WORKINESH DABA on Community Development

“My vision for my country is good change, social and economic development. When we completed one of the water wells, a woman told me, we would wash in that water, have our cattle drink from that water and drink that water. Now she said we have dignity and we drink clean water. It has stuck with me.”

\"Workinesh Workinesh DabaWorkinesh Daba was born in Addis Alem town of the Oromia region and is a mother of three. Following her elementary schooling in her formative years, she joined Debre Birhan Teaching School for two years and thereafter worked in Asela but soon decided to return to pursue further studies. After going back to school and receiving a diploma, Workinesh shares that she understood the benefits of education and wanted to go further. This led her to join the extension program in Addis Ababa University and received a degree in Geography in 1976. Since her graduation, Workinesh has taught and served in various administrative roles in Kokebe Tsebah, Etege Mennen and Wonderad schools before retiring.

\”I was the only girl who passed the eighth grade with good grades. I worked hard and never gave up.\”

Following her r

etirement, Workinesh felt she still had a lot of energy and began working in a private school as its Director. However, her vision was more inclined towards humanitarian work. This vision was soon to take shape with the visit of her daughter to Addis Alem where she took note of some of the challenges in which people live under. In consultation with local communities, they identified key priority areas for the community, with education of gir

ls in rural areas, health and water topping the list. At that point, she resigned from her role as Director and began to work as a volunteer to manage their first project in a primary school in Addis Alem. They started the first water well project for a primary school which had close to 2,000 students but with no access to drinking water. Workinesh’s daughter and her husband personally financed the well and after witnessing the positive results of this intervention, they were encouraged to begin the formal registration of the NGO – For Development Association – Ethiopia (FDA-E). As the charity grew from 2009 onwards, Workinesh became an employee, hired staff members, and brought on board several supporters from Bristol, UK.

“Working in development projects is satisfying, it is a chance to contribute to the growth and development of my country.\”

For Development Association – Ethiopia works on educational quality and equity, health and wellbeing of women and children, sanitation, and water. Under their water program, the organization provides hand dug and drilled shallow wells for communities and schools. Under the health program, they provide trainings, donate solar refrigerators and motorcycle ambulance, as well as medical equipment necessary to give quality care to mothers and babies. FDA-E also works in education by donating materials directly to schools, building library and stocking libraries. Particularly addressing the educational needs of rural girls, FDA-E runs the Underhill Scholarship Scheme for girls that have no access to secondary school in their own villages to come and study in secondary schools. Some get stipend to rent rooms in the town and continue to study while others get an opportunity to live at the hostel. Initially, they used to rent the house of the hostel but subsequently with support from friends of FDA-E, they built Toby House for young girls that come from far villages where there is no secondary school.

“We observed great transformations from when they join the scholarship scheme and when they leave to join TVET. We have seen many of the initial cohort going to university, graduating and now being economically independent.”

Some of the impact that FDA-E has brought to the communities it caters to over a span of fourteen years includes:

  • drilling 17 water wells, 5 hand dug shallow wells and developed 5 springs;
  • donated materials to health posts located in 25 farmer associations and the main health center;
  • supported 27 primary schools and the only fully fledged secondary school in educational material, some of them with female restrooms and built a library for the secondary school;
  • donated 7 solar fridges set strategically to reduce medicine wastage and to improve effectiveness;
  • partnered with professionals to run necessary capacity building training to local stakeholders on care of women, children and sanitation as well as equipment use and maintenance.

FDA-E is the source of innovation in delivering ‘landlord training’ to those leasing rooms and space for the girls that come to attend school. The training delivered in a culturally sensitive way to encourage them to be sensitive to their needs, to show that there is support. The organization goes beyond theoretical empowerment and implements a culturally sensitive approach, to ensure that young girls are not limited, and that not all consider early marriage or migration. This includes sewing machine training, reproductive health and hygiene training, n psycho-social support. Workinesh describes their work as non-deficit based, focusing on the positive, that gives the young girls a good change.

“Personally, I am always working. If I see something dirty; if I see someone urinating on the streets, I do not pass by. I stop them. I clean my neighborhood. Sometimes I wish I was mayor so I could clean up our city.\”

Workinesh’s leadership style is described as ‘showing in action,’ not showing a hierarchical principle but being an example herself. She believes in giving chance to people and leading by setting example. For a very long time the organization did not have a vehicle. Yet work had to get done, so Workinesh would walk up to 20km by foot to remote areas as she needed to consult communities and monitor projects.

Workinesh encourages women to pursue their education, even advocating on their behalf. She recalls once instance of a young woman who was making a long journey from school to her village and escaped a probable abduction. Upon hearing of this story, she had the young woman moved into their hostel to ensure she continues her education uninterrupted.

“I do not know about AWiB but I am very happy that is has been established. There are so many women that have accomplished good things but they are not known.”


“Workinesh is a strong woman who takes on challenges to the best of her capacity. Her dedication inspires me and I continually ask Workinesh not to work too hard and consider her health. She uses her motherly influence to convince others of hear goals and patiently explains until you understand. It is very hard to say no to her. She is loving and sociable. She is also persistent in achieving her goals, does not give and gets things done.” ~ Leila Shakur (FDA-E Project Coordinator)

“In several years of working with Workinesh, she has been leading the organization for free without salary, only recently employing others and accepting a salary. She would spend time in the community, take public transportation, walk and spend the night with the people and living like the community when needed. Workinesh is an open person and works to alleviate the burdens on women. I have learnt a lot about commitment, dedication and strength from her. ~ Samuel Nigussie (FDA-E Volunteer)

My mother’s character has shaped my character and principles. I run my own NGO and am also the trustee of two other international NGOs and my mother is the key influence for everything I do. I support my mother’s work with my professional training and by providing resources to her initiatives based on the opportunities and resources that I get access to. I remember growing up in Addis Ababa and the number of people that were hosted in our home, including refugees and domestic abuse survivors. My mother is fearless when it comes to supporting the most vulnerable ~ Dr. Tigist Grieve (Daughter)

“I think of Workinesh as the ‘Iron Lady’ who has dedicated her time to ensuring people benefit. She does this work with no expectation of benefit for herself. She is persistent, hardworking and dedicated. You can see from the way she speaks and moves that she is influential in getting what she wants done.” ~ Dr. Tefera Niguesse (FDA-E General Assembly Chair)