In memory of Tolu
  • We have spent the last two days in deep mourning, having lost our dear friend Tolu Ilesanmi to a heart attack. Organization Unbound’s story is incomplete without Tolu and his social enterprise Zenith Cleaning. They have had a profound influence on our learning and on so many in our community of practice. Warren wrote this reflection to celebrate his life and being.

    . . .


    Now and then someone comes to visit this planet and, finding it a bit dusty and forlorn, rolls up his sleeves and gets to work.

    When you meet him on the road, right away you feel yourself becoming kinder and wiser. You see more light around you. And you want to say thank you but you’re not sure how.

    Tolulope Ilesanmi was a cleaner. He left banking in Nigeria and came to Montreal, where he did his MBA and then started a company, Zenith Cleaning. Tolu considered everything about that company a mystery – its people, its practices, its purpose. He said to himself, I will contemplate this thing with awe and curiosity and gratitude until it is done with me. Eventually he wrote down this sentence: Cleaning is the process of removing dirt from any space, surface, object or subject thereby exposing beauty, potential, truth and sacredness.

    You could spend your life trying to write a sentence like that. Tolu did. He wrote it over and over again, every time he laughed or hugged or swept the floor or gave a workshop. He kept monkish hours, rising before dawn each day to pray and to ponder, and then he went out and wrote and spoke and built things and broke things. And he cleaned. He cleaned kitchens and bathrooms and offices. He cleaned his own spirit, and he cleaned yours.

    Tolu was an artist. His raw material was love. He took it in his hands and shaped it and gave it many expressions. He spoke about love to business students and senior executives. To people who had spent their lives cleaning and to people who just wanted to clean for a little while to renew something in themselves.

    Everyone who met Tolu could feel the way he loved. He used his heart ten times harder than most of us. So by my calculations, Tolu’s heart was more than 400 years old. On June 10th, 2017, that heart stopped and sent Tolu home.

    Tolu was a guest here. I don’t know where he was visiting from, but I suspect it was the future. I think he lived where the world is trying to go. Someplace where the distinctions between work and play and body and spirit and you and me don’t matter that much. He came to visit this dying house, and he said, if you clean it well enough you will see a new house, and it will be beautiful.

    This was a good man and a great soul. I will miss him. I would like to hear him laugh again. I would like to consider more mysteries with him. I would like to clean beside him.

    But it’s OK. I don’t think he has gone so far away.


    As many of you know Tolu’s gift and passion in life was to give, help others, and spread love. It seems only right to try to give back in the way we can, which is to his family who, at this time, need it especially. Some of his close friends and Zenith employees have come together to organize this fundraising campaign:

    We also invite you to read some of the reflections that Tolu has contributed to Organization Unbound over the years:

     The Organization Unbound giving field
     Cleaning in Cape Town
     Cleaning the African narrative
     I am a cleaner
     A conversation with Sushrut and Tolu (Podcast)
     Transcending discontent
    ≈ Cleaning for a change


    June 14th, 2017 | Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock | 2 Comments

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Warren Nilsson & Tana Paddock

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2 Responses and Counting...

  • Thiago Parreira 06.14.2017

    Prezado Professor Warren Nielsson, me perdoe por escrever em português. Acabo de ficar profundamente triste com a notícia. Me lembro bem das aulas em 2013, na GSB-UCT, onde Tolu fora citado. Enfim, meus pêsames por esta perda. Que Tolu possa continuar sua missão, tentando limpar almas e corações, com todo o legado de amor que ele nos deixou.

  • warren!….
    so evocative.
    you turned around the grief from being bearable, to, being beautiful.

    perfect rememberance – and anchoring in our hearts – of somebody whose life was in service of beauty.

    humbled to join this celebrative mourning.

kurumsal reklam