Rebecca Haile: Winning Life Through Education

“I am deeply grateful for my family. I’ve had so many champions and cheerleaders and just wonderful people around me my whole life. And I am extremely grateful for the education I was lucky to receive. That made all the difference in the world.” ~Rebecca Haile~

Rebecca, the eldest child of the late Professor Getatchew Haile and Misrak Amare Haile was born in Addis Ababa. She was raised feeling the steadiness of living in her homeland. When Rebecca was only 11 years old, the family left for the United States. 1975 was the time Derg came to power — a time of uncertainty especially for the scholars. Rebecca’s father being an elite of the age, was arrested and nearly killed. They settled in Minnesota, USA, isolated, far from all relatives and friends.  As immigrants and minorities living below the poverty line for many years, they had to adjust and cope in many ways to establish life again.

However, owing to her strong family and the foundation built in her early years, these struggles did not stop her for long. She graduated from high school ranked in the top 10 out of a class of 500 students that won her a full scholarship to Williams College. After graduating from college, she worked for two years as a municipal finance analyst in New York City. Then she attended Harvard Law School. At Harvard, she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, a position awarded to the highest achieving students and graduated cum laude in 1991.  

Her accomplishments helped her land an opportunity to clerk for Judge Dorothy Nelson of the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in California. Following her clerkship, she worked as a litigation attorney at prestigious law firms: Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. and in the mergers & acquisitions group at Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City.

A continual enduring success followed as she partnered with her husband Jean Manas and co-founded Foros, a financial advisory firm focused on mergers and acquisitions. Rebecca initially served as an Executive Vice President of Finance and Operations. Currently, she advises the firm on strategy, operations and human resources.

Rebecca felt she had reached a point where her life felt more stable. She began to think of how she should structure the next chapter of her life.  She felt the need to answer to the subtle call of her homeland. A call to doing something impactful for her country of origin, hence the creation of the Ethiopia Education Initiatives (EEI), a not-for-profit organization that seeks to provide world class educational opportunities for talented Ethiopian students and impact education more broadly.  Through her research, she concluded the need for an innovative, student-centered education that was not available, otherwise but impacts the nation as a whole– a center that is uniquely crafted to develop future leaders.

EEI’s first project, Haile-Manas Academy (HMA) is a first of its kind secondary boarding school for promising bright students from across Ethiopia. Located in Debre Birhan, this deliberately designed boarding school strives to instill discipline, an appreciation for hard work, and a can-do attitude. HMA provides scholarship to those who do not have the resources.

As Executive Director of EEI, Rebecca has overseen all aspects of HMA from the design and construction of a beautiful campus to the hiring of a strong team of Ethiopian and international administrators and faculty. HMA opened its doors in January 2021 and now has 116 students enrolled.

The school is modeling forward looking 21st century pedagogy that develops student agency, independent thinking and problem solving.  Already, the school has made a name for itself and has hosted many dignitaries including HE President Sahle-work Zewde and Minister of Education Professor Berhanu, as the school is eager to share best practices and help improve education in Ethiopia more broadly. All these accomplishments have come in a very short period and despite the world-wide Covid pandemic and the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Rebecca feels fortunate to be working at something that is at the intersection of what’s much needed in Ethiopia and what she can do.

Rebecca feels she is transferring knowledge and skills that she has developed over lifetime to her team: diplomacy, creativity, persuading people to join in problem solving, negotiating results that work for everyone, budgeting, fundraising, and marketing on a daily basis.  Rebecca appreciates collaborating with individuals who are mission driven, creative and those who act with integrity. She believes such collaboration generates superior outcomes as she gets the benefit of different perspectives and expertise.

Leadership for Rebecca is about setting high standards and then empowering others. The saying that “A good leader is one who takes more than their share of the blame and less of the credit” resonates for her.  She has learned that leadership requires setting goals, modeling desired behavior, and then letting go and giving people the power to do what you ask them to do, including making mistakes.  

Rebecca is an advocate for women’s political representation. She chairs the board of the top advocacy group, EMILY’s List, a large national organization that works to recruit, train and elect women to political office in the United States.

Rebecca lives in New York City with her husband and three children. She is also an author of “Held at a Distance: My Rediscovery of Ethiopia”, a memoir about her first return to Ethiopia after her family’s forced exile following the 1974 revolution and twenty-five years in the United States. 

Rebecca appreciates associations such as AWiB for she believes networking is key in any society. Men have been connecting with each other for ages. This is important for women as well. “We can do a lot to support each other, to share experiences, information, and strategies for success”.

Rebecca’s message to the younger generation: “to truly understand, love and accept yourself that can help you make choices that are meaningful and fulfilling in your personal and professional life. Don’t do things to please others or to assimilate. Keep your uniqueness. It took me a long time to see that and I think especially as girls we worry so much about pleasing others. I would also emphasize that the process of learning and growing truly does unfold over a lifetime. Be receptive to new ideas and people, try new things, don’t be afraid to ask questions and make mistakes, and ask for help when you need it. And for girls and women, support each other ….

AWiB thanks Rebecca for carving out time from her busy schedule to share her inspirational story to our audience.

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