Report on AWiB 2013 May Forum

Report on AWiB 2013 May Forum

May 23rd 2013 marked AWiB\’s annual forum at the UNECA. This time the theme was Unlocking Potential! Driving Effectiveness! Up to 450 participants were present and the forum proceedings are captured as below.

“Unlocking Potential: Driving Effectiveness.”

May 23, 2013

Opening Session

Participants came into the conference room as the promotional videos of AWIB partner organizations were playing. After the inspiring video on the beginnings of AWIB, and formally opening the second annual AWIB Forum, the President, Billene Seyoum Woldeyes gave an inspiring opening speech on the ‘AWIB Effect’ emphasizing the importance of believing in women; she said: “I am not here because I am special, but because some woman believed in me.’’. Paraphrasing a quote from the first woman chairperson of the AU, Ms. Zuma, Billene said that AWIB will be satisfied that we have enough women parliamentarians, executives, airline pilots and bank presidents – ‘’when we don’t need to count them anymore.’’

Billene also thanked the many sponsors who had made it possible for the score of women university students in attendance to join us and asked that the professional, accomplished women participating in the Forum plant a seed of inspiration into the young women.

Finally, Billene thanked the sixteen Board members for their energy and dedication and acknowledged their contribution to making the Forum a success.

Keynote Speech

The Keynote speech, on Unlocking Potential was given by Selome Tadesse, former Spokesperson of the Ethiopian government and founder of the Network of Women’s Associations. Selome, a long-time supporter of AWIB, recounted her own life experiences on unlocking potential and driving effectiveness in people around her.

In preparing for her speech, Selome said that she asked her employees if she unlocks potential in them and how. One employee told her, ‘’You give me space’’ and explained that the more space she gives him, the more responsible he feels and the harder he works. Another employer told her, ‘’I feel loved because you’re simple, you can be silly, you can make jokes, and in the mornings as you come into the office, you give me a kiss.’’  Another employer said she unlocks his potential because she asks so many question –  he thinks more because she tells her staff, ‘’go think.’’ Also, her employees expressed their appreciation that she shares her experiences and that she trusts them.

Selome said that thinking about trust led her to examine her own self-identity which she defined as that ‘’which allows you to see your own strength and to see the strength in others’’.

During her Keynote Speech, Selome put up on the LCD screen and had read out an excerpt from an article, ‘A Small Carpet’ by Frank Boserup. The short article describes a dog trainer who used to apply great patience, love and respect in training dogs. The trainer used to assign a small piece of carpet for each dog he was training, and as he used to praise the dog consistently while it was sitting on its small piece of carpet, each dog came to associate the carpet which the trainer used to take around with the dog wherever it went, with being appreciated. The article concluded by asking, ‘’what is the small carpet you carry around with you? Wouldn’t it be great if it was made of love and self-appreciation?’’

Selome also shared, with much humor, her personal experience of having her ‘potential unlocked’ when she was appointed a government spokesperson. She described leaving the Prime Minister’s office to Google what being a spokesperson consists of as she was not sure what would be expected of her. Having asked for an office at the Sheraton because all the international media was there, by the afternoon of her first job, Selome faced 62 journalists who were asking her questions she had to rush around to try to find answers for. Having asked for staff contributions from other governmental offices, Selome was initially disappointed with the lack of initiative shown by the two women assigned to her as secretaries. She said she used to push them so hard to work that they often cried; however, her persistence paid off when, being late by ten minutes one morning, she found one of the secretaries giving a press release! The woman went on to attain a high level position at an international organization. However, the other secretary quit and that taught Selome the lesson that to unlock potential, a leader needs to apply a different set of tools as required for each person’s personality.

What Does Potential Look Like?

Selome explained that her view is more a paradigm and that she has the ‘lens’ that everyone can do better than they are doing, that everyone can be excellent.

Finally, Selome spoke of her work with Yegna, a girls’ empowerment program with the Nike Foundation which focuses on the importance of protection networks and friendships. Yegna consists of ‘virtual’ five friends through a radio show.  She compared Yegna with AWIB, the essential contribution it makes in networking, helping women form friendships and in helping us be appreciated.

Responding to questions and comments posed to her from the audience, Selome asserted that one needs passion to live up to one’s potential; she said, ‘’you have to search what gives you life, what gives your values voice. ‘’I don’t believe I just showed up, I am here for a purpose.’’

When asked what unleashed her potential as a young woman, Selome described her ’incredible’ father who told her she was the most beautiful girl in the world and that no one was qualified to teach her, as well as the challenges she faced as a teenager including leaving the country as a refugee during the time of the Dergue. Selome also credited her loving friends and family, as well as being naïve/’stupid’ as contributing to her unlocked potential. Selome also said she was not comfortable in her own skin until the age of 29.

In response to a male speaker praising Selome highly, saying she would be a great example to young women if she were to share her experiences through mentoring, for example of university students, she thanked the  ‘Emperor Mineliks’ who were attending the Forum, the men who  make it possible for the women, the’ Itegue Taitus’ to unlock their potential.

A male participant asked about the role of finance/money in unlocking potential; Selome disagreed that money unlocks potential.  In terms of developing self-confidence: Selome concluded that family, experience, exposure, education, values, knowing and understanding one’s own values are what unlock potential in a woman.

Breakout Session One: Addressing Critical Skills Gaps in the Professional Workforce

Yusuf Reja, founder of Ethiojobs and moderator of the session kicked off the discussion by described how he came about to found Ethiojobs 14 years ago when he realized the huge need in talent recruitment and training. Yusuf also thanked AWIB for organizing this Forum.

Session Notes

H.E. Ato Fuad Ibrahim, State Minister of Education

Addressing critical skills’ gaps from the perspective of education:

–          Education is a form of human resource development; Education removes ‘backwardness’ and poverty particularly among women as in the context of this meeting and increases life standards

–          Education needed to be successful in life; to keep up with technology, to keep up with skills

–          The Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of the Government of Ethiopia visualizes a change from an agriculture-based to a technology-based economy

–          Our education needs to answer the question, ‘’what skills do we need to reach medium-income level by 2025?’’

–          In Ethiopia, there currently are 17 million primary school students; 1.6 million secondary school students; 34 TTIs, 33 public universities

–          Everyone needs to be able to access education

–          Globalization: knowledge, information to enable us to have our economy tied in with the world economy; to enable us to compete globally; therefore, emphasis on innovation and competitiveness, productivity

–          Quality issues: critical skills; incapacitating for work; strategy for TVET

–          TVET: Occupational standards to be set by the Private sector so that’s where industries and professional associations come in.  TVET work is competency-based and emphasizes private-public linkages

–          Value-adding, for example to the leather or brewery industries already showing that Ethiopians who have been through the Ethiopian education system may compete internationally.

–          Need more women leaders in Education; double efforts required to address the gaps women’s leadership which is where associations such as AWIB come in.

Mesay Shifferaw, Human Resources Director and Acting Senior Vice President of Ethiopian Airlines

–          In the philosophy of Ethiopian Airlines (ET), there will always exist skills’ gaps and it is important to address these

–          ET, as an almost 70 year old company of international standing was initially fully dependent on non-Ethiopians – it is now completely Ethiopian

–          Skills’ mobility is an issue and has to be addressed: according to ET trends, there is a decrease in the prevalent trend in staying at the same job for 20 or 30 years

–          ET currently has 7250 staff, projected to grow to 17,000 by 2025

–          To compete globally and to contribute to the growing global demands (there will be a demand for 325,000 new pilots by 2025), so one of the strategies is to have international level training and standing

–          Safety and Quality of training

–          Intergenerational transfer of skills and experiences: creation of a conducive environment;

an aging workforce pressed to transfer all their skills to a bulging younger cohort

–          Recruitment: getting harder to retain good talent as need to try to compete with emerging


–          Emphasis on productivity

–          Introduce high-level skills at all levels

–          Opportunities: huge young workforce, may compete at any market

–          Competency-based education emerging which is good

–          ET strategy: Harmonization and cooperation within the country and abroad.

Jalalie Djeregna Kenea, Diageo Human Resources Business Partner (Diageo Meta Breweries S.C)

–          Diageo produces 220 brands of alcohol drinks including Johnny Walker and Gordon Gin

–          Works in 180 countries (41 countries in Africa) with 125,000 employees

–          In Ethiopia,expanding Meta Beer since its purchase one year ago

–          Critical skills’ gaps in Ethiopia from the Diageo perspective: health and safety, and even in terms of ‘regular’ sectors such as Human Resources

–          Diageo has hired 100 more staff since its purchase of Meta: need to address their skills’ gaps as well as existing staff’s skills’ gaps

–          Emphasize that all staff responsible for their own professional growth; good induction; basic skills’ gap analysis; partners-for-growth – what do staff have to do in order to be able to do their jobs?  Skills’ required for future growth – a road map for each person’s professional growth within the organization. Also, a ‘graduates’ program’ being launched in May 2013 for new graduates from the university with up to one year of experience; on-job training fast-tracked to mid-level management in three years’ time. Online ‘Diageo Academy’ offers employees a certification program and there is succession planning with supervisors

–          Extended leadership – a cascaded form of coaching by line managers to supervisees

–          Challenge: reaching good talent, particularly outside Addis because of ICT access; preparation among candidates – presentation and interview skills; many candidates prefer NGOs to private companies; poor career planning, applying just for jobs and not planning a career; poor professional networks

–          Solutions: Career advice at universities; government role in discussing with the private sector as to what’s required; private companies need to give back; more transparent recruitment processes

–          Solutions for candidates: be honest in addressing own skills’ gaps.

Dr. Tewabech Beshaw, Founder & Director, Alliance for Brain Gain Development & Innovative Development (ABIDE)

–          The role of the ‘Knowledge Diaspora’ in the gaps of skills may be classified as those persons who were educated in Ethiopia and left; another group got educated abroad and stayed there and the third group consists of second or third generation Ethiopians

–          South-North migration in terms of brain drain only became prominent since the 1970’s, including from Ethiopia (estimated at 70% of all Ethiopian scholars); now more cyclical globally; 1 in 35 people in the world are migrants

–          Two main factors: interplay between push factors and pull factors

–          2 million Ethiopians live outside their country

–          Some data show that by 2006, there were only 700 doctors in the country with over 3000 doctors having left the country

–          Push factors in Ethiopia: unstable (political) situation in the country, seeking career development and better pay – a facet of globalization that may be expected to increase.  As Latin America and Asia is getting better at retaining educated talent, Africa remains a great source of educated talent: through visas for educated migrants; for example, the German Parliament recently discussed long-term strategies for attracting and retaining highly skilled migrants

–          What we can do, try to attract back educated Diaspora; although government policy positive, the emphasis is still on investors; however, when we see the experiences of countries like China and India and the contribution of their returnees, we can’t afford to ignore the contribution of Diaspora

–          Challenges: Sporadic participation by the Diaspora; a non-trusting environment between Diaspora and the local environment ; shortage of reliable statistics on the number of educated Diaspora and in which sectors; frequent changes in policy, for example, in terms of duty free access to bring in relevant material

–          ABIDE is a local NGO, started in 2006; it contributes to policy formation and has signed MoUs with universities to bring in trained Diaspora.

Questions & Answers (Q&A)

–          ET projected number of employees not exaggerated? Response: ET is highly prepared to raise its number of staff, currently hiring and training 1000 people a year. The focus is not on the number of people but on quality training; meeting ET corporate citizen obligations in not only training for local hire but also for international competitiveness.

–          Two women speakers, one a private company owner and the other an instructor at AAU challenged the state minister in terms of Educating/motivating/better equipping of our migrant labor force. Response: sending people abroad is not a government strategy but where people do migrate, the Ministry agrees that they should be well trained. The Ministry has developed a curriculum based on the learned experiences of other countries to train potential migrants in practical skills, mostly house work. The State Minister agreed that there are quality problems, as teachers are recruited among existing workforce

–          Huge gaps in the ethics, level of motivation of students as they come up to the university level de-motivated. Response: teachers need to invest in students and to believe that all students can learn, and they also need to be equipped to teach –for the last three years, one of the government strategies has been the standardization process for teachers; 180,000 teachers are currently in an upgrading process, from the Diploma to the Master’s level – up to 80% of schools in Tigrai meet the government standards. Also, the Civics curriculum now includes values and self-respect

–          Huge gaps in women’s leadership because girls are not invested in; primary school environments are often not girl-friendly so what’s the education sector doing to address this gap? Response: gender parity at elementary school but girls drop out more at around Grade 4; trend reverses after 5th grade depending on the locale – in some cash-crop areas, many children leave school to work. However, there are also encouraging trends: 47% of all 2013 national 12th grade examinees are girls (!)

–          Yusuf interjected with a symbolization of knowledge (head), skills (hand) and attitude (heart)

–          A third-year female student in Chemical Engineering asked the State Minister for Education about his assertion of industrial linkages which she argued are outdated. Also, another female university student asked about the qualifications and motivation of university instructors including in terms of pay. A male student about students being able to choose preferred subjects. Responses: Industrial linkages exist and students are getting hands-on experience working on dams and in companies – the Ministry is also getting non-Ethiopian guest instructors to bring in experiences and better develop linkages with industries. In terms of preferred subjects, the GTP outlines what kind of subjects are required for the growth of the country (for example, 70% of all university students are required to learn Science-based subjects)which also ensures the employability of graduates so not all students get their subjects of choice. In terms of encouraging instructors, there is a two month training process and an upgrading scheme whereby they get to earn their Master’s in collaboration with an Indian university.  In addition, University instructors actually get the highest salary among Ethiopian civil servants. While it is important to attract Diaspora, the salary they earn should not be a source of discouragement to existing talent

–          A female university student asked the Diageo representative what special skills are required by the company and the specifications for the Graduates Program. Response: Criteria: Engineering and Social Science backgrounds as well as a GPA of 3.25 and above.  Diageo also needs a higher level of training in Brewing and Health & Safety than is normally required in Ethiopian companies. Also, HR works differently than in other companies including operations-related activities so Diageo works to train for success in these areas.

Breakout Session Two: Nurturing creativity

AWIB Board Member Hermella Ayalew introduced the facilitator for the session, Ato Ahadu G/Amlak to the participants. Ahadu introduced himself as a ‘student of creativity.’  Ahadu described the key points of the discussion as:

  • Creativity & innovation
  • The right state of mind for creativity
  • Tips on how to boost our creativity

Ahadu then invited the participants to reflect on the distinction between creativity and innovation. Some responses:

  • Creativity is a state of mind while innovation is pursuing this into action
  • Creativity is the ability to create something while applying creativity for something new/undiscovered is innovation

Ahadu then shared his thought on the topic as innovation is the product or concept resulting from a creative idea while creativity is a state of mind that opens us up to innovation.

Why creativity? was the second discussion point he raised and pointed the following:

  • Improving and changing products, services and processes
  • Solving problems and challenges
  • Enhancing the power of self-expression


Ahadu shared the following quote he believes is powerful:

“The future is not someplace we are going to but one we are creating. The paths to it are not found but made.” Peter Ellyad. The core concept of this quote, as Ahadu explained, is what we bring into our future is what we are doing today; The best way to forecast your future is to invent it yourself today.

Often we fail to nurture creative minds due to the following reasons:

  1. Familiarity
  2. Lack of awareness and
  3. Lack of techniques and guidance

The next point Ahadu raised for discussion was on where to apply creativity and divided them into three:

  1. Home: Cooking, cleaning, decorating, organizing and so on – so creativity starts at home. Creativity is right in the kitchen where we manage which ingredient for what food to make it as delicious.
  1. Work place: strategy, products, marketing and processes.
  2. Entertainment: games, camping, bird watching etc.

Ahadu then gave an exercise of three minutes for everyone to think of what things he or she would like to change/improve by utilizing creativity.


  • Creative new ways in helping people help themselves
  • Creating a kitchen office in my home
  • To serve the community to the best of my ability/capacity
  • Using creativity to raise my children properly
  • Utilizing my backyard to grow herbs instead of buying from the market
  • Bringing attitudinal change to the youth through training.

Afterwards, Ahadu discussed how to get new ideas that can open up a new world. He described ‘idea generation’ as the expression of our creative potential. Quality idea generation needs a proper frame of mind and stimuli to energize creative mind.

For this he mentioned the following six principles of creativity:

  1. Separate idea generation from judgment
  2. Test your assumptions
  3. Avoid patterned thinking
  4. New perspectives  – free association and combining different elements
  5. Minimize negative thinking
  6. Take prudent risks – be ready to fail, try & fail, try again. BUT TRY BETTER AND FAIL BETTER!

Applying creativity

  • All problems and challenges do not need creativity to be applied on them
  • One needs to know when to apply creativity and when to fall back on a routine procedure
  • ·Understand the problems first. Problem is the gap between a current state and the desired state. Hence we first need to change the unstructured problem to a structured one to reach to 50% of the solution. But the question here is how can one turn his problem from the current state to the desired state -The more ideas you get, the closer you get to transforming your situation.
  • ·Serendipity and creativity or serendipity and new ideas should always be used at the fullest potential.

The next point of discussion the facilitator raised was techniques for idea generation as follows:

  • Brainstorming
  • Brain writing
  • Stimulation
  • Principle of ‘Scamper’:
    • S=Substitute
    • C= Combine
    • A=Adopt
    • M= Modify/magnify
    • P=  Put to others use
    • E=  Eliminate
    • R= Rearrange.


Creativity rests on combining our:

  • Creativity power
  • Attitude
  • Sources of stimulation &
  • Experience.


Overall feedbacks & questions from participants

  1. Can we apply creativity and innovation to solve the current problem in the case of North Korea and its threat of nuclear power?
  2. What is your insight on a person who’s afraid to unveil his/her potential and cracking her/his comfort shell?
  3. I am an architect and there are many things I can create. But don’t you think copyright is a barrier?


  • Everything emanates from our sub-conscious mind
  • Give from for what is already living within you. If we don’t believe we deserve a better future, we don’t get it. Otherwise unintentionally, we will sabotage our own success
  • The capability we all carry is very terrifying. But if we unleash it you can shine; not only for yourself but also for the world
  • Patents are big issues nowadays, but still that should not make you cease from being creative and innovative. Just do whatever you are doing now and wait for the right time to come. BUT PLEASE KEEP ON CULTIVATING YOUR POTENTIAL EVEYDAY.

Breakout Session Three: Developing Effective Interpersonal Relationships

The third breakout session of the Forum was on developing effective interpersonal relationships which was delivered by Zahara Legesse Kaufmann.  Zahara who has extended experience in the field of counseling for children, adolescents, couples and families conducted the session in an interactive manner where she asked participants to imagine particular childhood experiences in order to understand how seemingly insignificant events such as comments on acceptable behavior shape our interpersonal relationships later in life.

In order to understand the ‘how tos’ of developing effective interpersonal relationships in the work as well as in the personal arena, we should first understand who we are and what we value. Who we are has a lot to do with our story as a child. Positive childhood experiences that teach us to be confident tend to help us a lot in our relationships as an adult. Differences on how little girls and little boys play were raised as an example. Usually, little girls play by making coffee/ tea and looking after a family of dolls while boys engage in competition of some sort. This teaches little girls to be ‘giving’ – i.e. developing their nurturing side; often at the expense of not taking adequate care of themselves.             If we over- do this, we will eventually develop unhealthy habits of giving without asking anything in return , even justified requests for assistance – and one day this will lead to resentment, less-than effective communication with family, friends and colleagues.

Once we understand who we are, we have to know what we value. What makes us tick, what makes us wake up each day, what is our passion, what we like and what we dislike. By following our passion , we learn to say “Yes” to things that are healthy and say “ No” to things that do not work for us. The best part of knowing who we are and what we value is actually when we don’t feel guilty about saying “No” to things that are unimportant, unpleasant or downright unacceptable to us. This way, we compete only with ourselves; believe that we deserve the best, change what does not work for us. The result: we put ourselves first. When we love ourselves, we love others and this makes our relationships effective.

In dealing with others, it is important to note that we set the tone. The way we treat others reflects on how much respect we give ourselves. When we don’t articulate our needs clearly or let others assume what we want, we end up with less than ideal solutions to workplace challenges. Therefore, we need to be gatekeepers of the boundaries we set.

Knowing our goals and priorities is another aspect that would help us develop effective interpersonal relationships especially in the workplace. As women, we traditionally juggle many roles at once. However, if we do not prioritize, we won’t be able to be effective in all areas all at the same time. We have to learn to ask for help when we need it instead of engaging in arguments with colleagues or taking on too much on our plate just to avoid arguments. Both extremes are counter-productive.

When confrontations – which are inevitable – occur, we have to choose to refrain from adding fuel to the fire. We should instead ask direct, respectful questions in a calm manner, take some minutes, hours even days off to think about the situation and follow the following steps.

First, ask yourself the following questions:

1. What is the truth – your version, the other side’s version?

2. Is it going to harm someone? My relationship?  My business?

3. Is it necessary? Do I have to do this now? Can I take care of it some other time?

Once we’ve answered the questions above, we can follow these steps to resolve the conflict effectively.

1. State the problem – use statements without the emotion. Raise one specific problem at a time.

2. Say how it makes you feel – Clarify with our colleagues, workers as well as managers what we feel when the problem occurs.

3. Ask what is it that we need to fix the problem. What assistance is needed from our side to enable us do the job well.

Participants at the session asked about how to connect with others who work for us at a deeper level. Zahara’s response was to treat people as equals and get to know them better, their families, their passions, their hopes and dreams. This would enable the woman manager to understand her employees’ motivation and support them accordingly in their fulfillment. Even when challenges are faced by employees, the manager who is more in tuned can solve these challenges reasonably well. It is also important to share knowledge with others and especially to mentor young women in the workforce. Not only is this rewarding, it will also ensure a constant influx of capable and motivated women in leadership. Investing in the personal development of our employees and giving them resources such as books on self-development is also important.

The other question was about work-life balance as a woman.  It was emphasized at the session that a successful career and happy family are not mutually exclusive. A woman has to know how to balance these two important aspects of her life by accepting that she cannot be everything to everyone perfectly at all the times. Even though most women don’t do it, it is important to seek support from family and friends in these matters. Above all, we have to learn to make time for ourselves so that we can do what we love. Finding balance will enable us to be better business-women, with successful careers as well as family lives. We don’t have to expect that everything has to be perfect, everyone to love us 100% ,all the time. We have to accept that sometimes what is good enough for us is is good enough for everyone. People may not like or agree with every decision we make but we have to accept that as long as we do what works for us , our companies and our families, the rest , we can live with.

The last question was about women’s tendency to downplay their achievements and use self- deprecation as a way to relate with others, to seem less intimidating probably because of deep imbedded dynamics of being raised as a ‘good girl’. Zahara clarified that each one of us is unique with special capabilities, qualities and contributions to our communities.

Learning to accept our capacity, our shortcomings and imperfections is the first step towards self-acceptance. Self-acceptance leads us to be assertive which is the best response as opposed to being aggressive – which is caring only about one’s own needs, with absolutely no regard to others, or to being passive-which is putting everyone else’s need above one’s own needs, or even worse – being passive- aggressive which is being everything to everyone while feeling resentful about it the entire time.

Afternoon Session: Women Leaders Share Their Stories

The afternoon session featured the experience-sharing of three business leaders: Hilina Belete of Hilina Enriched Food, PLC; Birtukan Gebrezghi, Vice President of Enat Bank, Share Company, and Mulu Solomon, the first woman President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce and owner of Bright Vision PLC.

Hilina Belete of Hilina Enriched Food, PLC

Hilina described the leadership process she went through with, going into her parents’ company on weekends to learn the ropes of her company which produces nutritional supplements based on nuts, combined with milk and vitamins that are bought by NGOs and UNICEF to supply to malnourished children. After finishing her degree, Hilina was hired at the lowest level of the company, washing and sorting the nuts that go into the enriched foods. She argued about her father about this, but he told her that as an administrator, she needs to know what every level of work consists of.

Hilina described as her biggest challenge, not being the picture of an Ethiopian Leader/Manager: male, older, with grey hair, and described how she had to overcome misperceptions because she knew not only her work – administration – but also the content, nutrition. Hilina also said that she gets opportunities to learn from every interaction, and event.  In addition, Hilina disagrees that women with successful careers cannot be happy in their home lives –she thinks it is a matter of time management; she emphasized that it is important to share a similar vision with one’s partner. One’s family benefits from one’s success, and she said, ‘’and if I have a daughter, I can be a role model for her.’’


–          What do you do to address social responsibility in your company? Response: To begin with, our product addresses a social need in producing nutritious food for malnourished children which used to have to come from abroad while children died in the time required to transport the food. Hilina described her company as social entrepreneurship because it creates jobs for 250 people, and farmers get better prices for their products when graded.

–          In your view, what is a leader? Response: Convincing team of one’s own vision to bring them on board.

–          Did reading (on nutrition) give you all the information required to do your job? Response: Because one can’t go to University to learn on every subject, books and information from other sources fill intellectual gaps.

Birtukan Gebrezghi, Vice President of Enat Bank

Birtukan started by explaining that as a young woman, she had had no interest in Financewanting to be an Engineer, and spent a summer taking one-on-one Physics classes with her instructor. Therefore, she was not happy to join the Commercial School, however, she was determined to do well an d convinced herself to learn the content matter of her assigned subject and excelled in her studies.

After Birtukan was hired by her first employer, she discovered that she liked working for a bank, and she had good mentors and bosses. Birtukan currently works for Enat Bank, the first women’s bank founded by 11 prominent Ethiopian women but also supported by many men. She is also on the board of private and government companies. Birtukan said that she would not say that she has been completely successful but have had ‘little successes.’ She credits her older brother who always told her, ‘’anchi min yakitishal?” and that anyone who understands Maths can do anything with contributing greatly to her self-confidence.  Her father also used to call her ‘lucky’ and used to give her the assignment to report on the news on the radio which she did religiously. As she always shares with her team at the Bank, support and encouragement is crucial.

Birtukan has also had good, supportive supervisors including her first boss, a woman who kept her for four months when she was supposed to do one month’s rotation at the department. At her next position within the Commercial Bank, she stayed for 15 years – from the position of a clerk to the head of the department when her supervisor retired. Birtukan explained the importance that one’s hard work is recognized, praised, and given the space to grow. Her old male boss praised her by saying was a woman by mistake! She also said that one’s work is influenced by recognition from peers.

The challenges overcome by Birtukan include, during the old regime, her political commitment being questioned so that she was not allowed to qualify as a ‘star’ employee. In addition, she said her experience has been that in her sector women are perceived to be loyal and faithful and so are often placed in positions such as treasurer or bank teller but often not offered a leadership position because administrators don’t want it to be said that ‘this department is led by women.’

In terms of balancing home and family life: Birtukan said, ‘’I don’t think a woman who is not happy at home may be labeled as ‘successful’’.  She also said that she does not regret passing up opportunities to study for her Master’s when she chose to stay and in the country and raise her children.


–          On working harmoniously with men: Birtukan affirmed that men have been a great source of encouragement for her, she said, ‘’my husband does not take no for an answer.’’

–           How did you face the challenge of disappointment in not getting your desired profession?

Birtukan said that with hindsight, she found that it was for the best and found her calling within the Banking sector which she has been able to serve well.

Mulu Solomon: First Woman President of the Chamber of Commerce

Beyond her duties as the President of the Ethiopian Chamber of Commerce, Mulu has been actively involved in 33 associations including as a founder and former President of the Ethiopian Women Writers’ Association. As a poet, she has published ten books in Amharic, Afan Oromo and English and has taught at Addis Ababa University. Mulu is also a trainer in the Art of Living; Confidence; Forgiveness and Positive Discipline of Children. She is also active in community service and has worked successfully to impact the lives of youth. In this regard, Mulu emphasized the importance to raise children to be positive.

Mulu said that she has encountered many challenges during her eventful life but similar to how she used to laugh while she was physically punished as a child, she ‘’rises above challenges.’’

Beyond her own experiences, Mulu talked about the importance of forgiveness, self-love, self-appreciation; and the importance of appreciating other women’s successes as one’s own. Addressing women in particular, she said that ‘’diversity among us is our beauty.’’ She also emphasized the importance of understanding women’s shortcomings and the removal of the ‘black lens’ of judgment of other women. She expressed her belief that training and education can change people, and she advised women to not care so much about what other people say as it is out of our control. Mulu said that we need to understand our own greatness but be willing to learn from others. Regarding men’s support for women’s rights, Mulu said that ‘’a confident man speaks on behalf of women’s rights.’’


–          Who has been a role model in your life?  Mulu responded that her ‘peasant’ mother who raised seven children as a single mother is her role model.

–          How can change be effected practically? Response: Change is difficult and gradual, it is important to keep learning to change for the better.

–          How do you manage to be successful at all that you do? Response: Mulu is determined to not fail at anything and to learn from failures. Mulu said that she has often fallen – the important thing is to get up again. Mulu also said that she wants to contribute all that she can because she ‘’wants to die empty.’ ’In addition, she does not do anything she doesn’t believe in. She quoted: ‘’Believe and you can move mountains.’’

–          Q&A:  ‘’What is a Leader?” A leader is a person who can manage herself; ‘’we are all leaders.’’

Comments from the floor to Mulu:  ‘’You are 200 women in one.’’ A female participant linked her name, Mulu, which means ‘full’ as being symbolic of all that she does.

Other Comments

–          A male participant spoke in appreciation of women in general and of his sister in particular; of their tenacity and commitment to a cause.  The participant also offered to serve the Association in his capacity as a professional English teacher and trainer

–          A female participant spoke in appreciation of the speakers and the different ‘voices’ they applied to explain their own experiences

–          A male painter/sculptor commented that there is not a single statue of a woman in all of Ethiopia:  Birtukan responded that this is a consideration for Enat Bank: first branch named for Itegue Taitu, second one for the Queen of Sheba; third for Wzo. Abebech Gobena, a social activist.

–          Two other female participants praised all the women and Mulu Solomon in particular.

Concluding Remarks

AWIB President-Elect, Seble Hailu brought speakers back to the topic for the afternoon, ‘Soaring’ and thanked all the speakers for inspiring us to soar – overcoming the challenges that hold us down. Seble also shared a poem, ‘Soar like an Eagle’ as did Mulu, ‘Women of the World Unite’ – her own piece.

Closing remarks were provided by AWiB 2013 President, Billene Seyoum who thanked all speakers and participants; expressed her hope that we will all take with us the lessons from the day to ‘pay it forward.’  Billene also thanked AWIB partners and media partners. Reiterating the invitation to participants to the AWIB monthly events – the next one on June 6 on the topic of ‘Starting Up and Scaling Up Business Ideas’, the President also extended her invitation for participants to become AWIB members.

Lastly, Billene introduced the AWIB Women of Excellence award program for which AWIB has received 38 nominations. The Women of Excellence award is the AWIB monument to Ethiopian women who are doing many important things that need recognition. The video from the Women of Excellence event held in October 2012 brought the Forum to an end.

~ By Sehin Teferra, AWiB Board Member