Jegnit – Bold Women: We envision, we plan and we execute!

Recap March 5, 2020

Every March, AWiB collaborates with women’s organizations in Ethiopia by affording HER platform to give their message visibility and voice.  This month AWiB presented Jegnit (Hero/Heroine) and Marakie Tesfaye, one of the founders.  Moderating the event, Marakie invited three bold women as panelists to the floor:  Bethelhem Dessie, founder and CEO of iCog—Anyone Can Code (ACC); Selamawit Zeray, head coach for the Ethiopian Women’s National Football team; Feteh Asrat, CEO of Temsalet Kitchen.

Jegnit was established about two years ago.  Marakie had a formula—clarity, goal and action—that led her to pursue her master’s degree and move back to Ethiopia.  Her work in Ethiopia focused on women.  But she was always facing many challenges when working in NGOs.  That’s when she decided to start her own business.  She established a company called Amengila then started a social impact called Jegnit Movement.  Jegnit partnered with Children and Women’s affair and started working on the grass root.  Jegnit’s main goal is for every woman to think of herself as a Jegnit and be bold.

Through the movement, Jegnit found the critical need for young women to continue school was sanitary pads.  While working on the pads project, they found there was a lack of toilets in the schools, naturally leading them to focus on improving the situation.   Shortage of water and the inconvenience for people with disabilities also contribute to the challenges.

Selam was born in Addis Ababa and grew up playing football with boys.  She had faced some challenges starting from her family but her father always supported her.  Every time her father came home from work, she was allowed to go out and play.  With her father’s blessings, she was free to play and played basketball until 21.

When she got a request to coach a men’s football team Selam was reluctant at first, but with friends’ encouragement went for it.  The men she coached were much older, but because it was her passion she always enjoyed coaching them.  She faced many challenges coaching but says it helped her grow.

When a vacancy appeared to coach St. George (Kidus Giorgis) team four years later, Selam was sure—being a woman—she wasn’t going to get the job but wanted to try, applied and was hired.  What was more impressive is she was the only female coach.  Four of the players that Selam coached are now vital parts of the team in St. George’s club and the other two are playing for the National’s Football Team.  One team member, Natnael Zeleke, is now Captain of the team.

Selam also served as coach of a women’s team that was established under St. George.  She tried a few times for other coaching positions that included the Ethiopian National Women’s Football Team but was turned away because of her lack of education and her age.  Selam then decided to go to Kotebe College and study Sports Science.

Selam is thankful for all the rejections as they helped her shore up her coaching skills and be competitive so much so she was hired as an assistant coach for the women’s national team, giving her an opportunity to travel and experience watching international football games.  Selam summarized by saying all the faced challenges helped her develop her skills and herself.

Bethelhem, a successful entrepreneur and high tech developer, was born and raised in Harar.  She works on teaching small kids coding, organizes coding competitions and invests on start-up businesses. She got the opportunity to learn coding at a young age, so she wanted to share the knowledge with others.  Betty says even though it took long to reach where she is today, what helped her succeed was working on her passion and building on her experiences.

When establishing her business, she knew she was going to face obstacles finding children to teach, convincing their parents, and finance.  Her first break came when she partnered with Hood Women (KuduVentures), which mainly works on investing in women’s start-up businesses, allowing more women role models that could tell success stories.

The third speaker, Feteh, CEO of Temsalet Kitchen talked about coming together for a common cause.  Her background is Gender studies and Project Management.  However, Feteh found her calling in empowering women economically through Temsalet.  With no business background, she joined her partner, Samrawit, who had already started the project.  Temsalet’s mission is to employ as many women as possible.

The partners’ strength came when working together, taking bold steps.  They are making impact on many.  Feteh suggests people choose a business partner with a different personality than theirs.  She strongly expressed we should break the wrong stereotype that women don’t support other women.  If we recognize who we are, accept it, and do the same for our partner, there’s nothing that can stop us!  That’s how we adjust each other’s crown.  Feteh is the motor and Samrawit is the fuel.

Temsalet Kitchen is exemplary in proving family and other responsibilities should not deter us from our passion.  Because the partners are also mothers, the employees benefit from their empathy.  One’s work becomes much easier if your superior is accommodative.  So when giving this privilege to women, it’s also investing on the future.  That’s what Feteh and Samrawit believe and promote.  It becomes a win-win because they earn their employees’ loyalty.

Q & A

Were there situations where Selam overcame difficult challenges and who inspired her?

Selam said her big achievement is being a coach in a male-dominated field and helping the national team be coached by a woman.  As a result of her coaching she developed numerous successful female players such as Loza.  Selam always tells players they should have a goal in life.

Under her leadership, the Ethiopian National Football Team brought a trophy from Rwanda.  All the experiences, challenges, and failures made her strong, she said.  Her husband is her biggest supporter, she added.  I focus on opportunity.

What advice does Bethlehem give to women on applying for funds as start-up businesses?

Hood Ventures Capital takes a big risk and invests on women, Betty said.  It has raised about 3 million dollars, which a third of the money goes to women entrepreneurs.  Recently, during classes for girls in coding robotics, she began to understand there is actually inequality between men and women.  Starting from childhood, parents led girls to traditional professions like doctors, lawyers or Social Science fields.  Entrepreneurship is an unfamiliar territory that parents were not ready to support.

We encourage different ideas when applying for the grant.  Unfortunately, most women come with very similar business ideas, which is a reflection of our society’s lack of exposure. Lack of self-confidence that could be helped with having role models is a major issue.

A business that can be an example here is RIDE.  It’s run by a woman.  We have the opportunity; what we need is just taking it.  And it starts by empowering our kids, sisters and brothers.

Who is your Jegnit?

Selam started from her “Jegna” (hero), Abraham Mebratu, current coach of the Ethiopian National Football Team as it is difficult for her to have a heroine in the kind of work she does.

Would she consider herself as a “Jegnit?”  She agreed.

Marakie considers herself a Jegnit because she overcomes the challenges she faces everyday with great confidence.  Her Jegnits are Tsedenia Gebre Markos (her partner) and Etege Taitu.

What is the impact of your movement on men?  How do you involve men in your work?’

If you weren’t you what would the world lose and if it wasn’t for you what would the Ethiopian National Football Team, Temsalet or Jegnit lose?

Temsalet wouldn’t have been a success if it weren’t for her, Feteh said.  In addition to being a well-organized woman in everything she does, Feteh said she has trust and faith in her employees and is willing to mentor them. Temsalet recently started providing service for 1,000 people for breakfast and lunch as well as employing 50 new women, she said.

Marakie said every guy should support the movement and Jegnit has a plan to work with men.   Jegnit’s next move is Clean Cooking that avoids smoke pollution.  Jegnit would continue as Jegnit no matter who is involved because it has a strong foundation.

Why do we have to import sanitary pad from outside?  Can’t we make our culture modern and work on it ourselves?  Can’t we be creative about it?  Instead of providing pads for them we can be creative and teach them another mechanism.  Why don’t we have a modification on that?

Marakie replied she don’t have an answer to that.  She just started working on pads thinking her project can help girls but stresses she is not an expert on that.

As March 8 celebrates women’s achievement, AWiB brought Jegnit to shed light on the project and highlight bold women of our communities.  Our three speakers and Marakie as a moderator imparted their wisdom that a woman has all the right, the stamina, the energy to achieve what she puts her mind on.  This might sound cliché, but these four bold women showed us in action how it is done and how to be impactful.

Share on your socials!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *