Sewit Haileselassie: Thriving on Change
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that even has.”
A vibrant and pragmatic individual, a bold feminist, a sister, a wife and a mother of two wonderful children, Sewit Haileselassie was born and raised in Addis Ababa from a family of two. Sewit and her family live in a quiet street near Gerji, known to some as Uptown Bole, where the bustle of the busy streets can be a source of entertainment. Currently working on a passion project, Sewit is a principal investigator for a research project funded by SOAS University that focuses on youth, political participation and peace building. This is a project near and dear to her heart due to the fact that in the day and age where it is very easy to label young people as problematic sources of conflict within communities, she strongly believes it is important to highlight youth that are agents for positive peace in their communities. This role has had an intensive learning component due to the nature of the work that ranged from intense reading and desk research to a lot of networking and interviews, which has been a joy for Sewit to experience.
Although her formal education has been in Economics, she soon realized she did not want to practice it as profession. Rather, her time spent volunteering—as a part-time research assistant and later as a researcher and journalist—revealed to her the extent to which women’s work, lived experience, and thoughts were left out of the mainstream. As a result, after graduating from Addis Ababa University, she joined an internship program working on gender-based violence among refugees at the IRC. This was Sewit’s next path in her quest to learn more about gender as her most intimate experience of oppression and marginalization. She said, “My introduction to Simone Debovouir, Maya Angelou and Bell Hooks showed me what I was missing when I was learning about Milton Freedman, Adam Smith and John Stewart Mill: a woman’s voice.”
Since then, Sewit has held different positions including working as a gender expert, consultant, trainer, researcher and communications expert in various development projects and institutions. Her work largely revolves around telling stories to bring awareness for the youth. In policy spaces or even at the program levels within the development space, telling stories are a vital component to augment the voices of the marginalized members of society.
Sewit values two things above all else: family and integrity. Her mother and her late father raised her to love learning, to be a bold feminist and a kind soul. With all honesty, Sewit shared that her children have challenged her ideals, her conviction of kindness, fairness and justice, and she is all better for it. She believes that love should never require losing your voice, your sense of self-respect or your dignity. When done right, family is the most enriching human experience.
A believer in service to others, Sewit has been volunteering and serving her community in different forms since she was 16 years old. She has served as head of Jupiter Toastmasters and in multiple boards in the Roteract club of Kerroggie. She is also the founding and chartering member of the Rotary Club of Addis Abeba Arada. Sewit is adamant to give back through causes that she has an emotional and personal connection with like AWiB’s leadership development. Most recently, she joined the Ethiopian chapter of Africa Women Leaders Network (AWLN) as a member of the steering committee, an exciting new initiative.
Although Sewit believes her book of accomplishments is still being written, there are a few noteworthy endeavors to share, one being her leadership position as the 2019 president of AWiB. Having served as member of the AWiB board since 2017, she led and executed wonderful programs throughout the years. She is particularly proud of the 2019 May Forum on Adaptive Leadership. Working as a country coordinator for the Invest 2 Impact Business competition for women entrepreneurs in five East Africa countries has also been a great source of pride for accomplishments of 2019. Out of 100 women from Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda, they were able to find 18 winners from Ethiopia, the second-highest number of winners next to Kenya.
Sewit is also the co-founder of a start-up company called Changing Images, a marketing and communications company that is dedicated to transformative change. Through the ups and downs of the past few years, the greatest takeaway for Sewit has been to learn to adapt when necessary and to never compromise her integrity. The challenge is working on mastering yourself, knowing yourself as you continue to evolve and grow throughout your life, stopping to reflect, adjust and move forward every few steps.
For leisure, Sewit states that nothing can compare to curling up in a quiet corner with a good book, a comment that brings out the avid reader from a young age. But most recently, she has discovered the fun in baking and cooking which is a fantastic activity with her kids. Going through a tremendous personal loss, losing her father last year, Sewit has had a transformative sense of gratitude to all she has had and continues to have within her family. She is grateful to have had such a wonderful father to look up to and to have had spent the last 48 hours by her father’s side to say goodbye.
Asked what Sewit would share with the younger generation, she responded learning is not a linear activity that stops with a degree or a certification; it is a dynamic, continuous and conscious journey of discovery that is best shared. While self-development is key, it is important not to just keep it to yourself. Share, share, share your knowledge and skills to have them multiply and grow. To spark something positive in people’s hearts is the essence of leadership, and growth is most effective when it is done together.
Sewit believes that our greatest teachers remain the people we choose to surround ourselves with. She has benefited from the mentorship and coaching of a great many wonderful individuals that she is delighted to call friends. It has been a great experience to learn from the lives and experiences of others. It is vital for a seed of potential that will soon blossom into a formidable tree with strong trunks and green branches, bound to reach new heights while giving shade and shelter to others around her. This is why she urges you to mentor, mentor, mentor!
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