AWiB Listens: The Power of Networking Recap

AWiB’s monthly event took place on January 5, 2023, at the Hilton Hotel, Harar Grill. It was a unique event, “AWiB Listens” in a World Café style, with topics revolving around transformative leadership, networking, and the role of AWiB.

World Café is an innovative methodology that enhances the capacity for collaborative thinking about critical issues by linking small-group and large-group conversations. In the process, knowledge grows, a sense of the whole becomes real, and new possibilities become visible. There were 10 tables and 10 hosts for each table; other than the hosts, the rest of the attendees at each table were to discuss a topic on one table for 30 mins, then find another table.

Around 5:30 PM, AWiBers and other attendees started arriving. After they were received with a warm welcome, they walked in to enjoy their meal while networking & forming a dynamic group with captivating conversations. The ambiance went more comforting as conversations went deeper & their eyes lit up along with the fire on the walls.

Past 6:30 PM, it was time to go inside to start the program. The facilitators, Desset Abebe, the president of AWiB, and Shani Senbetta, a board member, started with a welcoming and open spirit. They invited a representative from the sponsor of the event, LonAdd HR Consultancy, to introduce the organization. The representative was then followed by the founder and creative director of Liluyan Jewelry, who was also there with a table full of beautiful earrings for sale.

The event was an enlightening experience as it was clear to say that most of the ideas raised have patterns and similarities. The environment was set to create an open space for sharing ideas, and each attendee was invited to do so. There were 3 questions to guide the conversations. Each group dispersed and reformed a new one every 30 minutes.

Question 1. Who is a transformative leader? What are the enabling environments that foster transformative leadership?

A transformative leader is a leader who:

  • is Confident, Open minded, Supportive, Creative thinker, Reader, Motivated, Self-aware, Emotionally Intelligent, inspired and inspiring, exemplary, educated (Formal, Informal & Non-formal), experienced (Positive & Negative), approachable, disciplined, humble, decisive & is able to co-exist with different cultures & opinions.
  • Has good communication skills, an open relationship with followers but with clear boundaries, a human element & empathy in his leadership style
  • Has a bigger vision, communicates her vision well, shows the path & leads her followers to the vision
  • Can delegate, empower others, think outside the box and sometimes choose unconventional ways to solve problems, bring positive transformation
  • Takes calculated risk, focuses on growth & capacity building, thinks about the company’s impact on the community, always asks for clarity and avoids assumptions, understands the nature of teams, is a team player & acknowledges team effort, and believes in creating other leaders,
  • Tackles problems with solutions and a “moving forward” attitude

The enabling environments that foster transformative leadership mentioned by the attendees were:

  • As leadership itself starts from working on oneself and having the attitude of continuous learning, it was mentioned that a transformative leader is conscious and intentional when it comes to the crowd she keeps around.
  • It was also agreed up on that family, culture, school, work, all the way up to government policies have a part to play when it comes to bringing out transformative leaders
  • One unique perspective raised was that challenging environments may have a huge impact on a leader, and the pressure turns the leader into being a transformative leader.

Question 2. The power of networking in facilitating the path to leadership. Are we doing enough of it? If not, why not? What are the challenges, especially for women?

Everyone in the room agreed on was that networking is powerful, but we do not do enough of it, especially women. Attendees mentioned some challenges:

  • Men get together after work while women run back home to more responsibilities. This is set up by the culture that also has a double standard. Some of the attendees called it a systemic exclusion
  • Are there any networking platforms specifically designed for women leaders on the top level?
  • It is already draining for women to prove themselves on a daily basis because the community’s perception is misguided, so they feel networking would be extra work for them
  • Networking is an opportunity to learn, gather information, and sell ourselves. The main obstacle in our society is that talking about one’s own skills and potential, especially as a woman, is considered boastful, while being shy is appreciated.
  • A majority of big businesses are owned by men, and when a woman is seen with the men, the community relates it to have some sexual intent to it
  • When women get together, they spend all their time discussing other issues and never discuss businesses which leaves many doors of opportunities closed
  • Lack of confidence, sales, and communication skills
  • It is considered a luxury and many women are burdened with the thought, “What would people say”
  • Having a scarcity mindset
  • There isn’t enough awareness of the importance & value of networking

In one of the groups, the challenges being discussed naturally transformed into opportunities, and some solutions were suggested. Those were:

  • Do it any time, instead of after work
  • Do it on purpose, finding people who aid in the development of your carrier or clear the path to your vision
  • Always have an “I can do it” attitude
  • Create the network you want; our mothers did it through the neighborhood networks like Edir, Maheber and Ikub; now it’s time for us to create our own professional network
  • Network with the men with the purpose of learning how they do things and having clear boundaries
  • Let us support our sisters who are doing well and whose networks are expanding
  • Practice conscious time management through being aware of what we are spending our time on and with whom
  • Think less of what people think of us and always letting them know who we are from our own voice, clearing away any misconceptions about us
  • Keep our focus on what we can do and how we can influence others to be better
  • While speaking up and understanding our rights is good, as leaders, we should design work environments to cater to a woman’s natural needs. Equity and representation are something that should be worked on intentionally if we want to make a lasting change

Question 3. What is AWiB’s role in bringing out transformative leaders and connecting them?

As the first networking platform for women in Ethiopia, the gratitude in the women’s eyes was visible as they talked about AWiB. Some of them said that seeing other women overcoming the challenges that they were trying to overcome and learning from role models about how they overcame all their challenges was one of the best things that AWiB offered them. It was clear that AWiB chose to work on women so that they would have the confidence to speak for themselves and claim their rightful place in society, but some of the attendees suggested that AWiB can do more when it comes to the points below:

  • Create industry-specific networking groups
  • Awareness creation campaigns targeting HR personnel
  • Scientific research on the brain wiring of men and women – How do we view risk, our values, fear, and perception of different situations?
  • Networking sessions after work
  • Organize more informative sessions
  • Give members assignments they can work on daily
  • Frequent Senior to Junior business seminars
  • More projects like Meri to increase youth engagement
  • Coaching and mentoring programs for adults
  • Expanding the reach to the regions
  • Exhibition that includes all members and their businesses

As we were wrapping up, it lit up our hearts and faces to hear one of the attendees say, “This is a Sisterhood now!”.  With love in our hearts and fire in our eyes, some walked to the exit while others stayed to buy earrings and Women of Excellence (WOE).

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