Utilitarian Leadership – Recap

Utilitarianism! This is one of the most powerful and persuasive approaches to normative ethics in the history of philosophy. Coming into the session we all had more questions than answers about this concept. The networking platform was a great way to ease us through today’s topic; everyone got the chance to share their perspective on it.

Egziharya, AWiB membership relations manager (MRM), opened the program of the day. She gave a brief introduction of AWiB and announced May weekend activities as well as the much-anticipated AWIB May Forum. Then she proceeded to thank our partner First Consult, and our event sponsors for the day: Zemen Bank and Adore Addis. She then proceeded to introduce Abigeya Getachew, our moderator for the day, and invited her to the stage.

Abigeya graced the stage with a smile and greeted everyone. She introduced the speakers of the day who were Emahoy Fikirte and Dr. Rahel Baffie. “Emahoy Fikirte is the head of Sebeta Getesemani Bete Danagil Tebabat Nunnery which was established in 1953 by the visionary Queen Empress Mennen, who had an ardent love and commitment to her religion. Emahoy Fikirte joined Sebeta Getesemani in 1972. She is a reformist and a revolutionary that has been one of the forces to bring about attitudinal change and complete transformation in the way nuns think of themselves and how orphans should become model citizens.”

Dr. Rahel Baffie, the Chairwoman of the Ethiopian Political Parties Joint Council, has spent much of her life forging a career in politics. Since joining the Ethiopian Social Democratic Party in 1992, she has taken up the successive roles of Secretary, Vice-Chair, and Head of Finance and Admin within the party. Dr. Rahel’s drive to enter politics is fueled by the inequalities she saw around her in her childhood. Aside from her political career, Dr. Rahel has set up a local NGO called “Safe Mother and Childhood” in her community. She believes that making the political system more effective and inclusive is an important first step toward opening up such opportunities for others.

The third speaker for the day, Ato Mesfin Tasew, the CEO of Ethiopian Airlines unfortunately was unable to make it due to unexpected emergencies and has apologized for not being able to make it. Abigeya mentioned that AWiB had invited Ato Mesfin to gain the perspective of the corporate world with regards to Utilitarian leadership and since that wasn’t possible, she mentioned that she would require the participation of the audience, specifically those involved in the corporate world to give their two cents with regards to this specific topic.

The first question was directed to Emahoy, The concept of utilitarian leadership states that doing something for the benefit and well-being of the majority is the right thing to do and whatever will cause harm for the majority of people is wrong; whatever we do we have to do it for the benefit of the masses. Emahoy, do you see yourself practicing utilitarian leadership in your daily life? If so, how?” I don’t believe that I am in a position to say that about myself. In my perspective, any place that is providing social services, either in a spiritual or secular setting, has to be practicing this concept. If not, their work will not be successful. Anyone who starts working on anything starts with the mindset of succeeding in what they are doing. And for that to happen they need to be determined and walk in the will of God. If a person is not striving to practice such an extraordinary and valuable way of leadership, they are not going on a good path.” Emahoy then proceeded to explain how she tries to practice utilitarianism in her day-to-day life; balancing social and spiritual life. And to execute this to the full extent, the community as a whole has to be a part of it, not just one or two people. However, in that specific community, not everyone is going to have the same perspective, thoughts, and knowledge. Regardless of those things, if they have the same aim and target in their actions, then he or she will strive to be utilitarian in their community. As a nun, she says, they live their motto of ‘instead of just live for oneself, to live for others; instead of just benefiting oneself, benefiting others as well.’ If a person’s mind is not renewed, they won’t even be able to think for themselves. Therefore, “I believe that a person needs to strive to integrate their spiritual and social life together so that they can live a fulfilled life”. She added the nuns are mothers to the orphans, and home to the homeless.

Dr. Rahel: “Do you believe that utilitarianism and politics are things that go hand in hand in building democracy?”

Before Dr. Rahel proceeds with her response, she addressed her admiration for Emahoy Fikirete and the work that she has done in the nunnery – fighting for women in building a sanctuary. She asserts that a utilitarian way of thinking is not common in our country, especially in the political sector. Since political parties and leaders have become one and the same thing in our country’s reality, it is very hard to find a leader who is selfless. This is due to the fact that politics in these countries is typically employed to advance their own self-interest. It’s uncommon to find a leader that prioritizes the needs of others over their own. The country’s ruling party also opposes the formation of new parties according to Dr. Rahel. Assessing the situation in our country, she believes that fear is prevalent and that this has led people to accept the difficult conditions in which they find themselves.

Abigeya continued, “Emahoy, you mentioned that you took part in the nunnery’s administration process on your own at first, but now you’re beginning to step back and allow others to participate. What are you doing now to encourage people to get involved in the administrative process?” Emahoy Fikirte thought about this question for a second and responded, “Well, it was actually very difficult and full of challenges. Even though the Sinodos had agreed upon our terms, we had faced many challenges. What surprised me most from those negotiations for power days was the concern the Sinodos had that the women would ask for more power once they agreed to open up the administration according to the nuns’ request and push. Emahoy’s response: “You actually have all the other powers, just give us the administrative work so that we can work on it on a broader aspect of our community.” She continued, “ The main reason as to why we wanted to take over the administration was not because we wanted the power, but because we didn’t want to be presumed weak and be told what to do and how to do it, we wanted to get our voices heard.” Emahoy emphasizes that patience is crucial for getting what we want. They got all they wanted and more…because she fought relentlessly for the good of the majority…the utilitarian way. Abigeya gave her follow-up question, which was; “How do you manage and run the nunnery? Are you doing it alone or do you have help? and what should others learn from it?” She responded “The first year was actually difficult because I had to do it alone. My fight has always been to fight self-doubt and self-sabotage with in the nuns. Gradually, however, all changed. I encouraged the nuns by supplying them with the required information and also afforded educational opportunities such as managerial training.

Dr. Rahel, you mentioned earlier that it’s rare to find a leader in developing countries that practices utilitarian leadership. Should we thus abandon the concept of utilitarianism until we have achieved economic development? Dr. Rahel explained, that something must first be thought of in order to be executed effectively. As a result, mental liberty is more vital than physical liberty. Nelson Mandela is an example of someone who was psychologically free even when imprisoned. He was more concerned with advancing the benefit of the majority than with exacting retribution. I believe that among Ethiopia’s millions of people, we might find a leader who is psychologically reformed and liberated. On the other side, if someone who is physically free but not intellectually free assumes control, the country would suffer. Looking back, we lack the mental flexibility required to set aside the urge for vengeance and promote peace. As a result, mental change is required in order for solutions that will appeal to the majority to be adopted.”

The last question went to Emahoy; “Emahoy Fikirte, how can we live a life that does not cause harm to others?” Emahoy eloquently put it as; “Individuals must learn how to deny themselves and live for others. We need to have a transformed mindset for us to deny ourselves and live a selfless life. I believe that we must all work hard and that the proceeds should be utilized to help those who are hungry, unwell or lack access to education.” “What projects have you completed?” asked Abigeya. “In Sebeta, we have worked with nearly 3,000 youngsters. These youngsters were able to obtain an education that enabled them to become self-sufficient. In addition, 18 years ago in Dire Dawa, we established an orphanage for 125 children.” She showed her pride in her accomplishments, even mentioning that one of the girls graduated from Addis Ababa University with a gold medal.

By the end of the discussion, the platform was open to questions. Some of the questions raised for Emahoy Fikirte were; “You mentioned the various external problems you have faced, but how can we overcome internal challenges?”, “What inspired you to take on administrative responsibilities?”, “How can we shift our mindset to suggest that what we have is sufficient and help others?”. And for Dr. Rahel, a question was raised on how one can attain mental reform?

Emahoy Fikirte said that coping with internal issues is more challenging than dealing with external challenges. It can take us down the wrong path and have a negative impact on our professional lives. It is critical to acquire counseling services, guidance from others, and education in order to modify the way we think. If they fail, she claims that the 10 commandments can be applied. Her drive sprang from a desire to be self-sufficient. She recounted a period when nuns were not permitted to drive cars, forcing them to rely on men to get about. They were able to learn to drive and care for themselves after some pushback from the authorities. It is our obligation to learn to say “enough” with what we have. We must learn to be less selfish. It might also be good to consider the issues that others are dealing with.

Dr. Rahel went on to say that when she arrived at the political party, it was full of elderly males. There were also many who were unwilling to heed her proposals. Even though it was challenging, she tolerated it and was determined to continue since she felt she could help other women. She also highlighted Emmett Till, a black teenager in the USA who was brutally killed and mutilated in 1955. Taking the matter to court and finding someone ready to testify was challenging. Despite the fact that the matter might be heard in court, he did not receive the justice he deserved until 2004. However, the community battled hard because they saw that what happened to him should not be considered normal. She likened his narrative to what is currently occurring in our country. Unlike in Emmett’s case, instances in our nation are rarely discussed, even though we do not suffer the same threats if we speak up. We have come to accept them as usual. As a result, mental reform stems from the realization that we must not tolerate violence as the norm and keep silent.

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