Entrepreneurial Thinking: Featuring YWCA Recap

The AWIB’s monthly event on March 9th has finally arrived. At 5:30 PM, with the energy of International Women’s Day still in the air, Hilton’s meeting hall was gradually filling with powerful women. Despite the inclement weather the true entrepreneurial minds turned up. Some of the evening sponsors, those who had tables at the entrance: Ge’ez Watches, Enat Bank and YWCA, featured as this monthly program, as well as the AWIB team, greeted the guests. The spirited discussions in the small groups attest to the effectiveness of the networking-related topic from last month. Finally, people started to move to the hall where the event began at 6:30 PM. The full house says something about the panel’s lineup and the engaging subject.

The MC extended everyone in the room a hearty welcome. She gave us a brief chance to think back on the pleasant events of the previous week that followed with a hug for oneself as a sign of self-love. Wudassie Diagnostic Center and First Consult were recognized as AWIB partners. Enat Bank, Ge’ez Watches, Elegel Hotel, Urjii Catering Services, and Mulu-G Health Services were presented as tonight’s sponsors and were asked to introduce their services and products to the audience. We learned that Enat Bank promotes access to finance for women by offering different incentives. Ge’ez watches have gorgeous designs with Ge’ez numbers on the watches, making them unique. They gave AWIB members a 10% discount in honor of March women’s month. Elgel Hotel is an upcoming hotel with a variety of quality services.

Samrawit Meressa, Siham Ayele, Menna Selamu, Haregewoin Amsale, and Bethelem Negash, members of AWIB’s 2023 board, were introduced. The website designer Delilah Desalegn then gave a brief overview of the updated AWIB website, which has been revamped to make it more user-friendly and informative.

The moderator for the evening, Semhal Geush, CEO of Kabana Design and proud member of AWIB, enthusiastically introduced the speakers to discuss the subject matter: Entrepreneurial Thinking and how this innovative way of doing business can transform an organization. Yoadan Tilahun,  CEO of Flawless Events,  Emebet Regassa, the Program Manager for Gender Equality, Democracy, and Human Rights at the Swedish Embassy, and Mariamawit Gezahegn, a gender specialist and project coordinator at YWCA.

The first question, “What’s entrepreneurial thinking?” was posed. Yoadan’s contagious energy brightened the room. She started off by illuminating the difference between entrepreneurship and enterprising. She regards passion as a foundation for any entrepreneurship. But, regardless of our area of interest, enterprising is all about the specifics of how a firm is handled, such as finance, human resources, and so forth. For the second question on how we can develop entrepreneurial thinking as a nation, Yoadan stated that resources in Ethiopia are not accessible. This forces entrepreneurs to be more resourceful, solution-oriented, agile, and flexible than the rest of the world. She sees the nation as a reflection of individuals, which explains why we are problem solvers. “We’re magicians,” Yoadan claimed while explaining the difficult business environment entrepreneurs thrive in.  Semhal reflected on Yoadan’s comments by noting that our country makes it very hard to do business; as a result, we become successful in other countries, at least for those who have tried setting up their businesses internationally. She went on to sarcastically suggest considering venturing in other countries.

As AWIB presented the YWCA as a model for how a successful non-profit conducts innovatively, Semhal asked Emebet and Mariamawit to share the organization’s story on how to employ entrepreneurial thinking and innovative thinking techniques. Emebet began by wishing everyone a Happy International Women’s Day and thanking AWIB for the opportunity to engage with the community. She stated that the YWCA is a women’s rights advocate that works to enhance the lives of women in Africa and around the world.  It provides vocational training for marginalized women to equip them with the skills necessary to be self-sufficient. Emebet outlined the advantages of becoming a member of YWCA, which is a global network that helps businesses thrive and contribute to a better cause. It offers members the opportunity to network with other beneficiaries and exchange business ideas.

Mariamawit was asked about the YWCA’s emphasis on young leadership and women’s empowerment. The YWCA thinks women do not require rescue but rather facilitation for solution orientations. She described how they encourage women’s empowerment by enabling them to act in their own best interests rather than advocating for them. The YWCA aims to prepare young people to engage with policymakers and decision-makers. They also seek to make Wordea youth facilities more welcoming to women by creating safe spaces. Mariamawit emphasized training and leadership, as well as business training through the business development agency in order to build female advocates and entrepreneurs.

Semhal encouraged the speakers to tell their success stories within their firm as a result of innovative thinking and problem-solving. Yoadan added that someone could be an employee and have an entrepreneurial mindset at the same time. Yoadan defines success as seeing her colleagues improve professionally and leave flawless events, even though it wouldn’t make business sense for any organization to develop staff members and encourage them to leave. Yoadan believes in developing others to be their own bosses. She offered the example of Semhal, whom she mentored while working at Flawless and who went on to become a successful entrepreneur with her own factory. Yoadan believes this is a success story. Emebet described her achievement as seeing trained people, particularly those from rural areas, in positions of leadership and decision-making capacities. She described herself as a rural girl with no education, but ambition and hard work got her where she is today. She sees herself as one of the success stories, and the audience applauded her.

Mariamawit mentioned as an example a woman who received business development training and launched a phone clinic in a male-dominated industry. It was difficult for her to find customers since people refused to come because she was a woman. She began by offering free services to the first few customers, who drew more consumers after they saw her abilities. Mariamawit attests to the issue of women being successful very difficult even when they are skilled. Just women overcoming insurmountable hurdles and staying true to their dreams by innovatively circumventing the challenges that seem an everyday occurrence is success enough.

Finally, the floor opened for questions and answers. The first question came from a male audience who wondered why men capitalize on their connections even when dining, whereas women’s social gatherings offer fewer opportunities. He also inquired whether it is necessary to become an entrepreneur. His second question concerned how specific entrepreneurs think. And how the presenters adjust their focus to become entrepreneurs and get out of the employee mindset.

Yoadan responded to both questions by pointing out that not everyone needs to start their own business because companies also need to employ people. She added that romanticizing the idea of business ownership obscures the difficulties and stress it entails. Owning a business should not be an ultimate goal without a why. She described how while doing what she liked, which was organizing events, she somehow ended up being an entrepreneur. Working for someone else is an honorable and dignified endeavor, according to Yoadan. She also asserted that women do talk about business and gave an example of her circle, where entrepreneurs meet once a month to discuss their business, the challenges and the lessons learned. However, she added that women tend to have social conversations instead of business.

Mariamawit added to Yoadan’s point about the need to identify the business’s purpose, which was included in YWCA’s training. She discussed how traditional biases are to blame for women’s failure to capitalize on social connections.

Emebet emphasized the significance of working for someone else in order to succeed as a business owner. She described her journey to the Sweden Embassy while describing how she came to understand her goal – to have an impact on the gender equality policy. Although she received outstanding honors and was expected to work as a lecturer after graduation, she realized her goal was to fight gender inequality in the community. She then followed the studies required to help her achieve her objectives. She addressed the issue of how domestic responsibilities prevent women from discussing business. Yoadan argued that while it does have a role, it is not the sole cause. Women avoid talking about money and business, which may have cultural implications even when they have the luxury of time. In response to follow-up queries about how to develop as an entrepreneur, training offered by institutions such as AWIB and YWCA were recommended. Yoadan also gave investors from the diaspora advice on how to correctly set their expectations and fully comprehend the difficulties of doing business in Ethiopia.

The discussion came to a close with concluding remarks from Emebet and Mariamawit encouraging women in business to examine their policies as most are not women-friendly. They also urged the audience to think creatively and use the less recognized, less visible areas as an entrepreneurial resource. As tradition has it, the panelists received gifts from AWIB, and guests were directed to taste snacks provided by Urjii Catering.

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