Report on AWiB May Forum

17th May, 2012: A Day for Expanding One’s Mind. A Day for Celebration

“Vocation happens when our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” — Beuchner

The awaited 17th May, 2012, commenced with hundreds of participants (460 to be exact) making their way to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Conference Centre to explore and participate in an event marking the theme ‘Expand your Mind – Change your World: Celebrate Women’s Agency!’

AWiB’s purpose for the day was to provide space for participants to broaden perspectives, honour their personal and professional lives, network and be inspired by the most valued minds in town, and influential people in the country. Feedback provided throughout the day attests to that!

The day was started in a powerful way with a woman of courage, Nahu Senay Girma, Board President of the Association of Women in Business (AWiB). Nahu injected aliveness and humour in her welcome, and described AWiB’s great value, that of taking risks. She added: ‘Indeed, AWiB has taken great risk by forming this useful and relevant group: the risk of rejection, the risk of failing, the risk of scrutiny and also reaping the benefits of the many rewards that risk brings. As an example– exposing ourselves here today as one and strong association and our program today attests to that.’

In Risk, Nahu added:

‘R stands for Rope….to support and pull each other up; we give a helping hand to those who are drowning in their seemingly burdened life and to those who are dancing in their successes.

I for Integrity…we need integrity to live a life that doesn’t need justification. We must be a person of our word, our promises and our aspirations. WE celebrate others’ achievements and we celebrate humanity. We are whole, we are people of integrity and nothing worthwhile happens without integrity;

S for Sincerity…that makes life a whole lot easier, doesn’t it?  We are for sincerity and we act upon it.

K for Kindness …no need to say much on that one!!! A simple smile would make other people’s day; the world revolves on kindness and consideration and peace flourishes when kindness is allowed to exist. AWiB is about strong leadership and true leaders are kind. Strength shows its true nature through kindness.’

Using Women’s Talents and Skills More Fully

As a champion in support of gender equality and economic empowerment of females, Country Director of the World Bank, Mr. GuangZhe Chen highlighted the need for job creation in Ethiopia, especially through increasing productivity of the private sector and female entrepreneurship.

Mr. Chen also highlighted: ‘As in many other developing countries, women in Ethiopia tend to be marginalized in the business realm in similar ways as in education and the labor market. Unleashing this potential would add even more to growth. The unemployment rate among females is more than twice as large as that of males in urban areas, the wage gap between men and women with similar background for doing the same job is around 50 percent, the share of women without education is almost twice as high as that of men, and women face much larger barriers for doing business than men do.

Mr. Chen shared how he trusts the Association of Women in Business (AWiB) will play a key role in aiding to transform the private sector in Ethiopia. From its part, the World Bank Group will contribute to this development mainly through two instruments – the provision of knowledge and advice (making best international practice available) and funding support to the Government and private sector.

What would Etegue Taytu Have Said Today?

As Selome Tadesse (Emerge Consultancy and Training) took the floor, we smiled for her spontaneity. Selome invited us to explore the concept of Women’s Agency by introducing us to Sojourner Truth [Isabella Baumfree, an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist, born in slavery, whose self-given name from 1843 was Sojourner Truth]. A forward thinking, bold woman, Sojourner said: ‘“If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.”

Energy in the room mounted when we were all invited to read out Maya Angelou’s poem:

by Maya Angelou

Pretty women wonder where my secret lies
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

I walk into a room
Just as cool as you please,
And to a man,
The fellows stand or
Fall down on their knees.
Then they swarm around me,
A hive of honey bees.
I say,
It’s the fire in my eyes
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing of my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can’t touch
My inner mystery.
When I try to show them,
They say they still can’t see.
I say
It’s in the arch of my back,
The sun of my smile,
The ride of my breasts,
The grace of my style.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,

That’s me.

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
The palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

The energy went up in crescendo when Selome honoured Etege Taytu Betul’s life, her self-directive nature, her leadership capacity, and quick decision-making and action when preventing the invasion of Ethiopia by the Italians. ‘Had it not been for her husband’s, Minilik’s enabling nature, enabling Taytu,’ said Selome, ‘the history of Ethiopia would have been different.’ The atmosphere was electrifying when all the Miniliks in the room were honoured for being there!

‘Had Etegue Taytu been there with us today, what would she have said?’, asked Selome. Indeed, a question worth considering. One might venture to say: ‘She would have been pleased!’ Indeed, Selome’s challenge to all present was to live from one’s values and model the way. Her speech was received as a touching gift of beauty and realism, combining an intellectual and humane message that was embraced and talked about for the rest of the day.

Great Conversations Continued: The Parallel Sessions

Session 1: The Relationship between Employers and Employees –

A panel discussion

The panel discussion so many participants had waited for, had at last started. Skillfully moderated by AWiB Board Member, Yodit Beyene, this discussion gave space to experienced panelists to share their experienced from different angles. Wisdom was shared by Yusuf Reja (Info Mind/ Ethio Jobs), Salahadin Khalifa (Samatra Maritime and Transit Services/ MCC Import Enterprise), Aster Solomon (Information Systems Services /Enat Bank), Birhanu Taye (ex-Labour Bench of the Higher Court).

‘Relevant’ is how we can describe this session, as it touched on pertinent and burning issues many employers and employees are facing in our Ethiopian context:

–      What do we mean by work ethics and culture, and how do we define them within the Ethiopian context?

–      What are legal aspects of employment relationships?

–      Can good work ethics mean a positive attitude with all work projects?

–      Does it mean being prepared to go the extra mile to get things done?

–   How do we as employers and employees co-create a work environment where great teamwork and the capacity to encourage the best performance standards can flourish?

A great debate was sparked off by the distinction offered by Yusuf Reja, on Generation X (people born in the 1960’s and 1970’s) and Generation Y (after the 1980’s or 1990’s), their contributions and tactics for retention.

Through the dialogue, some participants (and panelists themselves!) appeared to experience a shift, in remembrance of the importance of training one’s staff, and in considering one’s staff’s needs, thinking, paradigm and attitude, to ensure staff retention.

The conversation was so rich that it overflowed into lunchtime. Panelists and participants alike invited AWiB to continue such conversations in the future, which AWiB is committed to holding the space (online and through Colloquia) for in the months to come.

Session 2: Getting to Yes – Negotiating your way to Success

Have you ever thought of working smarter? Everywhere we go we are told that working hard is the only way to reap benefits in all that we attempt to do. And that is true. But Mesfin Asfaw of Paradigm Consultancy also tells us to “not just work harder, but work smarter”. This statement was the proposition he put forward on May 17th, as participants sitting in on Mesfin’s session began the knowledge journey to “Getting to Yes – Negotiating the way to success without conflict or compromise”.

The commonly held belief about negotiation is that it’s a skill only a few possess. It’s true that some people naturally have the ability to negotiate successfully. Nevertheless, negotiation is also an art that can be learned and perfected over time. In discussing the crucial elements of negotiation, Mesfin gives us three to be wary of:

  • Time – timing as key and time as a commodity to negotiate and bargain
  • Information – research and preparation as key before negotiating to ensure you have full information and knowledge
  • Power – showing up as powerless puts a negotiator at a disadvantage so show up with the confidence that you are the right person

Having understood these three crucial elements of negotiation, Mesfin began to entertainingly describe to the roomful of eager ears on the four common negotiation approaches:

  • Position-Persuasion – situation in which one of the negotiating parties refuses to budge from initial position.
  • Concession-Compromise – situation in which both parties are negotiating on extremities in order to meet half-way.
  • Needs Theory – situation in which one of the negotiating parties assesses own needs and that of the other parties’ and arrive at a mutually beneficial middle ground in which both needs are met.
  • Win-Win – situation in which negotiating parties look at how benefits can be magnified for each other and looking at ways of making the pie bigger so benefits to both parties can be bigger when divided.

So we know the crucial elements of negotiation and we know the common approaches and probably can now clearly identify them in any context.

But what really makes a good negotiator? We wanted to know too. And Mesfin was ready to share: training, intelligence and good judgment, self-confidence, patience, creativity, mastery of the issue, people skill, charisma, articulate and tactful, empathy, clear objective with focus and consistency, logical and sequential thinking, flexible firmness, good networker, persistence and stamina, calculated risk taking (knowing limits), good communicator and listener, non-judgmental.

The beauty in all of these is that each one of us can develop them over time with commitment to the process and perseverance in learning time.

The characteristics of what makes a good negotiator are in place. We possess some of these characteristics and we’ll pick up the other ones over time with a commitment to learning, but what is the key to success in negotiation? What other issues should we recognize and pay attention to? Mesfin continues to reiterate how research and preparation are crucial to a successful outcome. He recounts an experience where he found himself positioned at a disadvantage over the other negotiating party because they were better prepared. So Mesfin advises us to:

  • 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 before the negotiation your fallback position or bottom-line
  • 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

A thorough application of his advice coupled with a dedication to further building upon our strengths and training to develop those characteristics that we lack can make us better negotiators. Did the room full of eighty something participants think so? There was definitely a buzz in the room with eager and curious minds silently processing away.

Session 3: Forgiveness – The Art of Letting Go

Who would have imagined that an event for people in business would have a session on Forgiveness? And yet, that is perhaps why many participants chose this session.

Perhaps it’s because they knew that forgiveness:

–      Clears  emotional blockages  of the past

–      Increases passion and enthusiasm for work and life

–      Enables one to recognize one’s strengths and potential

–      Enhances self-respect and self-esteem

–      Improves and transforms relationships with the self and others freed from the past

–      Creates a powerful attitude of gratitude and a profound understanding of life’s events

–      Gives lifelong emotional  and spiritual growth

And for Eskender Kassa, Founder and Managing Director of Glimpse Experiential Learning,‘The Art of Letting Go’ is a practice he has lived first hand, which has enabled him to move forward in life with freedom and creativity. In the same way he found life altering lessons in his own experience, transforming ‘destructive past life experiences’ to an empowering and healing one, he now leads others through the same process.

The participants in the room were asked to identify qualities they admire the most in others, some of the responses being: honesty, perseverance, tolerance, kindness, creativity, love, self-love, tirelessness, simple, forgiveness, responsibility, commitment, intelligence and having vision. They were then invited to look within and find those same qualities in themselves. Owning those same qualities, participants walked to someone they didn’t know and introduce themselves with those qualities.

A crescendo of energy was felt when participants read Marianne Williamson’s powerful quote:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

We ask ourselves,

Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?

Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

Your playing small does not serve the world.

There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine, as children do.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.

As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When Eskender shared his own story, all listened deeply. With his relative, he managed to shift from being an angry, resentful and sad child, to a forgiving adult who moved on.

Hearing about the disadvantages of not letting go of hurt gave room for thought, as these include complications in our working lives, personal lives, health, relationships and spirituality.

In the next steps of the process, all those present were invited to reflect on the people in their lives who had hurt them, and were challenged to realize that actually, those through those people:

–      We have learnt a lesson

–      We have realized how powerful we are

–      We are settling past accounts

Through a mirroring conversation, as if one was speaking with the person one felt hurt from, many emotions in the room were released. The audience was left in awe and tears of joy.

And so, again, what relevance does a session on Forgiveness for an audience in the business sector? And the answer may be, was NOT relevant about it?

Perhaps, to be agentic means just that, healing, moving on and reclaiming one’s life, when we are hurt or feel wronged, and acquiring that peace and understanding that comesfrom changing one’s grievance story.

Session 4: Rediscovering Our worth – Owning our Personal Power

Based on popular demand, the session on ‘Rediscovering Our Worth’ was brought back to a new set of engaging participants in a full room. After a lively few minutes of mingling with a purpose with background music, where the participants were the great protagonists, they were all invited to go through a process adapted from speaker and writer Deepak Chopra, based on research, and implemented throughout Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe.

The invitation was to reply to a series of simple questions, straight from the heart and intuition (not through processing through logic), to speak in the language one was most comfortable with, and to fully engage in the process.

All those present were invited to reflect on how they felt in a peak experience, their life purpose, contribution, the qualities they admire in their heroes (from history, religion or tradition), and what each one can be counted on for.

One by one, in a crescendo of emotion, voice and vibrancy, members around the room held the microphone.

The learning and a-ha moments shared included:

–      The feelings we share in a peak experience says something about our essence, unity, our UBUNTU (‘I am, because you are, because we are’ as the wise South African say!)

–      Our name has been given to us – we are more than our name. We are our essence and contribution to the world.

–      In our contribution, the invitation is to stretch and reach many– such an aspiration enables others to join forces with us.

–      The people out there, whom we truly admire, hold qualities that are in us, which we need to acknowledge and nurture.

–      The inner capacities we can be counted on are the space in which others can grow.

The profundity and power of what participants shared brought tears and laughter to many. This was matched by solemn moments and silence when everyone was recording what their life purpose was. Not one pin dropped when a member shared her mother’s story and resilience.

The conclusion was that in moments of challenges, complexity, when little seems to work, one requires to enact beyond one’s Personal or Professional Profile, but from a deeper part of the Self. Indeed, too often, we present ourselves with our professional and social status. The changes we want to see require us to source from a different and powerful place. It requires us to source from our “self” and unleash our potential and power.

And as enthusiastic participants headed off to the well-deserved lunch, the reflection included that as professionals, one can’t act out of one’s gaps. Pausing and reconnecting to one’s worth, qualities and purpose could make a whole lot of a difference for the results we wish to bring in at work, and in the world.

Networking; Interacting!

Lunchtime and early afternoon had all those present mingling in the Banquet Room, enjoying their meal, meeting new people, and interacting with the panelists, presenters and resource persons.

AWiB’s moral compass is ‘giving back to society’, and it and it proudly displayed the products of an association it had raised funds for, Good Shepherd Family Care Services. The women of the association proudly displayed and sold their table-cloths, cotton scarves, and others, smiling away for the feeling of accomplishment of changing one’s lives for the better.

The room had separate tables for giving AWiB feedback (that’s how the Association can grow!), and for joining AWiB clubs such as the ‘Book Club’ and ‘Meditation Club’.

A total of eighty people joined AWiB as full members, thus now having access to many benefits, some being:

–  Discounts when attending the monthly meetings

–  Access to members’ database, profile and contact information through the website

– An e-course with informationto set up one’s business and make it thrive

– Contributing to, and learning from the Discussion Forum

– Resource page on investment and business information

A stall to promote one’s business and products at the monthly meeting

– Shadow programmes where junior level and supervisory level professionals will be matched to shadow a senior level professional

…and many other opportunities to develop oneself personally and professionally!

What’s Behind Greatness?

What struck participants about the final session of the day, on ‘The Story behind Successful Women Entrepreneurs ‘, was the candor of the speakers, and the fact that their stories were being told.

Powerfully led by Contributor and Key-note Speaker Selome Tadesse, it hosted accomplished women such as Mesenbet Shenkute of Abay Bank, Samrawit Moges of Travel Ethiopia, Kadra Hassen of Nas Biscuits and Dire Dawa Textiles.

We were curious:

–      What gives them energy?

–      Do they take a break every year?

–      What does success mean to them?

–      What is the biggest risk they have taken?

–      How do they empower their staff?

The panelists, with poise, shared their stories from the inside out.

Kadra Hassan recounted how having a purpose and not giving up gives her energy. When working in a Saudi petroleum company for 11 years, Kadra challenged disempowering assumptions of what an Ethiopian woman could accomplish. Persistence enabled her not to give up.

Samrawit Moges gets her energy from her mother, who, alone raised her and the other siblings, and enabled her to finish University. Her mother taught her that she was equal to her brothers, and that working in environments where one learns (and not necessarily perceives a good salary) was what matters.

Samrawit also reflected on how there are many cultural elements that hold us back. We may be afraid to succeed, and we need to learn from each other and share experiences. ‘There are so many successes in Ethiopia to be recorded!’ she emphasized.

And, ‘Success is a journey!’, confidently shared Kadra, and it shows up in one’s personal and professional life. And Mesenbet added: ‘In business there are measurements. In life there are different criteria for being successful. It’s possible to be successful in both.’

Samrawit, at the same time pointed out that we stereotype success, and we wish to emulate others, without understanding what we love. ‘If you believe you are successful, then you are,’ was her message.

And what enables us to create a great workplace? Engaged audience members interjected that staff members may need to be looked after as if they are family. Kadra chimed by suggesting that, there can be schemes to support employees’ children who have performed well in school. As per her experience in the organizations she’s leading, handling challenges through dialogue with employees is rewarding.

Hard questions were asked, such as:

–      ‘What do we do every day to make sure that our employees don’t leave?

–      ‘Do we reward good workers? Do we have a system that encourages efficient work through promotion?’

When it comes to looking after the self, these powerful ladies had different strategies. For Mesenbet, doing something different, like watching a video, reading, and playing tennis and other physical activities is a way of taking a break. Kadra enjoys giving time to her children and doing exercise with them. On the other hand, Samrawit does take holidays!

No need to say that the room was full till the end of the day. The authenticity of the panelists’ stories, tenderness of their sharing their past and future, challenges and successes, touched members of the audience, who resonated with these personalities’ humanity, their one voice and message: ‘Find your Own Voice, and enable others to do so.’

So Much More to Offer!

The day ended on a high note, with a short guided meditation led by AWiB’s very own member Megbar Ayalew of Art of Living Ethiopia.

And as per the feedback received, a successful end to the day! What made it so? Being Relevant is what we have heard.

Participants joined as members, for their selves, employees and daughters. A gentleman decisively filled out the form for his wife, saying: ‘I haven’t told her, but I really want her to be part of AWiB!’’ Another lady said: ‘Why, why on earth did I miss all your programmes so far? I’ll be part of them from now on.’

Indeed, it is through growing membership that future activities will be sustained.

AWiB is committed to encourage management level professionals and beyond, to develop confidence in leading their personal and professional lives. AWiB is also committed to strengthen the pool of great women leaders. That happens through continuous learning and sharing of experiences, and supporting/ sponsoring younger members to expand their minds and change their worlds.

Thank you for your continued support!

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