MELIKA BEDRI: The Approachable Leader

Born and raised around Addis Ababa, Melika Bedri grew up in a very extended family. Her parents selflessly brought everyone together.  Several brothers, sisters and cousins seen as one family, it was “hard to differentiate (the connections),” says the Founding CEO of ZamZam Bank.  Melika has a “very kind aunt” whom she considers a mother and sees as a role model; she mirrors many of her aunt’s characteristics.  It was an extremely supportive environment and the children grew up with love and affection.  This atmosphere is still in existence even after marriage.

Having attended Abadir Elementary, Melika went to an all-girls high school: MENEN.  After attending the Commercial College, she joined the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE) and earned her undergraduate and graduate degrees while working there.  CBE is where Melika built her professional career.

A seed planted—a deposit of sorts—grew as Melika went from counter clerk to become the planning officer at CBE’s Headquarter.  Soon thereafter, she became the marketing officer; this is where Melika says she found herself.  She credits her boss at the time, Eshetu Fantaye (currently CEO of Ahadu Bank), who saw Melika’s potential and allowed her opportunity and space to flourish.  Next as promotions manager, she has remained in leadership since then.  She became the executive assistant to the president, then treasurer.  In CBE’s Marketing Department Melika served as assistant vice president and vice president before becoming the IT vice president.  Working for nearly 10 years with her team, she takes great pride in being part of the digitalization of CBE’s system. “The bank is fully enabled in terms of IT … it has my legacy,” she said.  Finally as chief finance officer, Melika has helped build CBE for over 30 years!

With her first degree in Economics from Addis Ababa University (AAU) and an MBA in Management in Business Administration from the Open University of London, Melika recalls always being drawn to banking and finance.  She remembers seeing her brother—a banker—in suit and tie, in a respected field, and chose a similar path.  “Excellence is all about loving what you do…I do is with passion,” she said.

Leading ZamZam Bank, Melika and her team celebrated a year in June 2022.  This new concept—the first full-fledged interest-free bank service in Ethiopia—has challenges of its own, she said.  “Whatever we do is HALAL (interest free),” and is Sharia-compliant, which means it had to meet international requirements and certification.  With 396 employees and 40 branches, Melika said in less than a year the bank has implemented mobile banking as well as setting up an ATM infrastructure with all local banks.  Close to her heart is the business model itself; it gives space for social responsibility…social financing.

Emphasizing she is not the first, out of the over 20 banks in the country Melika is currently the only woman CEO.  She is proud that 35% of ZamZam’s team is made up of women.  This includes branch managers and those leading international banking, human resources, marketing, finance, and IT.  Under her leadership, Melika has introduced an all-women operated branch: Hajera Branch.  But over all, Melika highlights forming a diverse and qualified team, and being all-inclusive.  PROFEESSIONALISM IS ONE OF OUR CORE VALUES,” she said.

What’s the secret to successfully balancing professional and personal life?  A few of Melika’s answers include being dedicated to serve in good and challenging times as well as having an extremely supportive husband and understanding in-laws (she speaks of her “kind” mother-in-law).  Melika and her partner, a businessman, have three seeds—two boys and one girl, all in the medical field.

Melika’s philosophy of life is CONTINUOUS LEARNING & SELF DEVELOPMENT.  As knowledge is distributed, she encourages consciously soaking up lessons from those we work with whether they are below or above us in rank.  Her other notes on living one’s best life is to do what you do with passion and to not settle for less than you deserve.  Melika is grateful for, “Being valued in every space… getting acceptance… having challenges is a blessing.”

Success has many dimensions in Melika’s view.  “For me it is balancing it all… not just work-life but balance success and failure,” she said.  Balancing pressure with a positive attitude goes a long way.  On all paths, misunderstandings occur but one must keep RESILIENT and keep going!  “There is no success without failure.”  When reflecting on accomplishments she is most proud of, Melika breaks it down in two parts.  CAREER-WISE:  She is proud of the management spaces she occupied and sees her work as a contribution to the nation.  FAMILY-WISE: She is proud of her marriage and motherhood.  She feels accomplished in engaging self in a balanced manner.  Uplifting those who work alongside her to grow and climb up the ladder, being with them on their journeys also brings her joy.  Last but not least, she is proud of her courage and decision to accept the challenge of pioneering a new business model “for the cause.”

Melika is extremely accommodating to those in her presence and demanding when it comes to employee performance.  She reflects on her upbringing and the family she created when speaking of her success and bold character.  It is tough to list role models by names, and she feels indebted to all strong women of Ethiopia and globally… those who speak up, magnify the strengths of women.  Melika’s strategy in excelling in the male-dominated field of finance?  She did not focus on being a woman and was attentive to only the task at hand.

Still, Melika understands the struggles of a woman balancing professional and personal life. Despite her extremely tight schedule, she strives to connect with and “consciously mentor” women associates, giving them tough assignments and pushing them toward improvement.  She networks through various organizations including NEWA, CAWEE, and AWiB.  This involves being active in capacity-building sessions and sharing experiences with university entrants.  She is also a brand ambassador for Zer Ethiopia and AWiB.

While Melika doesn’t feel she has much leisure time, she loves socializing.  Reading is always part of her life, and she updates herself in her field’s developments.

To Melika, a leader is one who shows you the direction to the vision.  It is one who does not excel alone and assures alignment.  Absolutely, Melika sees herself as a leader!  Intentionally gauging competition, she drives people to see the big picture.  For ZamZam, it is to be the leading Sharia-compliant and all-inclusive bank in Africa by 2030.

To the younger generation:  Do not give up.  Work for a cause.  Ask yourself — What I am doing…how does it affect society?  Today is not repeated so live today!  This is a great time and information is at your fingertips.  You have role models galore so choose your role models and be an achiever.  CONTRIBUTE!  Come to institutions to be future leaders. 

Melika strongly believes in the younger generation as she feels they are dynamic, competitive, achievers, and have positive attitudes.

Especially to women:  Do not shy away because you are married or entered motherhood… this is a natural gift.  Aim for that professional path and you will achieve, but it is up to you.  You now have a lot of resources…you are lucky…be careful with your choices and go for your dreams!

Having known AWIB from the formation, Melika said she respects the persistence to build the strong foundation and keep the organization active over a decade.  She is proud of Founder & Director Nahu Senay Girma and all involved in growing the idea into a great platform for women.  She has witnessed AWiB pull from the trenches countless Ethiopian women creating positive changes in the nation and opportunities for many.  “I AM A LIVING EXAMPLE FOR SUCCESS,” Melika said; AWiB told her story to the world in 2013 through Women of Excellence.  “Look where all the women AWiB has shed light on have reached!  Overall, the quality of topics and the depth of discussions through the timely programs are impressive.  She is extremely happy to see AWiB grow and participates as much as possible.  “AWiB is our voice…(it) made us visible.”

AWiB extends gratitude to Melika for making time to share her life’s path.

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