Poor kid, rich dreams: How Duku Forè overcame impossible odds to make his dreams come true in Brisbane

Duku Forè is an internationally renowned inspirational speaker, entrepreneur and author – but to get where he is today, he’s had to overcome obstacles that most of us couldn’t even imagine. 

At just 22 years of age, Duku became one of the youngest ever graduates of the Australian Institute of Company Directors Course. Since then, he’s founded two businesses – HnH Wholesalers, a supplier to the hotel and hospitality industry, and Rich Dreams, a platform that provides a safe space for people to showcase their success journey, build connections and work towards achieving their dreams.

When he’s not running his businesses, he’s inspiring other people to chart their own path. A two-time TEDx speaker, Duku has been invited to share his story at various conferences, events and schools, and even represented Australia at the official Headquarters of the United Nations in New York.

After emerging from the most humble of beginnings, Duku has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience that is seldom found in even the most travelled of people – and he told us all about it at the Brisbane Business Hub’s latest On The Couch With event.

The rose that grew through concrete 

Born with a speech impediment into a family of 10, Duku spent the early years of his life in a refugee camp in Uganda.

“I was born in the refugee camp,” he says. “I believe this helped me to develop a genuine appreciation for life. We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we had the ability to see life for what it could be. I believe that helped me to follow my dreams and get to where I am now.

“The main lesson I learned from living in the refugee camp is that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, there are genuinely good people who will be willing to help you. And as long as you have a good heart, and an eye for opportunity, you will go very far in life.” 

In 2007, Duku and his family were granted refugee visas and immigrated to Brisbane, where he has lived ever since. But although he has come to love the city fiercely, the adjustment wasn’t easy. He was frequently bullied, and after getting into fist fights with his tormentors, he was expelled from his first school.

“When my family came to Australia, everything was so completely different for me,” he says. “We went from a place where 99 per cent of the people looked like me, spoke the same language as me and ate the same food as me, to a place where most people didn’t look like me, they didn’t speak the same language, and they definitely didn’t eat the same food. Because I was different, and because I had a speech impediment, I was bullied, and I found it very challenging to adapt to this new environment.

“At the same time, there were some people who helped me along the way to get where I am now. And I was also someone who was very curious… I believe that curiosity helped me to learn new skills, overcome my speech impediment and become a true Aussie.”

The power of mentorship 

Duku smiling at the audience

Duku is a strong advocate for mentorship, and believes having teachers of all stripes to help guide your way in business and life is essential. 

“I believe that what you’ve been through doesn’t define you,” he says. “I believe there is always a better version of you out there waiting to be discovered. The better version of me was waiting for me to read new books, watch inspirational videos, and meet up with mentors and advisors and other people who could help me.

“Some of the people who have inspired me the most have been my mentors. These are people that I met at different stages of my life, and they all do different things, but being able to interact with them and learn from them made me realise that if they did it, if they succeeded, I could do it too. My mentors opened my eyes and made me realise that the world is bigger than I thought it was.”

Today, Duku is something of a mentor himself – and it’s the people who look to him for guidance and inspiration that provide him with his own motivation.

“Being in a position where I have been able to mentor people is something that fills my heart with pride,” he says. “The people that I meet, the people who come to my talks… that’s what motivates me more than anything.

“The very first motivational video I ever made was shot in my bathroom with my little brother. That video only got about three views, and they were all from my siblings. But now, there are people that come to see me talk [at events like this]… it’s gone from my siblings to a whole community.”

The dream of Brisbane

Two people looking at Duku's book

With the Olympics coming to Brisbane in 2032, Duku is excited for the rest of the world to get to know his adopted hometown better.

“I believe the Olympics in Brisbane have been long overdue,” he says. “But they have come along at the perfect time for the world to see what Brisbane has to offer. This city is bigger than we think – sometimes when you live in a place for a long time, you take it for granted. But I believe Brisbane has so much potential, and so many different stories from people from so many different cultural backgrounds. And my dream is for us all to come together for the Olympics.

“I believe Brisbane is the city of dreams, and its citizens are the dreamers. I believe that’s also why the Indigenous people of this land have been dreaming for thousands and thousands of years… and the other people, the people like us who come from different places around the world to Brisbane, we’re just joining in to continue in the spirit of dreaming.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter what colour you are or what language you speak – the one thing that unites us all is the fact that we all have dreams. Our dreams are all different, but that’s what makes us beautiful.”

Of course, many of those dreamers gravitate to the Brisbane Business Hub, where Brisbane’s business community comes together to learn new skills and connect.

“One thing I will say is that you should never take resources like the Brisbane Business Hub for granted,” Duku says. “Being a business owner, I know the challenges and the headaches, and the nights where you’re not sleeping, and the fatigue that sets in. But for Brisbane to have a venue, a place where you can actually come and seek help and learn from other people in the business community, meet potential clients and attend free events and workshops… I think that’s something everyone should utilise.

“What I would say to the Brisbane business community right now is that hard work pays off, and your dreams can come true. I know we’re just coming out of a pandemic, and people have been affected by floods, but whatever you’re going through, I want you to know tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”

While Duku has big dreams for his businesses and for Brisbane, the achievement that he takes the most pride in is surprisingly simple.

“The thing that I’m proudest of, after everything I’ve gone through, is that I am genuinely happy,” he says. “I’m still able to appreciate life, and I’m still genuinely enthusiastic about it. And I think that’s something I can’t take for granted.”

You can read more about Duku in his book, ‘The Poor Kid With Rich Dreams’. 

To book a free one-on-one mentoring session with one of the experts and thought leaders who are available to help you build your business across every industry and sector, visit businessinbrisbane.com.au/mentoring.  

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