Cultivating Human Capital: Genet Abebe

Genet Abebe, the eldest of two brothers and three sisters, was born in Addis Ababa and raised in the eastern part of Ethiopia.  Her father a teacher, the family relocated to different cities in the region she grew up.  When her parents divorced, Genet stayed with her father.  As a third grader, she befriended her homeroom teacher whom she later introduced to her father.  This led to the marriage of the two teachers.

Genet describes her childhood to be full of curiosity and reading her dad’s classic books including Dostoevsky and Pushkin.  Her curiosity at times exposed her to danger.  One such incident was when she applied Vicks to her eyes because her aunt told her—jokingly—that it beautifies.  Genet’s reading also got to a point of obsession; when she was assigned a house chore, she would take a break to read a page of a book, prolonging the task.

Genet heads the human resource department of Dashen Breweries.  Prior to Dashen Breweries, Genet worked for East African Bottling Company, Action Aid, and Midroc Investment Group.  It was by chance that she first joined the human resource profession.  Her childhood dream was to be a medical professional, and in high school she aspired to be a lawyer.  She was not able to pursue both.  The first job opportunity she landed after college was a junior human resource officer post at Midroc Investment Group.  Later, she came across opportunities to leave the profession, but at that point enjoyed the work and decided to stay.  What made her stay are the new, daily challenges the profession poses and the opportunities it creates to meet many people.  She likes the fact that her profession allows her to evaluate the potential of each person, to explore where each individual would fit, to show them possibilities, and to guide them into the realization that there is more to life than the individual’s current situation.  Genet describes the human resource department of an organization to be a strategic partner to the company by providing a human resource the company demands in order to realize its mission.  She believes her profession made her fulfill her calling of unleashing people’s potentials.

We are created with a purpose, Genet believes.  She said, “There is a purpose that God wants to fulfill in our lifetime and situation.  But not all of us know that purpose.  When we are created with purpose we are created with the full package.  This includes our potentials and talents.  Everybody here is important in this world.”  Because of this philosophy she upholds in life, she values integrity, spirituality, freedom, and possibility.  By integrity she refers to knowing one’s and others’ potentials and using it for the greater good.  Her life philosophy and values are derived from reading the Bible.

Genet attributes her success and strength of character to her role mode Joshua from the Bible, her aunt, and her father.  She says that how Joshua saw reality and acted in his role as the leader of the Israelites made her believe not to let the “now” determine the outcome of her life.  Her aunt, whom she described as very enlightened, spiritual, and loving influenced her to always see the bigger picture in life.  She was also Genet’s source of the inspiration.  At the age of seven her aunt made her read Shakespeare.  Genet’s father played a great role in grounding her on leading a principled life.  He influenced her to be independent economically and emotionally.  One of the lessons from her father when she was a child was the time he made her lie on the floor and asked her to spit out towards the roof.  She did as he said but then the spit fell back on her.  Her father then said, “Whenever you blame someone or do something bad to others, know that it will come back to you.”

With many lessons she accumulated from her childhood, Genet defines success to be knowing her calling and using the talent she is given towards accomplishing her calling.  On an everyday level, Genet’s encounter with success is: “When someone comes to my office to complain about a certain human resource management issue, I would make the discussion focus beyond the problem at hand.  Usually the person leaves my office not only with the issue at hand being resolved but also with the bigger picture than the issue that brought the person in.  I consider such instances to be a great success I may indulge in for the next six months.”

Genet is proud of the accomplishments she acquired in her profession.  These include seeing graduate trainees she recruited 10 years ago making it up in the career ladder and succeeding in creating a culture of excellence and ownership for Dashen Breweries.  She is most proud of setting up a women development section under the HR department in 2015.  When Genet joined Dashen, there was only one woman in a team leadership position.  Genet led the restructuring process, and now there are eleven women in leadership, accounting for 13% of the leadership posts of the company.  She also worked on amending the Labor Bargain Agreement in 2015, changing the maternity leave from three to four months and availing half-day work until the new-born becomes 6-months-old to allow breast feeding.  This change mitigated the practice; a woman who worked on a production line would be assigned to office work when she became pregnant, and the person assigned in her place would remain in the post even after she returned from maternity.  This practice often has the effect of making an engineer become an office clerk.  Genet changed the practice, ensuring a woman will get back to her production line post after maternity leave, allowing a woman to work half days until the child’s six months following the end of the maternity leave, and to be assigned only day shifts.

Genet defines leadership to be winning oneself, fulfilling your responsibility, knowing how to impact others, and be conscious how others impact you.  In addition, she believes leadership is about leading authentic conversations with oneself and others.  Does Genet believe she is a leader?  Definitely!

An AWiB member for the past 10 years, Genet gives back to her community through the association.  She served on the AWiB board for a year, which she believes is a way of contributing to the development of women leaders.   She would like to contribute more to the community by working with public schools.  “I went to public school and the quality of education was good then.  But now public schools are last resorts.  I want to make it good beyond the materialistic.  The morale of the teachers is neglected; it is considered that they are there because they couldn’t find another job.  I want to develop their leadership skills.  Teaching is a very respected profession and more impactful than any other profession.  It can affect a nation negatively or positively.”  She plans to launch a program to support public schools before the end of 2021.

Genet loves travelling and meeting new people.  She traveled in eastern and southern Africa, Europe, the USA, Latin America, and Asia.  She is grateful for life itself and the people around her.

To the younger generation, Genet advises to explore their talents at an early stage.  Asking the questions, “What do I like most?  What is my strength?  And what do I enjoy most?” helps to know a person’s talent.  She also advises having a mentor or a coach early in life to guide them and to show them tools.  In this regard, she mentioned the importance of AWiB in her life to find women who supported her personal and professional development.

For Genet, AWiB is a relevant networking platform in Ethiopia.  Responsible Leadership is a concept that AWiB carries forward, which is a new concept in our culture and mentality.  She appreciates that the association brings forward good works to be known by the public, numerous getting support through the annual WoE.  The documents and resources AWiB produces are of good quality and quantity.  Genet hopes AWiB will one day evolve into a leadership institute.

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