Culture of collaboration. What does it look like?

“Those who have learned to collaborate and improvise have most effectively prevailed” – Charles Darwin

Women are not homogenous ” remarked Billene Seyoum, AWiB president and our moderator for the evening. The challenges faced and needs felt differ from person to person. The more associations we have, the more advantageous it is for women. AWiB and AWEP (African Women Entrepreneurship Program) are two well-established associations in Ethiopia who share a mandate for advancing the professional development of their members. There are areas of commonality between the two, and each association can effectively meet its objectives through collaboration as per their comparative advantage and ensure success and sustainability in their missions.

“Today is a historical day,” explained Samrawit Moges, President of AWEP Ethiopian Chapter. Samrawit explained that many associations in Ethiopia do not synergize efforts and work together to reach greater heights. And this undertaking by AWiB and AWEP is exceptionally significant because it challenges many of the stereotypes and perceptions we have in our society that belittles collaboration.

AWEP established in 2006 is an outreach, education and engagement initiative that targets African women entrepreneurs. With over 70 members, AWEP provides training and knowledge enhancement, networking platform, leadership development and export market linkages. AWEP promotes business growth and increases trade both regionally and to U.S markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA). Being part of AWEP is more than simply being part of an exclusive women’s business network; it is also about building professional growth and empowering African women to become voices of change in their communities.

What sets AWiB apart of AWEP?

AWiBs primary key stake holders are women engaged in all professional fields who aspire to build their leadership potential whereas AWEP primarily targets legally registered companies and women engaged in the export sector. Both associations complement one another. So with collaboration and joining of efforts, I am confident that we will better serve the needs of our members and ensure their professional development noted Samrawit.

This was an import Segway in introducing our speaker for the evening, Henock Assefa of Precise Consult International (PCI)- a leading business advisory firm based in Addis Ababa and New York City. PCI has two focus areas, private sector development and secondly strategy, finance and investment.

Henock facilitated a highly interactive and participatory session using countless examples ranging from export, construction and farming to explain what collaboration is; why we do it, and how we can do it.

In business collaboration is a must, in fact collaboration is a business in and of itself” explained Henock. Collaboration occurs when more than one-person works towards the same goal, to create value to their business. With the rise of internet and social media, humans can now collaborate at unprecedented rates.

Businesses’ that commonly experience shortage of financial resources, human capital, technical expertise or natural resources should collaborate to create value and addresses their gaps. Henock shared an example of travel agencies. Travel agents have opened markets within themselves and have developed intra markets to meet the needs of all their customers. Small companies equally gain as large enterprises by collaborating. Collaboration is about team work, not only with your staff, but with customers and suppliers. By joining efforts, you are connecting the two most important assets to get the job done; man power and information.  Business Collaboration is not represented through an organizations chart; it is the interactions made both within, outside of and across the organization. Therefore it is imperative that collaborative workspace environments are created to ensure effective communication and flexibility. At PCI, there are no walls separating colleagues explained Henock. By putting up walls between team mates, you are creating a barrier and obstructing from collaboration and information sharing.

Modality for collaboration

To effectively collaboration you need to:-

  1. Network
  2. Develop leadership skills
  3. Do your research
  4. Share information
  5. Be adaptive and reformative
  6. Foster governance
  7. Be persistent

Obstructions from collaboration

  1. Short term vision
  2. Selfishness
  3. Not setting goals
  4. Difference in values between members
  5. Incompetent people in leadership roles and lastly; something’s don’t even need collaboration. There are some things you can do on your own

There is a growing perception that collaboration represents a commercial risk. Henock informed participants that collaboration is highly contextual. There is a time and place for everything. You need to choose carefully who to collaborate with and ensure that each party has the same objectives explained Henock. Collaboration relies on openness and knowledge sharing but also on some level of focus and accountability on the part of the organization.

This highly informative evening came to an end with closing remarks delivered by Seble Hailu, AWiB president Elect. Seble shared the famous African proverb, “if you want to run fast, run alone; if you want to run far, run together.”

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