Professor leans on lessons from Rwanda to empower others


Debby Thomas is the assistant professor of management at George Fox University

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — A professor is using lessons she learned years ago in Africa to help people achieve their full potential back home in Oregon. 

Debby Thomas and her husband moved to Rwanda in 1995. For nearly 20 years, they helped communities build housing, schools and businesses—all while raising and home-schooling their own four children. 

“Roads were bombed out and buildings were bombed out and we were robbed at gunpoint 10 days after we got there with an automatic weapon, I mean, it was rough,” Thomas recalled.

Debby Thomas, May 5, 2020. (KOIN)

Now back in the U.S., the assistant professor of management at George Fox University in Newberg is teaching her students the same lessons she taught people in Africa: how to empower others, inspire them to be more engaged and create positive work environments. 

“Lean into your strengths. I think we all have strengths. We all have talents and we’re good at things. And when we focus on what we’re not good at, it just pulls us down,” she said. “So find out what your strengths are and what your talents are and lean into those, move into those, find out how to leverage those for being better. And I think when we love what we do, I think that makes a huge difference as well. So finding something you love to do and that you’re good at doing.”

For Thomas, the uniting force between her leadership coaching and community work in Rwanda is the power of communication and connection—two things that are especially true now during the coronavirus crisis. 

“For me, it’s important also to always be getting better; always, always growing; always self-development and recognizing whatever skills and talents that I have,” Thomas said. “I can use them to the fullest but I can also always find ways to get better.” 

Thomas holds a Ph.D. in organizational management and has several published journal articles, books and presentations that take deeper dives into her expertise. She is also a leadership coach with the Professional Development Academy.

KOIN 6 News anchor Jennifer Hoff’s series, Women Crush Wednesday, highlights women who are crushing it. Who do you know breaking the glass ceilings, inspiring others, doing good?  Send a message to Jennifer Hoff.

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