching CDI 5 years ago. Being a businesswoman for two decades has taught me: 1) what to watch out for, 2) what I need and 3) what I don’t need. So, I went through elevated seasons of growth and growing pains beginning with my first company in 1999, to my second company in 2008 and finally evolving into CoachDiversity Institute. Each company has leveled me up to where we are today.

Did you have to adjust/modify CDI’s programs to remain competitive and relevant in the marketplace?

Before the start of the pandemic, our company was already in discussion about transitioning to a virtual learning model. We were already planning to offer online learning to satisfy the demand of the international market. We had students from beyond the borders of the United States who wanted to be in our classes, but we didn’t have a solution. The company decided it was time to figure out how to go virtual and integrate our learning to a digital space.

COVID actually pushed us there faster—modifying our programs and making the adjustments to move and accelerate our 2021 launching to 2020. So, we were a year early with the virtual launch which was great because the pandemic positioned us to really grow. Not only for our student community but us figuring out what was it going to take to continue with the virtual learning platform. What do we want to grow and evolve into?

The pivot was necessary, because education options are essential today and most higher learning institutes are moving towards or already are in virtual learning environments.  We didn’t want to be too far behind. In today’s climate, it’s essential to be able to network, engage and maintain interaction with our students while continuing to expand into international territory and leveraging technology to do that.

Although 500 students have been through various programs, what do you think is the overarching reason that CDI was their investment of choice?

CDI is uniquely placed in the market as the only coach training Institute that integrates diversity equity inclusion (DEI) with the coaching skill. The reason we are attracting so many students at such a high rate is because is A) exclusivity as being the only of its kind in the market and B) relevancy on pressing issues that impact the world such as Black Lives Matter and varying struggles in social justice, etc. There is a demand for more understanding, more inclusion, and more transformation in this learning space to have people on the front lines that we call change agents, world changers and leaders.

There are various types of students who join our programs:  from chief diversity officers, world changers, marchers and protesters to those who are designing content for their companies. There is a diverse sea of students, and what an honor to attract such an amazing community of professionals!  The program types we offer are still incredibly unique and we have been fortunate to be uniquely placed in this season.

The curriculum is transformational and behavioral based in diversity equity inclusion (DEI) using the coaching skill. Coaching is a phenomenal skill that helps to maintain transformational learning. For example, it is one thing to have educational training that includes the need for unconscious bias or more equity in the workplace. However, it is another thing to host a workshop about it. It is something totally different to be able to coach someone through a behavior shift or through a changing of mindset regarding an issue.

What’s next for CDI?

We are rolling out the “The Coaches Corner” – an online forum (YouTube Channel) that features CDI alumni and network guests. It will cover “all things coaching” or DEI related. The goal is for everyone to learn and rediscover the power of the coach-approach to diversity and inclusion.

All images courtesy of CoachDiversity Institute (CDI)