Fighting for The Diaspora
Tell us about yourself?
I am a non-profit leader, educator, counselor, mentor, philanthropist, business strategist and champion for women, youth and families. As a Nigerian-born woman, I leveraged the discipline and knowledge gleaned from my undergraduate studies in molecular biology and master’s degrees in Public Administration and International Community Development to address the needs of for high poverty communities here in the US and abroad. As the President of TIS Foundation and ACBF, I have devoted 25 years to service.
As a leading expert in entrepreneurship and business development, I have been able to positively touch the lives of many women and children in Africa through our flagship, African Community Bridge Foundation. Now my mission is to replicate what we have accomplished in the U.S. through TIS Foundation by focusing on the fight against inequality and poverty.
Tell us about your family?
I am married to Emmanuel O. Irono, President and CEO of MOTIR Services, Inc., who had the vision to create MOTIR, which stands for Memory of Theresa Irono Romanus and a spirit of service.
My husband is also a global social entrepreneur who generously supports my philanthropic work in the U.S. and Africa. Each year, his company provides construction, facilities management, environmental services, moving and logistics, information technology, medical staffing, and consulting support, donates up to 20% of net profits to the non-profit organizations.
Emmanuel and I have been growing our business and serving others together for decades, and our marriage has birthed a beautiful family. I am a mother of three children, Chidera, Zikora and Obinna. And I’m proud to say that my oldest son is now in his first year at Morehouse College.
What is the mission of the TIS Foundation?
TIS Foundation’s mission is to revitalize high-poverty communities through the delivery of essential support services, innovative educational and workforce development programs, and creative entrepreneurship opportunities to high-need families.
Tell us about partnerships with the TIS Foundation?
This has been an exciting period in the life of TIS Foundation. Last year, we celebrated 25 years of working with populations in socio-economic distress. After many years of hard work, we have begun to attract the support of major funders like Capital One, Fannie Mae, SunTrust, DC Department of Health and the Jane Bancroft Robinson Foundation. We have also become a grant funder establishing partnerships and providing support with several grass roots organizations and Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) that directly benefit our target communities. In 2019, TIS Foundation awarded $1 million to five HBCUs—Bowie State University, Elizabeth City State University, Howard University, Morgan State University and the University of the District of Columbia. These funds will support 25 scholarships each year for students attending these institutions. My husband attended Elizabeth City State University and Morgan University for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and this is our way of paying it forward to young people who desire a college education but may not have the resources to fulfill their dream.
Tell us about Nigeria?
I have been fortunate to travel to many countries in the world, and I find none like Nigeria. Nigeria pulsates with life! Nigeria has a huge population of over 190 million people rearing to go to build meaningful lives but are held down by serious wants and underdevelopment.
What type of work do you do in Nigeria?
I oversee the work of ACBF and lead a team of committed individuals who are working hard to help Nigerians overcome extreme poverty. We are now trying to work with the Nigerian and U.S. governments to strengthen economic relations and build bridges across the divide between Africans and African Americans that began 400 years ago. We believe that we can begin to have an impact in this area by focusing on research, international convenings, leadership development, education, training and business investment from the private sector.
Tell us about your Charity work?
My husband and I started our charity and philanthropic works in Washington, DC and Prince George’s County, Maryland area in 1994. Most of the work that we do is done through the two non-profit organizations, TIS and ACBF. At ACBF, we are implementing projects that address:
• Economic Empowerment
• Global Health
• Food Security
• Water, Sanitation & Hygiene
• Solar Power Training
ACBF has made a significant impact on the lives of people in some of the most under served rural regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Using our existing infrastructure, we are scaling up to fill more unmet needs.
How do you impact the lives of other women?
In addition to addressing the basic needs of women like food, health and education, we are helping them to develop into entrepreneurs. We are very proud of the fact that through training, startup grants and mentoring, we have been able to give women, like those affected by Boko Haram who have virtually nothing, a new start in life. We believe that they are the foundation to the future of the family and that’s why we are committed to investing in them. We are deeply grateful to our partners at the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Bank of Industry for their generous investment in our work. Equally, our work with faith-based food pantries makes all of the difference in feeding families that number more than 400 people a day.
What does success look like to?
For me, it’s about seeing the transformation that even the smallest effort can make in someone else’s life. By serving this greater mission to eliminate economic and social inequality across the globe, we can each do our part to change the world.
How can others help?
We need resources in terms of funding, human capital including volunteers, supplies, infrastructure and so many things to bridge this incredible gap in underserved populations that seems to be growing every day. As has been rightly noted by many, the world has never been this rich and yet we see such an incredible number who are very poor. We must all join hands to do something about it.
Tell us about challenges you have experienced and how you overcame them.
One of the most challenging experiences I’ve encountered thus far in my life was when we experienced a devastating fire at TIS Foundation’s Headquarters in Washington, DC, a place we share with my husband’s business, MOTIR. The fired wiped out everything and we had to start over. The hardest part was finding the emotional strength to fight our way back from the loss that effected our entire team. Thankfully, no one was physically harmed and today our international headquarters stands as a beacon of hope on East Capitol Street blocks from Capitol Hill.
Do you mentor young women in Nigeria?
Yes, it is one of my passions. As a Nigerian woman, I now the capabilities and the strength of Nigerian girls and women and I do everything I can to encourage them to live up to their potential regardless of their circumstances.
Do you consider yourself an Influencer?
I have learned to embrace the reality that I am an influencer, but I’d rather think of myself as someone who is simply trying to lead others, especially my children and other young people, by example. I now understand that the number of people watching what we do and the ability to make one phone call or send one email or text can help those in need, provide access to vital resources and open doors that otherwise may have been closed. As a family, we remain committed to giving back as much as we can, not just with money, but with our time because we have been blessed with so much. That is a principle that we are trying to instill in our children. There is so much need and suffering around the globe and I’m just trying to do my part to make a difference.
What are some of your visions and dreams for the future of your organizations?
My visions and dreams are tied up with the goals and objectives of our non-profit organizations which is to end to global poverty and inequalities. In the quest for the dream we established TIS Foundation whose original focus was primarily on providing humanitarian support in Nigeria. We later established ACBF in 2002, to serve as our on-the-ground partner. ACBF started small and has grown continuously since our inception over 20 years ago. I conceived ACBF based on Dr. King’s global vision of a place where all people can equally share in the abundant resources of our world. In ACBF the tolerance for poverty, hunger, and homelessness are replaced with human dignity, mutual respect, and love for one’s neighbor. While we want to see tribalism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry, and prejudice, replaced with a spirit of fellowship, equality and love, we know that economic empowerment, education and training are the keys to unlock doors and transform hearts and minds.
What would like to share with our readers?.
Each one of us has the power to transform and improve the lives of others. I would just encourage others to give back and partner with us in transforming as many lives as possible. You can learn more about what we are doing and make a donation to TIS Foundation at www.tisfoundation.org and ACBF at https://www.africancbf.org/.