Ep. 137 – Deborah Levine: I try to feel at home with the history as well as being part of the future, of making a difference.
Deborah Levine Show Notes
Deborah Levine is the award-winning author of 14 books and the founder/editor of the American Diversity Report.
Deborah was born in Brooklyn and raised in Bermuda. Her background includes advanced degrees in cultural anthropology, religion, and urban planning. Inspired by her father, a US military intelligence officer assigned to interrogate Nazi prisoners of war during World War II, she is a former executive director of Jewish Federations.
Named by Forbes Magazine as one of the top 10 Diversity & Inclusion Trailblazers, Deborah is the inventor of cognitive technology for addressing unconscious bias.
Her work as an entrepreneur includes creating the Women’s Council on Diversity, the DuPage/Chicago Interfaith Resource Network, the Youth Multicultural Video Contest, and the Southeast Global Leadership Academy.
Most passionate about
My passion today reflects my work for a decade, making a difference in the world by looking at prejudice, religious diversity, and hate, including how to deal with it.
I started this journey almost by accident many years ago. I was living in Chicago; my daughter was just a little one and I needed a job. My parents were both working in the Jewish community. My mother was dying of cancer and I thought it would be a gift to her if I worked for the Jewish community while she was still alive so that she could see how much she had influenced me.
I started engaging in an interface dialog with international organizations. Then I looked for an executive position. Because I’d never been an executive director of a non-profit organization, no one would hire me. So, here, I started my entrepreneurial journey. I created my own nonprofit and made myself an executive director.
My mother was so proud, so pleased. So was my father.
Deborah’s entrepreneurship development
I started my company with the mission of addressing the problems that communities were having as they became more international. I also created what I called the Do-page Interface Resource Network, which is still in existence today.
Across the nation, when communities became more international, they had to face prejudice toward newcomers, especially those of a different faith.
This affected the entire city, the county, the state. It was ongoing and affected people from India, people from Muslim countries, and Jews. It caused tremendous friction. My mission was to fix that.
Eventually, I was approached by different groups, like the county law enforcement department, which wanted to prepare materials that would help their people understand the communities that they were trying to assist. Other examples included public schools (for their educators), hospitals (for their chaplains), and many more.
So, I started to document everything and write books so that if I couldn’t be everywhere, at least I had a voice.
The need for this kind of education grew quickly, especially among enterprises and the organization. That’s how my business grew and how I started to publish the online American Diversity Report.
There were times when I decided to take what my friends call a “real job.” I was hired by a Jewish federation in Tulsa, Oklahoma to be its executive director. After that, I took another job as an executive director because I felt that I had to be in control after being an entrepreneur. That decision led me to what happened with my company later.
I got very ill during a mission in Uzbekistan. I couldn’t stay at that job and I decided to go back to my entrepreneurial self. Though it was very difficult to come back, it had been the most creative, innovative, and amazing period of my life. The ability to invent and impact across the entire planet, to give other people a voice, to be able to change the entire culture of a workplace or a school – these have all been amazing experiences that I’m so grateful for. And I think the best is yet to come.
The Diversity Report was launched about 14 years ago. At the beginning, I thought it was going to be only a simple newsletter. However, the idea was attractive to people, so mentors came to help me create it, launch it, and put it out there in a way that would be international, and not just as a PDF file. I’m very grateful for that.
Deborah’s best advice about approaching customers
Recently, I mentored a young entrepreneur in Cameroon. I shared with him lessons of planning which are key to success regardless of where you are in the world. These lessons are to follow the vision to the mission, and then to the goals and objectives, mapping it out with the timeline and budget. All this helps to put together your brain in such a way that you’re ready to move forward because you know where you’re going to go.
Biggest failure with a customer
The first thing that comes to mind is something that women, in particular, have to deal with: Asking for what we’re worth. So many times, I haven’t done that and I’ve regretted it.
I do a lot of speaking. For many years, when clients would ask for my fee, I would simply give them a dollar amount. When they said “OK” so quickly, I knew it was too low. I realized that I hadn’t asked enough questions about all the details that should affect the price.
It’s amazing to me how embracing this will make your presentation so much better because you understand what your customers are looking for.
Deborah’s biggest success due to the right customer approach
I’d like to talk about my most recent project, which I did with a colleague: “When hate groups marched down the main street.”
There is a cashier at Walmart who loves to read my newspaper. One day, I asked her, “What would you like me to write about?” She answered, “I would like you to write about ‘how are we going to survive this incredibly divisive time we live in?’” I was inspired by this customer, this reader, and wrote what I think is my best column ever.
Now the book is about to be published and I already have commitments for book signings. I have been asked to come and speak about it in Hollywood and Beverly Hills. I even had a request to write a movie script about my life.
I know that there are entrepreneurs who are thinking about writing books to brand themselves, and I absolutely encourage that.
Deborah’s recommendation for a digital tool that helps customers’ focus
The American Diversity Report is a website, and I think that a website today is absolutely necessary for any entrepreneur. However, I would add that I’m the manager of this website; I know the technology of it, I use it, I deploy it. While I don’t claim to be an online guru, I urge any entrepreneur to know how your website works without the need to work with a professional every time you want to add or change something.
Deborah’s key success factor
When I go to bed at night, I give thanks for the gifts and talents and experiences that I’ve been given. It has truly been a treasure. I think that it comes from a divine source that has something in mind for me.
Because we believe that the best way for entrepreneurs to achieve fast, big, and sustainable success is by leading your (new) market category, and because the entire entrepreneurial journey reminds me of mountaineering, or conquering the mountain, I want to ask you: Is there a mountain you dream of climbing or a mountain you have already climbed?
As a child I lived in Bermuda, where we have only the ocean, not mountains. I remember that when I first saw a mountain, I was terrified. I didn’t believe that mountains actually existed outside of movies.
And up we went, up we went to the mountain, and there was something so amazing about it.
Today, my husband and I climb the mountains around us. There is a sense of timelessness and of being a part of history, a sense of the role of nature, as well as being a part of times when there were many conflicts. For me, that works very well because that hasn’t changed much.
I try to feel at home with history as well as be part of the future, of making a difference.