Hanna Tilahun: Acting on her Conviction

The first thing anyone who meets Hanna for the first time notices her high energy and her infectious smile. If you get an opportunity to chat with her for a moment, it’s inevitable to witness her firm stand for things she believes in, her positive outlook in life as well as her grounded personality. She attributes most of her virtues and personality to her unapologetically strong mother and dedicated hardworking father.

Hanna’s mother was married at a young age while she was in grade 5 and gave birth to two daughters and a son in three consecutive years in Nekempte, Wellega. When Hanna and her older sister reached grade 5 and her younger brother grade 4, their mother joined her children by enrolling herself at the same school in grade 6 and completed high school a year before her daughters did. “My mother was like a friend to me and to all our friends” Hanna remembers. After high school, their mother started working at the Ministry of Education. The following year Hanna joined Addis Ababa University and earned her BA degree in Accounting.

Growing up watching her mother, Hanna believed that it’s right to marry and start a family at a young age. So she got married two years after graduation to her high school sweetheart. She gave birth to their son the following year.

During the time Hanna graduated, it was the government that assigned jobs to fresh graduates. Hanna’s first job was in Urban Development, a government institution which she left a few months after to join a Swedish non-governmental organization named ASG. Then Hanna joined Transport Operations under Relief Rehabilitation Cooperation as Head of Finance. Two years later, Hanna moved to the public sector working at Lalibela Construction which later joint ventured with a Chinese company to become Norila. In 2009, Hanna started her own brick making business, Bezalel Brick Factory, in Bishoftu.

Hanna observes that women face a variety of challenges in the Ethiopian business environment. The respect and acceptance women get are not at the same level as that of their male counterparts who do similar kinds of work. When women establish businesses, many don’t automatically accept them. When women give consultancy services, many clients doubt them.

Hanna shares the pain of not having women’s efforts recognized as much as deserved. “We, particularly women in business, have the burden of proving ourselves twice as much to earn the same respect and acknowledgement; any doubt, misunderstanding, judgment and rejection exist not because women are less competent but that society fails to acknowledge them as equal partners” Hanna asserts. She strongly believes that these wrong perceptions manifest in lack of consciousness that in turn manifests in how society raises our children which continues as a vicious cycle.

Hanna is one of the founders of Enat Bank, a bank established by women to address women’s financial issues and currently serves as its chairperson of the board. Hanna believes that Enat Bank is achieving some of its goals but not to the fullest scale of its mission due to regulatory limitations. Not much can be done unless the National Bank of Ethiopia changes and revises some of the stringent financial regulations that are not allowing Enat Bank to serve with their full capacity. One of her goals during her leadership is to bring more financially successful women on board both as shareholders and as clients of Enat Bank.

On having balance in life, Hanna says, comes as a result of meticulous organization. “We have to be practical and decisive in order to have a holistically balanced life. We cut down our social engagements and change our life style accordingly”. Hanna recalls the time she stopped going to the hairdresser upon the arrival of a second child. This may not work for everyone but we have to track down our time thieves and make some changes she adds. Making life simpler is Hanna’s philosophy.

Hanna is known for her differing outlook to common social issues and practices. For instance, on maternity leave, women must be made aware of the high cost of putting their career on hold. She argues, if we take off extended leave, we lag behind by that much and we step out of the game. Long absence from our profession Hanna says, is the reason for women dropping out of managerial positions. The metaphor she uses is, if we are all waiting to catch a train and some of us step aside for any reason, the ones that get onboard will always be ahead. The solution Hanna suggests is creating infant-friendly working environment for mothers as parenting remains the most important part of life for all of us.

Hanna is actively engaged in activities that allow her to give back to her community. She financially supports many underprivileged parents and grandparents who raise girls. Hanna made it her mission to assist many low income women financially and emotionally.

Travelling with her family is Hanna’s most cherished hobby. Learning, exploring, and discovering the world together as family, Hanna believes, makes for a stronger and closer relationship and she is grateful for the opportunity.

Hanna’s most significant achievement is the fact that she is leading a life that she wants and desires and she attributes that to her work on personal development, self-discovery and self-knowledge. She doesn’t easily get influenced by external factors. She’s grounded and has strong faith. For this, Hanna gives credit to her parents as she knows it’s the result of her liberated upbringing.

Hanna’s message to young women: Dare to be different. Respect yourself. Learn to celebrate your accomplishments and yourself. BE BOLD!

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