The Empathetic Leader: Bizuwork Ketete
Born in July 1960, among seven siblings in Addis Ababa, Bizuwork grew up in a loving family. Her life was filled with travel & experiences of different cultures from early on as her father worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Bizuwork’s father’s first assignment was to Mogadishu, where she finished her elementary education. The next assignment was to Greece in the early 70s, she finished high school at the Hellenic International School in Athens. As moving was the family’s life at this point, it gave Bizuwork the opportunity to pursue her passion – Language. She attended the University of Havana and studied Linguistics at the Faculty of Foreign Languages. The family once again deployed to Mexico in the early 80s, where she joined them for a year and, moved on in life & returned to Ethiopia in 1983.
Bizuwork’s first job was at the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), the current Disaster Prevention and Preparedness Commission, in 1984. Her first assignment was to the Assistant Deputy Commissioner’s office, then to the Aid Coordination and International Relations Department. She stayed with the RRC for four years supporting international and local organizations during the years of famine.
In 1987, Bizuwork moved on to work for Action Aid-Ethiopia as an Office Manager, later transferred to Personnel Manager, then to London for a six-month assignment as a Desk Officer for Action Aid’s Ethiopia and Malawi country programs.
Upon her return from London in 1993, Bizuwork understood that to advance her contributions to development and poverty, it was imperative to work closely with the rural communities in which she believed the most needy and maximum impact could be realized. She found a managerial position to set up & lead an Integrated Rural Development Program in Koysha, in Northern Omo Region. The program focused on delivering community-based health services, adult & children informal education, savings & credit services, community-based veterinary, and access to roads. She was the first African woman Program Manager in the Action Aid Family. Her empathetic personality made it easier for her to connect with the community & team. She fondly recalls her connection with the people; how her exposure to their living conditions was an eye-opening experience; the tightly knit Waka team, and their journey together.
Bizuwork moved to Kigali in 1997 as a Country Director in Action Aid Rwanda. The time was right after the genocide massacre and her work; providing emergency shelter, distributing seed, supporting civil society, and getting the country ready for a better future.
Returning home, she joined Safer World, where she became part of the team that worked on the ACP-EU Cotonou Agreement. The project was implemented in partnership with the Ethiopia-based Inter Africa Group (IAG) and the Kenya-based Africa Peace Forum (APF). The Cotonou agreement experience led Bizuwork to explore further and promote good governance.
Irish Aid was a pioneer in supporting individuals and networks of Civil Society Organizations, particularly those working in the area of human rights, advocacy, gender, and inclusion. She contributed a great deal & impacted the outcome as a Senior Governance Program Manager and served Irish Aid for 12 years. Irish Aid’s programs were critical in supporting many CSOs during the years of restrictive CSO Proclamation in Ethiopia.
In 2019, Government change in the nation came about with its reform promises and the opportunities to serve the country with renewed energy and inexhaustible hope. Luck had it that she was nominated for the National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE). Following a participatory screening process, she joined the NEBE as one of the five Board Members. At first, she was skeptical about the “drastic change” and her contribution to this field of work, but after four years of serving, her skepticism subsided. She oversees the External Relations, Gender & Social Inclusion, and Accreditation & oversight of Domestic & International Observers Departments. The NEBE has since carried out one General Election and three referendums; Bizuwork is confident that her qualities and experiences do add values. She affirms that she is also learning a lot.
Bizuwork is a single parent and raised a son that seems to follow her trail. She is a woman with a strong character that she credits her parents. She shares that her deceased father’s teachings and guidance live in all his children. The parents instilled in the children the concept of good citizenship “ምንም ሆነ ምን፤ አገርን መውደድ”; to respect all human beings equally regardless of status, living conditions & always stand by Truth. These values carry her through her journeys and interactions.
In 2004 Bizuwork founded a local NGO called “ዜጋ ለእድገት” (Citizens for Progress) that focused on education, especially civic education. She served as a Board Member on the “Union of Ethiopian CSOs”, “SOS Sahel” and “Impact”. Her way of giving back is through supporting charitable CSOs.
Bizuwork asserts that inter-generational sharing of experiences is beneficial and has high hopes for what the dynamism of the younger generation with vast opportunities can bring. Her advice to the youth is to put their energy into attaining their vision with patience & openness to learn from those with experience. She says it is the older generation’s responsibility to be exemplary to the following generation.
Bizuwork loves having time for herself & to reflect. In her spare time, she likes playing volleyball, watching movies, going out with friends, listening to music, and reading. She feels she is anchored by the Cuba Friendship Circle that started 35 years ago.
For Bizuwork, being a leader requires creating an inclusive environment and working with the people to accomplish a shared vision. She believes it is important to be firm but also empathetic towards people, to listen, learn, inspire, motivate, and guide. In her words, “As you lead, you learn”.
AWiB thanks Bizuwork for her time to share her global experiences with us.
Share on your socials!