Andinet Feleke – The Pragmatic Leader

Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Andinet had a normal childhood.   Her father worked in UNECA and her mom was a stay home mother. Having to watch her mom being financially dependent, Andinet knew she never wanted to settle until she was financially secured. She has always been independent at a very early age.

Andinet attended Haromaya University and earned a Bachelor of Education. After graduating she took tourism related courses and gained Diploma in Tour Operations, Reservation & Ticketing at Ethiopian airlines and Galileo. But this wasn’t enough for her curious mind so she was determined further her education. She went on to earn a master’s degree in Business Leadership from University of South African.  Andinet believes her education in at the University was an eye opener in providing insightful and practical education to understand and lead a business.

Her first job was at tour operating office as a program designer.  It was at her first job that she found her true passion– showcasing Ethiopia in all her glory to anyone who asked. With enthusiasm and optimism, she went on to start her own company with her late husband and started a tour company named “Jacaranda Tour Company” in 2003. This travel company has grown to be one of the top inbound tour operating companies in Ethiopia.

Andinet being curious about the global business, she registered to attend a conference in France. In 2005.  This conference, an international luxury travel market, brought Andinet the realization that even though Ethiopia didn’t lack in beauty enough to entice tourists, not having better than three stars especially at the main historic destinations was quit disappointing. The trip she funded with the 7,800 euro she borrowed ended with no clients and a reality check on the tourism landscape of Ethiopia. This was another eye opener for the company and knew it’s crucial to change the infrastructure specially the hotels at the main tourist destination which became her drive.

She used the problem as an opportunity. She knew poor hospitality services was a hindrance and decided she’ll be the one to solve that problem. Andinet & her partner started to explore ways to acquire land at major historical destinations with ambitious plan to develop the historical sites. After a long process and battle, a prime spot was acquired at Bahir Dar by Lake Tana, a historical mountain peak in Gondar.  Her next fight was to get land in Semien Mountain and Axum; with much effort and heartaches, she finally did get what she wanted.  The reality for investing in Ethiopia is not an easy journey; it requires a great deal of patience and perseverance.  Regardless, Andinet was determined to make her business a success and her dream a reality. Her solid experience in the travel industry for 17 years has made Andinet a strong advocate for better infrastructure and management in the tourism section.

In 2015, Andinet joined the board of Ethiopian Tour Operators Association with 272 members and has been leading the Association as a president since 2018.  It’s an association that plays key role in the development of tourism and is among the key stakeholders in the tourism industry. The association plays a key role in pushing the private sector and promoting Ethiopia as a tourist destination which helps the sector as it plays a major role in the industry.

As a proponent of women empowerment, Andinet is excited about a project to empower 300 women in Gondar. This project to be launched in this December is done in collaboration with the Agro Tourism and expected to give these women trainings on asset and job creation. The overwhelming majority of jacaranda’s employees are women.

And how does a woman juggle multiple businesses, and a family?  She asserts that raising independent children with a purpose and continuity in mind isn’t an easy task and requires dedication. One way she exercises balance is by giving herself time to go to the GYM, have a one-on-one heartfelt conversations with her children and letting herself enjoy the leisure of life.  Her advice to aspiring business women is to be familiar with the business environment one operates in is very important. In the case of Ethiopia, acknowledging and preparing for the frustrating bureaucracy process is a skill on its own, she says.  “I see a lot of people specially those new to the environment start a business but can’t handle the environment”. And people need to stop looking for short cuts – it will end up to be the longest way in the final analysis.  She looks back on how she worked on her resort, Gondar Hills Resort and says it was a great learning process and an opportunity to know what works best and what doesn’t.

Andinet has seen a lot of challenges throughout her career & personal life but she uses all challenges as opportunities for growth. She said the passing of her husband & partner was one of the most unexpected incidents and a very sad moments.  Helping her kids to understand that death is a part of life and moving on was hard. But she is proud of raising three strong kids who are able to understand reality and coping very well that she considers as the biggest accomplishment.

Surviving through COVID is probably once in a life time experience to develop resilience she says.  There were many companies that closed during COVID but she survived by being optimistic and very future oriented; looking forward is what helped her during tough times.

Andinet is a strong supporter of AWiB. It’s her belief that the platform it provides for networking, mentorship and capacity building is a priceless asset to women in Ethiopia to advance themselves and others; sharing stories of your failures is essential to a person’s business, she affirms, and we need to discuss the challenges we face. She considers AWiB a stepping stone to self-development.

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