Deliberations on Re-engineering Our Thinking to Re-engineer Our World

The UN auditorium was filled with participants of the Forum and the program began with advertisement of AWiB’s . . .

The UN auditorium was filled with participants of the Forum and the program began with advertisement of AWiB’s partners: Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, Dashen Bank Share Co. Maccfa Freight Logistics and Impala Communication.  In due time, the President of AWiB, Seble Hailu, requested participants to stand up and give themselves a warm AWiB hug to compensate for the cold weather outside.

Then Seble began her opening remarks with a quote by Marianne Williamson, “Personal transformation can and does have global effects.  As we go, so goes the world, for the world is us.  The revolution that will save the world is ultimately a personal one.”  It is in this basic belief that individuals’ personal and professional development will bring about societal, national and global change that AWiB exists to operate. Created with this in mind, AWiB strives to contribute to such development and change.

For the third year in a row, AWiB board members worked thoughtfully to select the theme for the year’s May Conference Forum discussions.  “In our deliberation,” Seble stated, “we found that the starting point for all the changes we wish to see in ourselves and in our communities ultimately boils down to thinking.  As human beings, our ability for higher level cognitive thinking is what sets us apart from other animals.  It is what separates our development from our under development. It is the difference between a wealthy life and an impoverished life; a healthy life and a depraved life.  It is the difference between having access to resources and being deprived of resources. The distinguishing element is really whether we have used our mind effectively.  And in this ability to use our mind effectively lies where we as individuals and as communities choose one path over the other.”

This realization is what brought about the theme for this year’s May Conference, “Reengineering Our Thinking, Reengineering Our World!”  If we are doing the same things, in the same way, and using the same method year after year and expect a different result, then are we not effectively using our great resource, the mind.  We are rather in a state of illusion and actually going backward.  In a changing world, it requires reengineering our thinking to move forward from the status quo and to do things differently in order to see a desired change.

The logical question would be – “reengineering our thinking about what?” Since reengineering our thinking is cross-cutting, it applies to personal, family, cultural, professional, business, and different work contexts.  It starts with personal development and whether we are looking at ourselves, our relationships, our communities, our business or our nation to effect positive change.  One thing is for sure – Reengineering our thinking is required in order for our society to adapt and innovate.

There is a saying, “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” If our previous ways were just living in a hole or digging deeper, we cannot afford to continue burying ourselves and live non-functional life style.  Reengineering our thinking does not come easy and this conference would serve just as a catalyst – a starting point. We need to keep on thinking, improving, acting, requesting feedback, working on ourselves, working on our systems, searching for many sources from which to gather information, perceiving things from different perspectives, and accommodating one another’s differences. While everyone may like a break,” Seble emphasized, “for this, there is NO SHORT CUT. Sorry, but No Short Cut.”

Seble thanked those who sponsored university students, partners, and concluded her opening remarks expressing her feelings of being privileged to lead such a dynamic Association and was grateful that everyone participated in the forum AWiB organized to be bitten by “the AWiB bug” – as the past presidents, Billene and Nahu, said.

“Let’s infect our nation with thinkers, doers and change agents. Here is to Reengineering Our Thinking so we may Reengineer Our World!”

Subsequent to Seble’s speech, AWiB video was shown to provide AWiB’s essence to the audience.

National Perspective of Reengineering Our Thinking, Reengineering Our World – Kebour Ghenna

After a warm welcome to the key note speaker, Ato Kebour Ghenna, took the podium to make a remark on the theme of the day –  Reengineering Our Thinking Reengineering Our World from a National Perspective.

Ato Kebour, with a very graceful presence and attention catching look opened his speech saying “Vision is an important element to reengineer our mind and thinking.” He stated that we need reengineering in three key areas: cities, the environment and schools – our education system, which are imperative if we would like to attain significant changes.

He reminded the audience that the schools our kids go to are not child-friendly and stressed that the children are having a hard time in their school environment and with a critical tone asked the audience “You want a proof? Then just visit their rest rooms!” He added that teachers are being under paid and the classrooms are in bad shape.

Ato Kebour also spoke of the need to reengineering our thinking about the environment. What does reengineering our environment mean? What do we change? How do we do it? What are the most important things or values that we need to transform our world?  Once the natural resources are depleted, the battle is lost – there is no way of recapturing them.  But we can stop further depletion and redeem our environment. ?

“The double digit growth Ethiopia registered has not happened by accident. It is the result of hard work and dedication by many actors.  However, sustaining the current trajectory of growth is doubtful without the active involvement of the private sector. We also need to ask who are the opinion makers that shape the course of our country’s future?”

“We need to envision a better nation. We need freedom to envision a better country; freedom of speech should include challenging the government to open up.  Earlier, I had said we needed vision but I stand corrected, we need FREEDOM in order to change our society.”  He alluded to the fact that the need to a complete change of system and the existence of a feeling that everyone matters and every one’s voice must be heard, making everyone feel that they can contribute is not at all an unfair expectation.

Noting on the currently existing parliamentary system of Ethiopia that is composed of people of similar political interests, he rather took the audience through imagination to a much needed composition of a parliament that took the form of the conference room, which is composed of people from different walks of life and backgrounds with different professions and interests. “That way,” Kebour said, “we would have a more balanced representation. We do not need a parliament full of timid politicians just from one party.  Instead of government by people, we have government by few people and this must change. We want more democracy not less. We should push for more freedom of expression, not less. This is the only way to get ahead.”

In asserting on the need to reengineer our thinking, he pointed out to the fact that it is not an easy task.   A mechanic can overhaul a car by dismantling every part of it, fixing the damaged part and assembles it for a better use.  The car could be out of service for the period of repair but once all is done, the car parts can be reassembled and fixed for use. However, humans’ mind cannot be paused, dismantled in order to redo it in a better way.  The reengineering is done while on the move, which makes the whole effort much more challenging; he said “it is however doable and our thinking can change with investing the needed time and effort.”

Many people are unsure of their future. Not just economic but uncertainty that comes from injustice and lack of space.  Imagine a parliament that has the best and the brightest, qualified citizens who can serve other than the ruling party.  Ato Kebour challenged the audience to do more on taking personal responsibility on advocating change and reform for we all have to do that. ?

Ato Kebour ended his remarks by reminding the audience, “There is much to be done, let’s get going!”

Parallel Session One: Attracting and Retaining Talent in Civil Service Corps – Yirga Taddesse

Ato Yirga Taddesse, a dedicated and passionate civil servant, was the guest speaker for this session.  The session was moderated by Mahider Bekele, who is a well-known live radio presenter on 102.1 Sheger Radio.

Ato Yirga was the former head of Document Authentication and Record Office (DARO), the best reformed Office.  It is a government institution that is ISO certified.  Almost two decades ago, it used to take a minimum of one to three weeks to authenticate or to deal with matters successfully serving only thirty people in a day.  Today, DAR, reengineered its process and changed its basis of operation to serve about 1500 people per day.  As Ato Yirga stated, it may take from fifteen minutes to three hours depending on the case.   This is an amazing transformation that any business may have to adapt. Most participants at this session were from the HR position who would want to see their institution transformed.

The main theme of this session was retaining and transforming the workforce in the civil service corporation and as Ato Yirga has headed the most successful civil service institution, he was able to share from his experiences authentically in transforming once was said to be a dreadful institution, worst performing civil service organization.  As a leader, who believed in transformation of archaic systems, he was able to lead the makeover process to reach this efficiently functional stage.

When asked about how he had managed to do it without significant financial resources, Ato Yirga replied that they started with already available resource that would not require any budget.  That was working on employees’ mind.   As they are the implementers of the system, it required the collaboration, involvement as well as commitment of workers as well as managers.  Hence, working on the mindset of the people was given a priority.

High turnover of employees is a major problem shared by both government and private institutions. Right from the very beginning, if people are given due respect and a desirable working environment, salary comes next.  Money is usually mistaken to be a basic factor in most institutions to effect sustained change.  It is a factor but apart from that, many stayed for over ten years in spite of lower government payment scale. They worked on hygiene factors and enabling environment.

After gaining the good will of the employees, the second stage was setting up the system and providing training to all concerned. Incorporating employees in the setting up as well as implementing process has reduced resistance for change.

Third, it was necessary to empower the managers.  In most institutions there are managers who are not empowered but only hold the position nominally. The management was given full authority and trained to exercise it without fear of making mistake or being judged.  That saved them from having phobia of authority.

Ato Yirga concluded that if institutions employ the above three steps: working on people’s mindset, creating enabling system as well as empowering the leadership capacity of managers ensure sustained result.

The purpose of conducting this session was to facilitate dialogue on the ways of improving the effectiveness and performance of the civil service.   This was achieved in the case of DARO proving non-monetary incentives.   Participants were challenged to apply similar initiatives starting with reengineering thinking to reengineer their business world.

Parallel Session Two: Establishing and Sustaining a Socially Responsible Enterprise – Frealem Shibabaw

A woman of passion and a very dedicated social entrepreneur, Wro. Frealem Shebabaw led the social entrepreneurship session, while AWiB’s board member and Secretary, Sara Yirga, facilitated the interactive session.

UN Conference Room 6 was filled with people who were looking for the meaning of social entrepreneurship and their role in making it work here in Ethiopia.  W/ro Frealem is the founder and Manager of Bahirdar Academy (BDA), Director General of the newly established Ethiopia School Meal Initiative (ESMI) and Founder and Former President of the Association of Amhara Region Women Entrepreneurs (AARWE).

During her tenure with the AARWE, she contributed to the successful establishment and management of the Association, increased revenue to members through effective leadership and facilitated continuous business skills training. Now, the Association has a capital of more than five million birr. Bahrdar Academy, her other successful endeavor, is an establishment serving over 2,000 students from KG to 10th grade with about 700 hired employees. Furthermore, her love for children is the key to the founding of ESMI.

Wro. Frealem began her presentation appreciating AWiB’s for including this critical concept of social entrepreneurship, and giving it such a forum to be internalized by many. Her presentation focused on the core point of our social responsibility while being a good entrepreneur.  She alluded to the fact that we can creatively incorporate this value in our businesses. She presented how BDA came to existence leading to the creation of ESMI.

Participants were so drawn and emotional when Frealem told the story of Reiziku, the young boy who opened her eyes to the problem of children coming to school with empty lunch boxes or no lunch box at all and children who are not going to school because they do not have anything to eat so go to work or go begging at early age. This allowed her to have an in depth look into the problem, researched and finally decided to do something about it which birthed ESMI.

In her note, she emphasized that we need to re-engineer our thinking to creatively bring sustainable solutions to societal problems, like children’s well-being. How can we send a child to school when she/he is starving? We should respect people who care about issues around them, people who are sleepless thinking how to bring a positive impact in the way our society lives. Associations like AWiB that are working hard to create awareness on personal development, is key to national development with global effect.

Most questions from the audience were, how she became the social entrepreneur she is now.  Frealem replied, “It all starts with what we want to see in the future and how we see it. The future cannot be built without healthy generation emotionally and physically.  Let us open our eyes and mind, let us ask, “Why?” and let us say ‘NO!” to social injustice.”

For the question about challenges she faced in the process of working on the social issues, Frealem replied, “Creativity and persistence in bringing every stakeholder on board is the key.”  For instance, she had to build mothers’ room within the school where teachers can bring their babies, breast feed them during breaks in order to address the issue of female teachers starting families and having babies forced to choose between their jobs and their role as a mother. That was a very creative solution that worked wonderfully for both the school and the mothers.

Another question was, how can social enterprises be profitable and sustainable where there are businesses out there taking the short cut and where there is no fair ground for business? She replied, “When we work for the community and with the community, sustainability issues can be our minimum concern. ESMI model project is one good example that is applied in Sebeta school and in Bahirdar. The model project provides milk to children by building a dairy farm within the school run by the school community and the children’s mothers. However, ESMI team conducted a two-day awareness creation and leadership training to all involved before handing the project over to them. Currently, there are ten cows in Qulqual Meda School in Bahrdar, 120 children receiving milk and bread daily. Bread made by the mothers as income generation activity and excess milk being sold to a hotel in town covers operations costs.

Additional comments from audience were, “This was an amazing session with a very smooth flow of ideas and interaction.”  “Social entrepreneurship is a topic that should be given wider coverage on media and there is a need for larger forums and discussion on the issue.” Many said that they learned to ask, what can I do? How can I change my business into a socially responsible one? What community initiative means and how they can be creative and reassess the way they see social problems.

Wro. Freamlem concluded the session by emphasizing that the nation’s economic growth cannot be complete without a society that gives due attention to social problems, and work tirelessly to address it with entrepreneurial creativity.

Parallel Session Three: Creating and Transforming Your World with Winning Negotiation Skills – Mesfin Asfaw

AWiB had Ato Mesfin Asfaw from Paradigm Consultancy on the first May Forum held in 2012 and found him to be very inspirational and invited him again to provide similar impetus to the 2014 participants.  Mesfin, with his in-depth knowledge and added experience shared the importance of playing wise in relational and business world for a win-win result.  In a real world, we get what we negotiate not what we deserve.  Hence, we might as well know how to develop or sharpen our good negotiation skills to improve our life immensely.

As negotiation is done in everyday situations, to every aspect of life and all relationships, this session aimed to provoke thinking on our approach to and skills in negotiation. Ato Mesfin led this interactive session on how to identify and develop negotiating capacities.

“Working hard is not good enough,” Ato Mesfin said, “We actually need to work smart to thrive and fit in this competitive world. He shared three things that need to be taken into consideration to bargain in life and business:

  1. Time – Whether in purchase or establish relationship, timing is a key factor to negotiate and bargain.
  2. Information – Having adequate knowledge about the issue we want, saves us from losing in life.  Hence we need to research and prepare before we negotiate to ensure we get what we want.
  3. Power – This comes from having political, social, financial, intellectual or technological one.  Showing up as powerless puts a negotiator at a disadvantaged position.

Hence, it is very important to show up with the confidence so that we speak from the right power position to increase our bargaining capacity.  Negotiation skill can be developed and will definitely give the muscle we need to achieve our life goal.

Mesfin elaborated the four common negotiation approaches: Position-Persuasion, Concession-Compromise, Mutual Needs and Win-Win approach.  In the last approach negotiating parties look at how both parties’ benefits can be magnified when divided.  So knowing the crucial elements of negotiation and the common approaches will put us in a better position to win our proposals.

Mesfin also discussed the different aspects that support us to create our world with good negotiation as: training, knowledge and good judgment, self-confidence, patience, creativity, mastery of the issue, people skill, charisma, articulating ideas tactfully, empathy, clear objective with focus and consistency, logical and sequential thinking, flexible firmness, good networking, persistence and stamina, calculated risk taking (knowing limits), good listening and expressing ideas non-judgmentally all help .

Mesfin tipped participants to ensure the following for successful negotiation:

  • Research and prepare well
  • Pick the best place and time
  • Learn to separate the person from the issue
  • Focus on interest and not on position
  • Select a good team to accompany you in the negotiation process
  • Draw fall backs or bottom-line before entering the negotiation
  • Expect the unexpected
  • Give space and do not corner
  • Be prepared to say “No!”
  • Aim for a win-win
  • Learn when to stop and shut-up
  • Review – capture lessons learned
  • Follow-up

In a conventional sense, negotiation styles are ascribed to country style, such as Ethiopian, American, Japan, French, etc. but one needs to be careful not to overgeneralize styles.  Mesfin facilitated question and answer sessions and answered them with adequate explanations.

Afternoon Session: Women with Attitude – Accomplished Women Sharing Their Lives

It is said that your attitude determines your altitude. How far we are able to go is inextricably linked with the attitude and belief system we set for ourselves. In the same sense, the attitude we exude to support friends and family also shapes the enabling environment for success or failure. As attitude is a state of mind that differs from person to person, the afternoon session focused on hearing about mantras that embody perseverance, humility and achievement of two women. It was showcase experience sharing session hearing their stories of triumphs as well as challenges of these female leaders.

The first speaker was Wro. Meaza Ashenafi, one of the founders of the most successful national women’s rights advocacy organization, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA).  EWLA is known nationally and internationally for waging effective campaigns for the promotion and observance of women’s rights and girls, bringing about law reform, providing legal aid and protection to poor women and, more significantly, for putting women’s issues on the national agenda.   Wro. Meaza played a critical and leading role in the amendments of laws that discriminate against women at the national level.

She also took the pioneering initiative of offering poor women access to free legal aid service including in rural areas and represented high profile test cases with a large public awareness impact. She was also the one to initiate and chair the first network of Ethiopian Women Associations (Network of Ethiopian Women‘s Associations (NEWA).  Wro. Meaza lead a pioneering initiative of establishing a women-focused commercial bank in Ethiopia – Enat Bank.  She has represented high profile precedent setting cases with subsequent social, cultural and legal reform impact. The story of one of these cases is developed into a feature film by an international company and won the Sundance and Berlin international Film Festivals audience Awards.

Meaza has in general served as an adviser, consultant and speaker to various governmental, non-governmental and international organizations and is currently the chair of the Board of Directors of Enat Bank, the first and only women’s bank in Ethiopia. Meaza is also a winner of the 2003 African Prize for Leadership; The Hunger Project; October 11, 2003 and winner of the “International Women of Courage for Ethiopia” Award, Government of U.S., March 2008.

“I was born and grew up in Benshangul Gumz region with big family.  My parents believed in education though not educated.  I went to AAU and studied law.  In addition, I am blessed with my husband, who is a professor at the Addis Ababa University, who happen to be a wonderful support system for my success in life,” said Meaza.

Meaza pointed out to the different challenges she faced in her leadership positions but persevered in all with the support of her colleagues.  Honesty, integrity, positivity and focus are the hallmarks of her virtues that enabled her to pass the hurdles she had faced.

The second speaker was Wro. Ambanesh Kebede, was born in a very small rural village of Raya in Tigrai, married to a Cameroonian, who had been a lecturer in the chemistry department.  Ambanesh studied pharmacy at the Addis Ababa University.  She with her family moved to Algiers and then to her husband’s homeland, Cameroon as her husband’s contract expired.

Ambanesh felt settled at Cameroon as she found employment as a pharmacist.  After two years, noticing that there were no pharmacies in the area, Ambanesh opened the first one in a small mountainous rural village, located outside of the unbearably hot capital city, Duala.

She opened Amba Pharmaceuticals in 1994, at the time where she was living in the US. Amba Pharmaceuticals is an importing and distribution company, which is highly operational.  The first door-to-door delivery system was introduced by Amba Pharmaceuticals and offered a one-month credit schemes to facilitate timely purchases for the health care system.  In 2006, she opened Prime Enguday Private Limited, importing natural products from Malaysia.

Wro Ambanesh envisions to opening a chain of big pharmacies throughout Ethiopia.  When asked about how her business flourishes with her humble attitude and people would not take advantage of her, Wro. Abmbanesh retorted to the fact that our personalities are given from God and they somehow help us to play life’s game our way.  She said, that her vision of a better life began when nothing good was observed back then at the age of five.  Whenever she reached her dream level, she would push her limits and widen her horizon to reach her bigger height.  That was the key element in Amba’s life that stretched her for success and knocking all possible doors to pull her business up.

AWiB thanked these two women and is committed to strengthen the pool of great women leaders and having them share their life experiences.  AWiB believes the younger generation needs models and this session was assumed to be of great support to the youth and others to expand their minds and change their worlds by emulating from real life experiences.

Finally, the 2013 Women of Excellence Video was shown and concluding remarks was given by the President thanking the speakers, participants, AWiB members, Partners, board members and others.  She finally reiterated the fact that AWiB thrives through its members and hence encouraging many to be members of AWiB and business entities to partner with AWiB.

“We have deliberated on working on our thinking but do not forget that it also requires action after having a reengineered thinking to have the desired world.”

“Your Future begins with your next thought”
Bryant Mcgill

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