What is Excellence?

Although it is always a privilege, I felt particularly honored to take part in the special AWIB board meeting where we tackled the difficult but rewarding task of short-listing this year’s nominees for the Women of Excellence award.

Hosted by our lovely President and well-nourished, we paid serious attention to each profile prepared by Board Members following interviews of nominees as well as their colleagues. In a transparent and fair process, the short-listing was conducted after a series of voting on pre-agreed criteria.

All the nominated women reflected achievements and values that impressed the group. A few of the nominees were well-known names, others we had not heard of but quickly came to respect as their achievements – in banking, in trade, and most significantly, in the case of this year’s nominees, in social work and community development were highlighted. Many of the women are self-taught and self-made, and had overcome serious obstacles to reach their goals.

It was wonderful to witness the breadth of experiences reflected by the nominees and we were grateful to our members and supporters for taking the time to introduce to us those women they admire. Without their essential participation, AWIB would not be able to perform what I believe is its most important contribution to Ethiopian women – documenting and rewarding the ‘(s)heros’ in our midst.

Throughout the day, as individuals and as a group, we kept coming back to the core question, ‘what makes this nominee a woman of excellence?’ I have to admit that I struggled with the notion at first and I was one of those members who assigned too-high scores to most nominees.  Although I am known as a hard worker and I am thorough and diligent, I don’t know if I had ever seriously thought about excellence in my own work or the work of others until that point. As the day progressed and I learnt more about the often unsung women who are doing amazing work to transform their professions or their communities for the better, I started thinking what it is that sets these women apart from other women (and men).  Yes, most are driven by the desire to make a difference, but it is more than that. They are all strong women but so are legions of women who we would not describe as ‘excellent.’

As the long process of short-listing was winding down in the early evening and we debated on yet another profile, I began to see strands of similarity among the characters of the nominees who, it must be acknowledged fit on different stages of the ‘excellence’ spectrum. The threads I were able to draw out came to represent in my mind, exceptional courage – which a woman of excellence needs to start up a business without financial backing or to leave her village for the chance to go to school; unfaltering faith in herself which allows or even demands of her that she picks herself up every time she falls; the ability and the support to balance the rigors of family demands with that of her work, and complete dedication to her chosen path or industry with which her name will be linked because excellence requires staying the course and paying one’s dues.

You will recognize a woman of excellence because she is usually the first one in the office and the last to leave in the evening.  She has a long-term vision and the confidence to convince others to try new things. She has that rare ability to inspire with her convictions. She has dogged determination to see things through and she pays attention to the important details without sweating the small stuff.  She values her time and the time of others.

Almost always, she is charismatic and charming – she recognizes the importance of the personal touch. A woman of excellence is not only a doer but an enabler of the talents of others. In addition, a woman of excellence has complete and utter belief that what she does is for the higher good and seeks to benefit more than herself.  An important consideration for the Board and for myself during the short-listing process was that a woman of excellence consciously inspires, motivates and encourages other women.

At the risk of sounding trite, I was inspired that day. It was wonderful to hear the stories of our nominees, but more than that, the reflections made me want to be a woman of excellence, not so much in pursuit of the title or the glory but because I came to see that a woman of excellence can be said to have truly given of herself and applied her god-given talents. I have always lived consciously and practice my principles diligently. And now, pursuit of excellence, with its promise of very hard work, mountainous challenges to be overcome, and failure and disappointment to be countered has become, for me, a key principle to live by every day.