Kidist Zegeye

Kidist was born and grew up in Addis. Raised by both working parents, her father was a military colonel and her mother an administrative secretary, an important position at the time, actually Kidist jokes, her mother was making slightly more than her father was in fact. Kidist shares that her parents were very strict on education and she remembers that there were no gender specific roles assigned to her and her siblings at home; instead her father was very serious about their schooling and encouraged reading extremely. She remembers her father taking her and her siblings to the British Council Library once a week where they would each have to check out 3 to 4 books. She attributes her love for reading because of that instilled value from her father.

Kidist and her siblings were first enrolled in Stanford School, but after the political unrest and the fall of the government, when she was in the 6th grade at the time, her father was forced to retire leaving her mother the only provider for the family. The transition lost her family much of what had been saved and acquired through many years of hard work and tribulations. They lost land, her mother’s side of the family lost many business as many of them were traders of the time, it was a very harsh reality that they had to now face. Kidist and her family moved into a smaller family owned home and had to be removed from Stanford School. She was enrolled in St. Mary’s School of Commerce but really wanted to be in the medical field. With the help of a family neighbor, she was able to convince her parents to transfer her over to Teferi Mekonnen School of Science. There she excelled in all her classes and was all the while aspiring to be assigned into medicine once she graduated. Unfortunately the lottery system of assigning students didn’t favor out for her, she was assigned into Social Science and not Medicine. She remembers she cried for over a week despaired over her fate.

Saddened by her country’s educational system, she went into management. She graduated at the age of 19, and was thrust into the work field right afterwards. With very few females in the relatively new field of work, she remembers being surrounded by males and with no actual “life” experience in order to know how to work and collaborate with her colleagues, male or female; she just felt very young and unprepared. Regardless she went into work ready and eager to learn. Her experience with her first male boss was unpleasant, siting sexual harassment actually, she immediately asked to be transferred into another position. Unfortunately her second experience with her second male boss also proved to be a subtle harassment type of environment for her. Although she reported it to the concerning authorities of the matter, because he was part of those institutions himself, no change was brought about and she continued to work under him for about 4 years. An environment in which he would never talk to her, never guide or direct her accordingly as he should in his supervisor position. So she spent her time reading extensively and learning from others around her.

As there were no other actual work options to leave to, she remained there until the Hadig government party came to power implementing corporations for the country, such as telecommunications, chemical, printing, etc… all corporations became under government rule. She was assigned into an administrative position yet again under the same boss’s supervision. She wasn’t having it, she asked for a demotion in order to separate her direct contact with the man. These were the times Kidist believes she began to shape her career; where she was once involved in organizational and methods’ building, research, study, and compensation, she was now getting into personnel administration and direct employee management. She also says her experience with both of her male bosses pushed her towards her innate need to look out for female employees, always making sure she guided and advised them when necessary, she opened up to them about her own experiences, reassuring them that they need not keep silent. Throughout her career, the one thing she made sure to implement in every institution she worked at was sexual harassment policies.

After about a year of being in that position, she got married and had her first child. She applied for a position at Amalgamated Ltd., the first trading house in Ethiopia at the time, a company that she believes was the most progressive of its time considering how it handled and treated its employees. It was the only company at the time that provided full health insurance coverage for every staff and their families and even went so far as providing full educational expenses coverage for their staff’s children as well. In essence, Kidist says, it was carrying out its corporate responsibilities when this was not yet a well-known idea at the time, they even had many children from the Selam’s Children institute and children from the Kuriftu area that they pledged to raise, providing all required expenses for their educational needs. Kidist admits it made her proud to be working at such a company.

She remembers being so excited to be working in that position, she even decided that she would not have a second child just yet. Her husband, of whom she is extremely grateful for, was tremendously supportive and never once questioned her career journey and the intricacies it entailed. At only 28 years old she was now a Personnel Manager and shortly after was assigned as the first female and the youngest Board Member of Amalgamated Ltd. She pushed herself so far and proved to bring results beyond the company’s expectation that even hiring her a supervisor was not needed, though she did recognize that although she was doing above and beyond her requirements, she believes that her being a female still would not allow for them to upgrade her job’s title or her deserved monetary increase. She didn’t let this bring her down and continued to bring immense change and progress to the company; even building a clinic for the company in her efforts to reduce the company’s annual health insurance expense. With the clinic being her far most greatest accomplishments for the company, she still didn’t receive adequate recognition in terms of monetary compensation as would have her male counterparts had, had they accomplished the task. She understood then, after 5 years of serving the company, she needed to resign shortly. She had her second child and arranged for her exit applying for an administrative position, thus entering the NGO world.

She began at Save The Children, and transferred to other NGOs throughout a span of the next ten years of her life. Always spending a maximum of 3/4 years at one given organization and then moving unto another. She remembers reflecting upon the fact that from the outside, looking in, working for an NGO could appear that one was dedicating her or his life to the betterment of others but most likely than not, the life that was changing was the working individual itself and not the other way around. With the salary and benefits offered, the positions proved tempting but the results were on the contrary; Kidist says she felt that nothing she was doing brought actual change or improvement to her country, so after ten years she decided she was through with her NGO career journey and took a much-needed break from work all in all.

She was later recommended for an HR position at what was then called Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation. France-Telecom won a management contract bid for an agreed two years with the Ethiopian government at the time to transform the Ethiopian telecommunication sector from the ground up. The company came up with a blueprint of how they would achieve this transformation. The major challenge? Their system was organized to function with about 6,000 staff members, but the existing corporation was running with a whopping 20,000 employees involved. This was assigned to Kidist; the grueling task of screening out the potential employees for the new system, accommodating for the remaining staff, some that would stay on but in different departments of the company and of course having to lay off the so many of them that just no longer had a position in the new transformation plan anymore. Kidist says this was by far the most challenging times of her life’s journey, ever. She was faced with death threats, placed under police protection and was politically obligated and required to continue her job until the full transitional phase was through with no option of resigning. So she did what she knew best, buckled down and got to work, even under those conditions. She knew that if she had to this then she would have to put in her best so as to be part of the country’s trials towards transformation, and although the process seemed dreary to begin with she believed that actual result came forth through her participation at the now-called Ethio-Telecom.

After a short break from work she was yet again recommended for a Deputy GM position at the newly formed MBirr. A company that consisted of 9 employees at the time with the vision of introducing mobile money to Ethiopia. A concept she considered innovative and of actual benefit to the country at large. The notion that the finance sector of Ethiopia could be digitized not just to the urban populace but also to the rural parts of Ethiopia was too intriguing for her not sign up. She understood that this new system would bring about new opportunities for the country, encourage mobilization and financial inclusions; she believed this to be another way of her giving back to her community, to her country.

It seems fair to mention that she ran the company as more of a CEO really, as for the most part her partner was abroad. The most challenging aspect of her job was the regulatory aspects of implementing such a system in the country, with so many stakeholders at hand. Another challenging factor was that both sectors at the time were not fully open yet, the finance and the telecommunication sector; the work was not not easy.

The company’s first pilot project was implementing a social security payment program to help with easing how payments were distributed throughout the rural areas. Where once individuals only had one day and chance to go stand in line and receive their payments from a certain location, now MBirr made it possible for agents to be placed at every sub-city’s district office and able to make payments whenever individuals could make themselves available. After implementing such an innovative system, their two year pilot was well received and continued on by the government itself. Then the Ministry of Finance and the World Bank created the ‘Productive Safety Net’ program of which MBirr aided in yet again implementing its mobile money system to provide payments to people the country categorized as ‘food insecure’’; this resulted with an estimated 130,000 households being serviced. Kidist says MBirr’s potential has not been reached yet and is very proud of the work she did while their Deputy.

Now on a break from the corporate world, Kidist has taken an interest in investing in her own company, delving in the manufacturing sector she has recently opened a gypsum fabrication manufacturing plant of which she plans on her husband running. Honesty and transparency are her two major traits on top of her being such a hard worker in general. She feels extremely proud of her now grown daughters, 23 and 19 years old, who have both become well achieving young females. Kidist still loves reading very much and enjoys interior decorating as a personal hobby. She believes there is always light at the end of the tunnel and that obstacles always comes to eventually pass. She says patience is key to persevere throughout the challenges in one’s life. She is very optimistic and keeps a highly positive attitude about everything in her life.

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