Sosena -Never Give up, no matter what.

For Sosena Demessie, going to her office –CNFA , a  non-for profit organization that works on livestock market development  –  on Palm Building around Civil Service University does not feel like going  to work at all. She says that she has found her life’s calling by working in the area of women economic empowerment through improving the value chain in the livestock market.  The organization she works for is a consortium of various donors and her position is titled Senior Gender Equity Advisor. When asked what the position entails, she starts by saying;” Development and Gender Equity are intertwined.” Therefore, what she does is driven by the Agricultural Growth Program – Livestock Market Development AGP-LMD); specifically working with the private sector and cooperative model in dairy, meat and live animals marketing. Her day to day responsibilities include ensuring that there is adequate female representation not only as members in the cooperative but also at the leadership level of the cooperative, training women in business skills and offering continued coaching in the four regions of Amhara, Oromia, SNNPR and Tigray regional states. The trainees also visit national and international best practice in the area of livestock development through study tours to countries like Kenya and India and linking to market opportunities in Dubai.

Prior to joining CNFA, Sosena has worked in different organizations including running her own consultancy firm in the area of Gender and Development. Her educational background is also directly related with her work. After completing her high school at Harrer Medhani Alem and  Addis Ababa  at Zenebe Work, she studied Agriculture at the University of Florida. Upon returning to Ethiopia, she joined the Ministry of Agriculture before transferring to the then Maritime and transit Corporation while working for the agricultural projects office of State farms. Sosena went for further studies, earning an MSc in Agriculture and Rural development in the Netherlands. Coming back to Ethiopia, she joined UNDP for three years and in 1993 started her own consultancy business concentrating in the area of agriculture, development and gender, youth employment and her passion – women’s empowerment.   Sosena says her passion and commitment to gender equity has enabled her to better educate herself in the area through reading relevant material.

She recognizes that traditionally women have been closely involved in taking care of livestock in the rural area. In addition to their household responsibilities, women are typically responsible to milk cows, feeding the cattle and cleaning the shade. In general women are actively involved in agricultural value chains as unpaid household workers, wage workers, entrepruners and leaders. They are mostly engaged in production and taking care of animals. Their limited participation in livestock marketing limits their access and control of the benefits. Even in the cooperatives, as in most cases they cannot attend the meeting due to heavy workloads in the house; it is usually the husband or one of her sons who would come to these meetings. Since women are not co-members, they cannot collect the money due to them. This means there is no incentive for them to improve the productivity since they don’t see the relationship of their work with the income earned. However, CNFA- as strategy – is advocating for husband and wife to be co-members in the cooperative to have access to the resources earned by the family equally.  The project builds women entrepreneurs’ capacity in the area of business management, marketing, record keeping, and preparation of project proposals, gender awareness, leadership, nutrition and HIV/AIDS. It also ensures in all LMD activities a 30% female representation giving trainings both to husband and wives whenever possible. In addition, it is opening up opportunities for women to work on what are traditionally males’ roles such as Artificial Insemination and Community Animal Health Service. Since women are typically the first ones to notice at home when their livestock are affected by disease, giving them access to training on animal health has paid off tremendously. Another activity that Sosena shared was promoting role modeling of women in livestock value chain business. CNFA supports women by accepting collateral matching with an element of affirmative action. CNFA grants are typically competitive grants of 2:1; which means trainees would have to raise twice the amount of grants provided on their own. Sosena says this is tougher than it sounds for many women. Thus, she presented the idea that the grant for women should be 1:0.5 taking into consideration their limited access to resources. This affirmative action for women has been accepted and is currently being practiced. To ensure uninterrupted training, CNFA also offers child care facilities for female participants.  Perhaps the most serious display to gender equity in these trainings can be seen in Sosena’s personal commitment to ensure a 30% female representation. She says” There is no compromise on this. Any training that does not have the requisite rate of female participation will be cancelled”.  These trainings can be technical trainings in dairy, animal health, cheese making or ICT trainings.   Sosena says there is a great sense of pride when these women, upon completion of their training, are provided with basic animal treatment kits and seed money. They then start confidently performing animal health services such as sprayings against bugs, livestock birth delivery support, consulting other farmers and conducting minor stitches for horses or other animal health services

As a Senior Gender Equity Advisor, she says her aim is ensuring that women are equally benefiting from development. Equity is a multi pronged approach in representation, benefits and opportunities. By capacitating women through business skills training, they learn how to prepare project proposals, to keep proper records and identify their profits and take action if they are running into losses. The training is conducted in 5 modules for 3 days a month over a period of five months.  In addition, participants learn about nutrition, proper use of ICT especially their mobile phones to get market information.  After training and graduation, they get to closely observe other successful women and their business. Since CNFA recognizes it cannot train everyone, the strategy followed is that of creating role models. Moreover, working in the middle value chain to create business to business (B2B) relationships, CNFA has succeeded in bringing dairy farmers and feed producers together so that they can have continued mutually beneficial relationships.

In addition to her day job, Sosena has been involved in a number of other organizations. For example, while working as a consultant, she was involved in the re-establishment of Young Women Christian’s Association (YWCA).  Her involvement ranged from supporting young girls with mentoring to improve their grades to join university to the establishment of a library in the association in memory of her late son, Goh.  Another volunteer association that Sosena has served with her time and office resources was the Association for Gender Equality in Leadership and Decision Making (AGELOLD).  She describes her experience as a board member and later as Chairperson of the board as very rewarding yet challenging.  Sosena has also helped form Handicap National – a local NGO working with physically disabled people.  Aside from these causes, she has also been involved in the establishment of an NGO that works in North Showa – an area that has been severely eroded. The NGO, aptly named Adhano Integrated Rural Development Project, in an effort to improve the soil’s productivity and rehabilitation of the environment, adopted the very well-known tradition of “ Gudifecha “ – literally translated as “ adoption”  by planting indigenous trees. It is still active with each successive year’s plantations being handed over to the farmers in the area. Still another cause Sosena is involved in is a group called 60+ Forum for Women – an informal club of women who are 60 years of age and above and associate members of women who are 50 and above. The objective of this club is to ensure members can network,   share their ample experience with youngsters in high schools and universities, and give them purpose during their golden years since they tend to become isolated when they leave employment. In addition, due to their age and lifestyle, women tend to be victims of many diseases. Thus, many  of the members who are medical doctors offer advice on how to prevent life style driven diseases and how to take better care of themselves by  organizing a health fair for 1 ½ days, including introduction to yoga.  They are also trying to influence policy makers by creating awareness for senior people’s needs.  Sosena has also raised funds with her family members  and friends to re-build a church that had been originally built by her father in Northern Shoa, Tegulet area. Through the church, members of the fund raising committee provide support to the elderly in the area to prevent them from begging in the streets.

Leadership for Sosena means having a grand vision, working towards it despite all the challenges faced, being aware of the environment and making changes that are necessary to succeed.  She says it is also important to have a set of values as they guide decisions and enable one to make choices based on them. Her philosophy in life is Human Equality is the basis for gender equality.  Although she admits that absolute equality among all human beings is probably not practical, Sosena wants to see in her life time equal access to basic needs such as food, shelter, education and health services.

When asked to comment about her role models, Sosena lights up and mentions Angella Davis – a freedom fighter for black people – who has been Sosena’s role model. During her youth, Sosena emulated Angella even in the way she dressed.  She also says she learned a lot from her mother – who was very hard working woman – and her father who used to work in Ministry of Justice.  Her childhood was marked by the message that has been drilled into her to respect fellow human beings but to never fear anyone since she is equal to others.  She says her current values are shaped by her upbringing and as such Sosena admires a lot of men and women who are contributing their time to promote justice and equality.

Her father Blata Demessie had started to write his auto biography before being tragically killed by the dergue in  the 1970’s . Together with her husband, Sosena conducted extensive research which enabled them to complete and publish a book – “ Mot yalgetaw guzo”. The title , loosely translated , means “ A journey that has not been stopped by death” . For Sosena, success is achieving ones objective with no compromising in own values. She emphasizes the process of getting there – the journey towards success is just as important as the achievement of objectives.  She further says her upbringing has contributed to her success as a gender advocate and her accomplishment of finalizing the book her father started. She is also happy with the support she is getting from her husband in many ways during their long life journey with him particularly in finalizing the book which my father started. She is proud of her children, since they respects their values and culture, love their people and country. She is proud that the grand children who are born and raised in the US are speaking and writing their language and respect Ethiopians values.

When asked if women support each other, Sosena says “We do support each other and we need to support each other even more to bring positive change in women’s life “From her experience, she says, she supports women both personally and professionally. Professionally, she says she is constantly looking for ways to improve women empowerment, constantly travelling to rural areas and extensively searching for continuous business opportunities for women. Personally, Sosena volunteered her time and continues to do so now too. She let her office and computers be used for associations that advocate for women’s rights; when she had her consultancy business. Now, she mainly participates in board membership, volunteering her time and expertise in different organizations.

Sosena’s only leisure activity is swimming early in the morning. She enjoys reading books; now days mainly non-fiction books related with women empowerment and those related with philosophy. Her views on AWiB are that it creates a platform for visibility of business women as well as professionals in other areas. She is constantly talking about AWiB and the many benefits it offers to members.  Sosena is very grateful for her education that enabled her to support the development of many others. She is very grateful for her parents who provided this opportunity to her which was not “ a  given”  to many young girls of her generation in Ethiopia . She is grateful since it enabled her to make a living for herself, giving her an opportunity to support herself and many others. She is also grateful for having supportive brothers, sisters and family in general in many ways in her life. She is grateful that she has access to the resources to make a difference in women’s lives. Sosena wants the others to know that hard work pays off eventually . So, she would encourage everyone to have a vision that would enable them to strive for and achieve in due time.  Reiterating the point that being a gender equity professional is not only her job but her passion, she says even her husband is now gender sensitive  and tells her when he sees something that is not addressed appropriately. Speaking of marriage, Sosena also says both men and women have to work together to ensure a happy and long lasting marriage. She says rather than adopting a combatant attitude, both must use ethical tactics with love and respect to get what they want out of their marriage.

AWiB thanks Sosena for what she does for Women’s empowerment and her commitment towards the cause of responsible leadership.

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