AWiB May Forum Recap

‘The missing ingredients play a major role in the perfect stew, in creating the taste that we like in any food.’ Dr. Mihiret Debebe, May 7, 2015, AwiB May Forum

The missing piece in the African Leadership puzzle

CR 1 of UN Conference hall was filled with a dynamic and diverse audience, eager to hear renowned experts shed light on one of the most pertinent issues faced in the continent-  ‘The missing piece in the African Leadership puzzle’.

The three panelists consisted of Kebour Ghenna of PACCI, Frealem Shibabaw of the Ethiopian School Meal Initiative Director and Hallelujah Lulie, Researcher from ISS.  This subject couldn’t be better moderated by none other than the psychiatrist and author Dr. Mihiret Debebe.

The panelists tackled this topic from various angles. Frealem put forward the initial remarks from an educational standpoint. Frealem noted that the state of African leadership is intricately linked with the orientation that we give our children. At a young age, children are like a plain white paper and whatever you put there can be taken out or it can be put to better use and the reflection of it can be seen in their adult life as they will apply whatever they have learnt in school or during their childhood.  If they don’t get the right training earlier on, it would be difficult for them to adjust and effectively respond to any of life’s encounter at a later stage. As such, Frealem stressed that leadership must be cultivated from childhood.

Hallelujah took a different spin on this topic. With a background in politics and literature, he described the missing link to be ‘democracy’. Hallelujah explained that Africa must not adopt western democracy, but rather a system of democracy that is homegrown.

The third and final panelist for this session, Kebour Ghenna alluded to the ‘fear of change’. He explained that between 2007-2013, the Mo Ibrahim leadership award was only awarded to four leaders. What is currently missing is a generation of leaders who are not afraid to change the current situation and are not afraid to change the current state of leadership said Kebour Ghenna. A strong leader will not emanate from a weak population. Kebour explained that we as citizens of the world, responsible to our community, must not be ignorant to all the ills around us. We must act, and that is how strong leaders emerge.

The audience also had the opportunity to put forward their take on the ‘missing link’ in Africa’s leadership. One of our participants remarked that, when a new contender (in both public and private sector) comes into a leadership position, he/she tends to ignore lessons learned from the past, or build on best practices- and rather focuses on furthering their personal agenda and fulfilling their self-interest. 

Running parallel was a session in CR 4, titled ‘Communicate to influence by Zemedeneh Negatu’

Zemedeneh Negatu, Managing partner of Earnest and Young Ethiopia and a prominent business man, was invited by AWiB to speak on how to communicate effectively. This session was moderated by Nadia Waber.

Zemedeneh firstly addressed the eager crowd by talking about his carrier and personal life. He then, went on to point out critical steps to having successful communication:

  • Focus on substance before style
  • Have passion about the subject
  • Involve the audience
  • Be relevant to the audiences’ interests
  • Practice before any major speech or presentation

Following Zemedeneh’s presentation, questions and comments from the audience were entertained.

Below is a summary of the open session between the audience and Ato. Zemedeneh.

Q: What is your purpose in life?

A: “I want to make a difference and show the positive image of Ethiopia to the rest of the world”.

Q: What do you advise Ethiopian CEOs?

A: “I advise all heads of business’s to be wary of what they put out on social media and be well informed during negotiations and business deals”.

In wrapping up the session, our moderator Nadia gave the audience the opportunity to reflect and share what they learned with the person sitting next to them. Furthermore, Zemedeneh pointed out that being yourself, releasing yourself from dogma and respecting others is key to effectively communicating.

The last of the break out session was titled ‘Dream Big and Crystallize Possibilities in CR 6 with Sisay Abebe, with Lead Communication.

“Dreams are not merely the nightly thoughts one experiences as the brain sorts out the day’s events. They are the goals and visions that fire the heart and saturate the soul with joy at the very thought of them. They are those continuing visions of what one wants his/her life to be at its highest level of fulfillment.  They are what you want to do, how you want to do it, what kind of person you want to become in the process.”

Sisay Abebe, the facilitator of this session, started with asking a question.  Who is your leader? Some of the answers provided by the audience included “my Father”, “my former boss”, “my mother”, “Mandela”, and so forth. One particular participant answered “Myself”. The one person who leads your life is YOU!

Leadership is about communication with yourself, with others, with God, and with nature.  We need to develop different type intelligence and communicate accordingly explained Mr. Abebe.  Thus far, intelligence is limited to IQ and emotion.  However, we need to have physical intelligence, spiritual intelligence and relational intelligence for we need to keep on communicating as leaders.

Leadership is about relationship.  We all are the products of relationship. If we don’t know how to make friends, the dream we are talking now would not make sense.  Like-minded people are essential elements to share life and experiences.  We need to learn to relate at different levels but can only be friends with those whom we can share visions.

What is transformational leadership? Two words come together to make one.  Trans is beyond the present.  Form is a shape whereby deconstruction and reconstruction takes place. Butterfly is a good example of transformation.  The egg is changed to larva and then to pupa and then to adult.  Ethiopia is apt to both growth and development.   If you are round and become bigger, it is growth.   However if you are a circle and the shape takes a different form to serve higher purpose, that becomes transformation. Transformation begins with relationship.  We talk about possibilities.  Between possibilities and action, there is opportunities.  No relationship, no business.  No relationship, no growth.

Dreaming big is a process and discovering what is really important in life will pass the test of discouragement, obstacles and seeming impossibilities.  We usually focus on having basic necessities.  But dream is not limited to having.  It is about being.  It is about doing and it is also about reaching out.  Our dream for having should have limited time frame.  We need to move on to develop personally, accomplish goals and empowering.

Sisay identified three types of life styles:

1)    Cage life.  This is a life of poverty where one is confined to routine, trying to meet dead ends. Dreams are caged.

2)    Comfortable Life. This is a stage people reach their comfort zone whereby their basic needs are met and would not desire for more.  Dreams are halted.

3)    Charged Life – Yemirkana yiwot .  This is a life that keeps on stimulating and bringing transformation.  It has an element of challenge, as well as a constant stimulation to find breakthrough.   People need to pass some breakdowns before they reach their breakthrough. No breakdown, no breakthrough. You cannot reach the highest level of the ladder without taking one step at a time.

The charged life is characterized by ten “Cs”

1. Control

2. Competence

3. Congruence

4. Caring

5. Connections

6. Change

7. Challenge

8. Creative expressions

9. Contribution

  1. Consciousness

Sisay engaged in a Q&A session with the audience, and provided the following insights into questions raised.

  • A clear life dream is a vision of the future that will energize you for the rest of your life. 
  • We need to begin with what we already have and make the most out of what we have. i.e. knowledge, skill, resources, connections and time.
  • Never limit yourself with your salary.  You determine your worth and you are as you think. 

The afternoon session was the last event for the day in which CR 1 brought together all of our participants.

Women in Lead with Artist Desta Hagos,. Saba G/Medhen, Executive Director NEWA and. Zelealem Fesseha Owner and GM of Arsho Laboratory

One of the most eagerly awaited parts of AWiB’s yearly May forum is the Women in lead session. This year’s was no different. Three phenomenal women –– shared their experience with the audience. The first speaker was Artist Desta who described her upbringing as modest but happy. She recalled how she started coloring the bright flowers in her parents’ compound upon her father’s encouragement to draw and color them instead of cutting them which she loved to do as a child. She later joined the Addis Ababa Fine Arts School and held her first solo art exhibition even before her graduation.  Artist Desta has been one of the five Ethiopian artists and the only female to receive special educational privileges by way of an arts scholarship abroad at that time.  Artist Desta shared she never felt different from male artists as she was confident she is a true artist following her passion. Coming back home upon completion of her studies, she worked at the Ethiopian Tourist Trade Enterprise in a position replacing expatriate staff. She mentioned that through hard work, dedication and sheer passion for our country, we can all contribute to the development of our country.

Saba revealed that she was attracted to her legal profession because of her hobby of reading detective stories as a teenager. She credits her well -read mother for nudging her in the right direction. After graduation, she served as a judge, a prosecutor and in the office of the special prosecutor.  She then joined the Network of Ethiopian Women Associations (NEWA) which was established in 2003. She took over when the association was in the necessary next step transition. Therefore, she had the challenging but rewarding task of setting up procedures and establishing important contacts. As a right -based organization, NEWA has the responsibility of capacity building of its member organizations and campaigning for the rights of women. Although finding the financial resources to support its activities is quite an uphill struggle, because fund could only be raised locally which limited the financial strength of NEWA (due to the change in Ethiopia’s charity law in 2005), Saba says she is happy to still be leading this important organization that has brought meaningful changes to many Ethiopian women all over the country. She feels her calling is NEWA and she has learned a lot about leadership. She shared that NEWA is in the process of building the “Ethiopian Center for Women” on land granted from the Addis Ababa city administration. This is the kind of success that keeps Saba going. Saba says that her life’s mission is to create the platform to discuss women’s rights as a tribute for all the hardworking women of Ethiopia. She admits that leadership is about not giving up under any circumstances even at times it seems a lonely journey.

Arsho Medical Laboratory’s Managing Director, Zelealem Fesseha, commenced her speech stating that a Woman’s leadership begins as a mother – the first leader and teacher for everyone.  An economist by training, Zelealem took her time to find out what her real passion was. While looking for her life’s calling – her true purpose – she became a mother and stayed home. When she felt time to go back to work she chose to do it on a part time basis. She enjoys learning new things and therefore when she first got the opportunity, she took it upon herself to learn how to change a manual system of an accounting firm she was hired into a computerized system even though she had no idea of what she was doing. After completing this project, an opportunity came–to take over the management of a reputable company –Arsho Laboratories. Though the company was an established firm with a very well-known brand, Zelealem found out that there are a lot of challenges, especially during the transition period of the change of ownership. She mentioned that the entire system had to be revamped to serve an average of 300- 400 customers per day. With lack of financing options, the challenges of meeting customers’ expectations fully were a concern that Zelealem grappled with on a daily basis. Through perseverance and relentlessness, however, Arsho medical laboratories are now a nationally and internationally recognized laboratory serving up to 1000 customers in its 6 locations. Zelealem says getting comfortable wherever we are now is the enemy of creativity and improvement.

After the ladies spoke of their experience, audience members thanked them for their reflections and asked questions. A brief highlight of the Q&A:

Q. Working in a male dominated environment, what are the challenges we can expect and how do we overcome them?

A. It’s true that there are professions which are male dominated. However, there is no secret formula for success especially for women. It is important to ensure that you work hard, deliver your best and don’t pay attention to the doubters. Be confident in your abilities, consult others but have your own stand in matters of your principles. Remember that there are many people who encourage and support you, too, both from males and females.

Q. You are all successful in your respective careers. How have you given back to the community?

A.  Volunteering time and energy in grass roots level organizations as board members and contributors, leading and participating in associations that are relevant to our profession and work, providing advice to youngsters are some of the ways of giving back to society. There is nothing too small when it comes to giving back as every bit counts.

Q. How do we survive a difficult challenging environment, especially when our thinking is very different to the previous generation?

Aim high, work hard and don’t doubt your ability, have confidence. Perseverance is a very important character. Fortunately, technology is on your side, your parents are better informed about raising confident children and your environment is better suited to produce leaders. However, it is all up to you to really know what you want, think long and hard about your goals and work hard towards them consistently.

AWiB thanks Artist Desta, Saba and. Zelealem for their generosity with their time, for sharing their stories, their triumphs and challenges. Appreciation also goes to everyone who participated actively in the Forum by listening actively, asking questions, participating in networking sessions and lending a hand to organizers on each step of the way.

It was another successful May forum for AWiB and we are grateful for all the support from our partners !!

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