Her Story

Nigest Haile

Nigest Haile is a remarkable woman who has always dedicated her life to make other people succeed. Through her work, many women have been able to realize their potential. For more than three decades, she has been making a difference in women\’s life by facilitating opportunities in the business sector. Nigest graduated from Addis Ababa University, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology. She started her career with the Handicrafts and Small Industries Development Agency (HASIDA) in 1980 and later when HASIDA was dissolved she was transferred to the Women’s Affairs Department within the Ministry of Trade and Industry. In this capacity, Nigest’s task was to promote women in business and as a part of the management team, she was involved in policy design which has had positive repercussions for women to this date. During that time, priority was given to micro enterprises/the informal sector, where Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), particularly owned and managed by women, were not given due focus. In filling this gap and complementing the government’s efforts, Nigest was keen in finding ways to assist women involved in SMEs. Therefore, following 23 years of service in government, Nigest decided to dedicate herself to growing and promoting women in SMEs by capitalizing on her growing network.

In 2004, Nigest formed her organization, CAWEE (Center for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment), while she was still working at the Ministry of Trade and Industry. At that time there was no particular organization that focused on supporting women in export. The donors that she was dealing with were also supportive of her initiative and they were willing to help her with her venture.  The International Trade Center (ITC) in Geneva became the first and major supporter and partner with her new venture. After six months of her company’s formation, ITC was looking for a representative in Ethiopia for its project on Access for African Business Woman in International Trade. CAWEE applied for the position of becoming a country focal office for Ethiopia and owing to her stellar performance while working with the Ministry of Trade and Industry, ITC granted the project to Nigest and her newly formed organization. She notes that it was her boldness, confidence and track record that gained her the project despite not having a well-organized office in comparison with the other candidates.

Nigest’s organization works in developing marketable skills across the value-chain. Through a grant that CAWEE was able to get from the Canadian donor agency she was able to help women involved in gem stone production buy the necessary raw material, facilitated skills transfer and connected them with markets.

Nigest’s organization is focused on making a positive impact without discriminating on regional location. Basketry is now becoming a great business in Axum and in Bahir Dar for export purpose. Up to 50 women from Weyto Community in Bahir Dar and 50 from Axum were provided skills training and were given a chance to produce with the purpose of reaching export markets.

As part of CAWEE’s aim of skills building for market access, over 800 women have been given trainings in international trade and 140 were given business counseling services.  They have also attended more than 50 trade shows through Nigest’s efforts.  Out of these trainees, some have formed associations in regional levels and Nigest maintains her relationship with the regional associations and stays active by giving counseling to those who have second thoughts or who would want to take their company to the next level.  Nigest takes her time voluntarily in counseling these women after the trainings as some find it difficult to carry on due to their other responsibilities.

CAWEE is now one of the few selected for the project of the First Lady of Ethiopia designed as a platform for connecting 1,500 women to export markets. This work follows CAWEE’s record of connecting 100 weavers to the export market through USAID support in 2012.

“Exposure is what makes people look for a better quality or opportunity”, says Nigest.  Through her donor funding, she makes sure she takes women with export potential to international exhibitions and tradeshows, as exhibitors or just visitors so that they take the opportunity to learn and supply a better product to the international market.  Their negotiation skills, social media exposure, communication skills development in English language were improved as she has pushed them to learn more and invest on themselves so that they can be internationally competitive.

Exposure is what makes people look for better quality or opportunity

Nigest has high hopes for the Ethiopian textile industry and through an initiative with ITC, she engaged the New York School of Design to support the revision of the curriculum of four Ethiopian fashion institutes/schools of which two are government owned (Bahir Dar Textile and Fashion Institute and Ethiopian Textile Institute) and two private ones (Wossi International Fashion School and Next Design School). As an ongoing project that works for the development of the Textile and Fashion industry in Ethiopia, this ITC supported project will also work on trying to blend Ethiopian cotton with Mongolian cashmere.

Nigest is constantly working on innovative ideas. Testimony to that is her support through CAWEE in revitalizing a lapidary workshop in Bahir Dar that was not operational for the past 5 years and was revived by providing technical skills training to 25 young women to produce semi-processed gemstones. These trainees now are operational supplying their products to women involved in exporting jewelry by adding value to the semi-processed gemstones targeting the export market. Noting this success, the Amhara  Regional government invested 210 million Birr to build 17 well equipped lapidary workshops to replicate CAWEE’s initiative.

Our country has great potential in diverse sectors….

Nigest has big dreams for Ethiopian in which she envisions the young are equipped with the required skills that will cater for the high-end market and for the other category of customers to create another market and have a multiplier effect in which the whole industry. She believes that empowering the young generation is very instrumental, as they can make a positive impact on their own peer groups as well as plays a greater role in the development of up-coming young businesswomen. She was able to discover local talent and make them international entrepreneurs.  She adds “our country has great potential in diverse sectors, like: coffee, precious stones, basketry, hand woven products, etc.  But the problem is supply.”  Traveling up to Mongolia, leading delegations of women entrepreneurs, she is encouraging young and emerging designers to show the potential of the Ethiopian market, with its unique and special fabrics, cultural touches and contemporary designs that can easily enter the high end export market.

In leading trade missions, she empowers the young staff of CAWEE to lead delegations to travel abroad in other destinations. This is part of her efforts to develop successors and serve as the back stopper. A hard worker and dedicated individual, Nigest makes sure she coaches others within CAWEE to lead a sustainable organization. Her dedication is evidenced in many ways, one of which includes having to leave her 11-month daughter when duty called. Nigest gives a lot of credit to her husband, who is very supportive, as she was mostly traveling and her husband taking the responsibility of looking after the kids. Her now grown daughter has countless times asked her why she cannot do a job that pays more or a job that drastically changes the way they live.  Nigest says, “if she can’t be there to make a difference for the women who are striving to export, nobody can.”

With her connection, she says that she can get a position in other countries and earn more.  But the result that she gets when the entrepreneurs that she discovered make it to the top of the ladder, gives her great satisfaction much than the money that she could be earning.  Nigest shares that for 11 years since 2004, the impact that she was able to make in the community compensates the challenges that she faced in the process.

Other Contributions

Apart from her duties at her organization, Nigest is also the board member and co-founder of Enat Bank.  During its formation, she recalls, her husband used to wait for her in the car with a ‘Gabi’, in the night, sometimes up to mid night, until she gets done with her meeting when she and her team were preparing for the formation of the bank.  For that, whatever success she has gained, she owes it to the family and she says it is their success too. She also sits in the CARTIER Women’s Initiative Awards jury voluntarily representing Sub-Saharan Africa.

Awards and Recogntions

What many think of Nigest is evidenced in the partnerships and support her work has received. The State Department of USA, the ILO and UNWOMEN have awarded Nigest for her transformational and innovative work. She feels so proud and appreciates her nomination for the 2015 Women of Excellence awards as she feels honored and highly grateful for AWiB’s nomination in her own country.  Her message as a nominee is that “If we are not there for our country, then who is there for us?”

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