Look up the Term “Ahosi” in the Oxford dictionary and an image of Deborah Willam should accompany the definition. Migrating from London, England, to Orlando, Florida, as a single mother she quickly clawed her way to success in the Sunshine State. The Ahosi warriors, from the Kingdom of Dahomey, was a term used to describe an all-female regiment from the 17th to 19th century. Given her credentials as an author, publisher, philanthropist, entrepreneur, and real estate and marketing consulter, it is easy to understand why she is the Ahosi warrior of the modern society.
Deborah Willam was a product of the boarding school system, to which she gives credit for teaching her how to be independent, fearless, and her “can do whatever I set my mind to” mentality. Growing up, she was fortunate to have been raised by parents who saw the value of traveling globally and interacting with many different cultures, religions, customs, languages, etc. This upbringing has made her a global citizen and facilitated the process of leaving her hometown in London, England, to go to Orlando, Florida, as a single mother to start her life over from scratch.
In London, Debbie lived a fairly decent life. She had a job and the comfort of her friends and family, which she left behind in the hopes of providing a better life for her pre-teen son. After receiving her master’s degree, she got a call from a headhunter in Tampa, Florida, for a vacant position. She flew to the city to check the job out but quickly discovered that it was not for her. Instead she decided to settle down in Orlando, Florida, with nothing but her son and the clothes on their back.
Assimilating into the American culture was not very difficult. Deborah had always been quick to adapt to her surrounding environment, and with the U.S being so similar to the U.K – language, food, culture, etc. – she didn’t feel as if she had to face many challenges in the enculturation process.
Once in Orlando, Florida, Deborah found herself working many jobs despite her higher education status, sometimes working jobs for as little as 10 dollars an hour. However, that did not deter her from the end goal: to create a much better life for her son. In 2001, she decided to start a virtual marketing and administrative business so that she could devote more of her time to her son. She was involved in setting up events for high profiled projects, like the Ground-breaking of the John Young bridge in Orlando. Simultaneously, Deborah also started to invest in real estate. She owned several properties in the state of Florida and Georgia, meanwhile, studying to get her real estate license so that she could practice as a broker. “Investing in real estate was pretty profitable. This was prior to the economic downturn. Unfortunately, the market hit a few years later and the Real Estate market soured”, says Deborah.
While balancing the responsibilities that come with being a full-time single mother, a business owner, and a real estate broker, Deborah was also writing and publishing books under the pseudonym of EM.EM.Genesis to help fund her 501c3 charity organization, Educate the World. An Ahosi warrior indeed. While this may seem like a lot for the average person to handle, Deborah never succumbed to the pressures of the high demands that she placed on herself.
The years of hard work and the ups and downs that come with a business eventually paid off. The end goal was met. Her son was given the life that she had always dreamed of. Deborah generated enough wealth to take him all over the world, and to support him while he went through college at the University of Central Florida. Her determination has given her much success, but the one thing that she takes much pride in is the comfort in knowing that she succeeded in the one thing that mattered most to her – being a parent. She set goals not only for herself, but for her son, and she can finally say that she gave him the life that she had always dreamed. Eventually, she did go on to remarry.
After her son’s education and needs were secured, Deborah ended up moving on to the next big thing. She sold all her investments and properties in Florida and Georgia, and moved to Dubai with her husband, Hubert, to develop and oversee the production of her new hair and beauty brand, Ahosi Beauty. Unlike most, the process of moving and starting over has never been an issue for her. On the contrary, it has helped her expand her knowledge, ideas, and perspectives while teaching her to be more tolerant and engaged in global matters as she builds new connections and opportunities for networking. “My global viewpoint and experiences give me great advantages in that I am able to conduct businesses in other parts of the world.” Currently, she lives between Orlando, London and Dubai.
The advice that Deborah gives young adults is to travel every chance they get. “The world is a big place and there are opportunities everywhere. The farther you go the more doors you will open. The more people you meet who are different from you, the more knowledgeable and tolerant you will become. Experiencing different cultures will open your eyes in ways that you never thought before. Don’t stay complacent at home because you can always come back. You don’t need a lot of money either. There are many opportunities available to experience the world. Some countries are willing to pay for your education up to the P.h.D level, or some will hire you to teach English to kids and locals. There are many things you can do to travel.”
If someone asks her for the formula to her success, she will say organization, consistency, and determination. To be organized is to be responsible. She was always good at managing her time and understanding her priorities. She was able to consistently stick to her schedule and her daily routines. “Having good routines and doing them consistently will turn those routines into good habits”. Deborah believes whole heartedly in the concept of never giving up:
“My advice to anyone enduring challenges is to remember that no situation is permanent. When life throws challenges and roadblocks, your response should never be to give up, it should be to fight back. Fight as hard as you can and never give up. That's the lesson I've learned throughout my life experiences. It's easy to throw in the towel, that’s why so many people do it. It's difficult to endure challenges, but I promise you, if you hang in there, work smart, try a different path… I promise you… life will change for the better. You'll look back and wonder why you ever tried to give up. Life is not meant to be straightforward. We all have our downs, lows, trials, and tribulations. How you handle those setbacks is what makes you a Warrior.”
Deborah’s final piece of advice is for people to find their passion. She believes that they need to love what they do and do what they are skilled at. If one does not have a skill, they can go learn a skill. There are colleges, trade schools, the internet, and various other ways to learn a craft. Once the person finds their talent and something that they are passionate about, only then can they begin to fight like an Ahosi warrior!
Deborah Willam can be reached at: