dj didonna


more to the story...

in my first venture, EFL, we enabled over two billion dollars for millions of entrepreneurs across twenty countries over the course of eight years. i learned how difficult—but important—it is to sell innovation to large, risk-averse institutions like banks. we also created a unique company culture across a dozen countries, and were almost entirely remote before it was cool/viable. we also attracted and retained incredible talent and (patient) funding because of our mission to enable access to finance globally. 

first class travel or separate rooms on work trips? not so much. but great talent from six continents and even better people, yes. harvard business school wrote a case about that tradeoff, and i found myself interviewed in places like the nyt, the united nations, and the economist. 

more importantly, i had created my dream job. but, imperceptibly, my identity and my job formed a toxic relationship, and it was disorienting to feel increasingly burned out and under-inspired. 

with the support of the team, i took a four-month sabbatical, during which i focused on things i felt were important, instead of urgent, like taking care of my mom, returning to my spiritual side, writing songs, and generally being a better friend/son/partner/cousin to those i couldn’t fit in my luggage over the prior 7 years.

i know how cringey it sounds, but it changed my life. i realized it was time for a change. my team stepped up, i transitioned to the board, and we were acquired soon thereafter. that helped me to tell a story more people would understand (read: deem impressive), but our future was far less certain when i made the call to step back. i often talk to founders about this. 

i then spent a few years running a poverty research lab at notre dame, helping create an e.i.r. program at africa’s first pan-african university, and collaborating with academics to study the phenomenon of sabbaticals more closely. importantly, i did a whole host of other stuff which reignited my creativity, enhanced my relationships, and was just fun and interesting, but doesn’t look cool or impressive on a resume.

what we found in our research—that sabbaticals play a unique role in helping people grow, change, and become fulfilled—inspired me to create a nonprofit to catalyze sabbatical policies for people everywhere. enter: the sabbatical project.

my work on sabbaticals has been featured widely especially in the wake of the great resignation. some select pieces on the press page. the conversation around work—and time away from it—has changed forever. our movement is growing.