Wintana Shimelis-Poujade: Spreading Opportunity

Wintana Shimelis-Poujade (previously Wintana Teseraworq Shimelis) was born and raised in Addis Ababa around Kazanchis area.  She has one younger brother and describes her childhood as an amusing time, socializing with the neighborhood kids who felt like siblings.  Attending Lycee Guebremariam, a French international school, paved a way for her to pursue her higher education in France.

Moving to France at an early age was an opportunity for Wintana to grow in multiple ways.  After passing the first year of law school—only one third of the students make it to second year—she was exhausted and took a year off from her studies.  For financial stability she worked on a farm, a souvenir shop and as a waitress.

Wintana graduated from law school where she met her husband and moved with him to Vietnam after working in Airbus in France for about a year.  The agreement was whoever had a better employment opportunity would take the lead and the other would follow.  Vietnam gave her the opportunity to overcome challenges.  At the time Vietnam was in the later stages of Doi Moi, a program of political and economic reforms initiated in 1986.  Still developing, the environment was difficult for Wintana who had a tough boss expecting her to be available at all hours—every day of the week—covering multiple roles such as legal counsel, HR and administrative positions.  In the seven years they lived in Vietnam, positive changes were visible in the country with the couple’s contributions.  Wintana decided it was time to make a difference in her homeland.

As she got the better work opportunity, Wintana and her husband moved to Ethiopia.  She started working at Meta Abo Brewery (Diageo) Addis Ababa seven years ago.  Working as legal counsel in Diageo, her previous manager saw the excitement she showed in commercial and leadership roles and encouraged her to transition from legal director to commercial director.  As a commercial director Wintana’s daily activities revolve around guiding the team through marketing and commercial aspects of Diageo.  The company thrives to make significant changes in the society by promoting responsible drinking, providing breathalyzer testing materials, supporting 21 plus drinking, encouraging to use local products in the company and building schools in the farmers communities.

“Etegae” is an association Wintana co-founded with five colleagues aiming to create a networking platform for women at their workplace, to become allies and develop together.  She trusts the daily interactions with each other create a healthy ambiance in the workplace.  She believes people just want to be heard and understood more than anything; “Etegae” provides a platform to do that.  As a women’s association working in the alcohol business, Etegae gives these women  self-confidence trainings, self-defense classes, promotes flexible working hours and pushes the management to make 50% of workers women.

One of Wintana’s reasons for starting Etegae is to help women who might not be fortunate to have a supportive environment at home.  She says her husband is the biggest support system in her life.  She describes herself lucky that she can concentrate fully at work because half of her responsibilities at home are shared with her husband.  She added she is able be a good mother and wife at home because of her supportive environment at work.

As legal director two years ago, Wintana was awarded as one of the top 100 most influential lawyers in Africa.  Since becoming commercial director, Diageo Ethiopia has been given the Pride of Africa award for having opened the only experiential Diageo Brand shop in Africa.  Most of all Wintana emphasizes that her most important accomplishments are making a difference in her colleagues’ lives and seeing the strength of character in her daughter at such a young age.

Wintana’s passion is life itself.  She says, “When you are celebrating life and enjoying what you do, you give everything you have to others and give all your effort.  Every day is a new day and it should be celebrated as one.  Most people say my body is a temple and I disagree.  I believe that my body is an amusement park so I try to enjoy life as much as possible.”  In her leisure time she loves reading stories, imagining possibilities, and reads two books per week.  She also loves knitting as it brings out her creative side and watching movies.

Giving back to the community is in Wintana’s blood.  Wintana says her parents taught her and her brother about taking care of others from a young age.  She supports monetarily a small organization called Mothers and Child Rehabilitation Center around the Aware area.  The organization supports physically and sexually abused girls by helping the mothers learn and have sustainable jobs while taking care of their children inside the compound until they can provide for their families on their own.  In addition to financial assistance, visiting the site with her daughter and husband, and spending time with the residents she believes makes an immense impact.

Wintana gets emotional when she talks about her parents.  They are her role models in life, teaching her independence and strength.  Her parents played a great role for her success because they sent a strong message that a woman is as good as a man.  Her brother also plays a great role in her life, opening her eyes to other sides of life besides work.  She is now a mother of a 4-year-old girl and hopes she grows up to be whatever she wants to be, believing in herself.

Wintana’s message for the younger generation and everyone reading this piece is to have respect for work.  She believes that getting down and dirty when necessary is what made her who she is today.  “Other people believing in me more than I believed in myself turned my life around and made me believe in myself, too.  My message for everyone is to believe in yourself, and when other people believe in you don’t doubt them.”

AWiB appreciates Wintana for taking the time to share her aspiring life story.

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