Event Recap

Have you ever thought of art as anything else but art? Is it just something you thought is pleasing to look at as in great works to be appreciated, or men and women to be recognized for great talent; or have you ever thought of it as going beyond the art and the artist itself? Going beyond the work, beyond the individual behind the work, but actually to the immense influence it has on self-awareness and societal mindfulness at large? Well, AWiB definitely did when it hosted its monthly event entitled “Art as a Tool for Transformation” this October, with two renowned artist as their guest speakers. 


The 4th and final seminar in the Dearth of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia seminar series took place on September 15, 2017 at Sheraton Hotel. The seminar hosted in collaboration with AwiB and Earuyan Solutions, and supported by the Austrian Development Cooperation was titled “The Approach to Gender Equality: Service or Disservice to Promoting Ethiopian Women’s Leadership?” The seminar was designed to examine gender equality approaches incentivizing the participation of women in leadership and decision-making.

The event started with an opening by Ms. Nahusenay Girma, Director of AWiB, who gave a brief recap of the trajectory of the series from its first seminar to its fourth and final. She took a moment to thank Ms. Billene Seyoum, founder and Managing Director of Earuyan Solutions, who was commemorating her birthday, for her immeasurable contribution to making the series happen. Ms. Nahusensay also thanked Ms. Selome Tadesse, who has moderated all four seminars, for her fearless interrogations and seamless facilitation of the series. 


The AWiB monthly lead and moderator, Sewit Haileselasie, opened the session by welcoming participants, thanking AWIB partners and the work of AWIB team. She further highlighted the Women of Excellence 2017 and their stories, featured on the AWiB website, informing the audience tickets sales have started for the Galla dinner that celebrates and appreciates these extraordinary women on Sunday October 29th, 2017 at the Sheraton Addis.

Members were then given the stage to introduce their businesses or say few words about what they do or what they are up to. In the September monthly event, Meron Nega introduced her startup business; Earth Soap, a handmade organic soap which is due to be launched on September 25th at the Medhanialem mall.


The program started with an AWiB Member, Asefach Haileselassie presenting her organization Bezna Training Institute, working on capacity building trainings. Another guest, Elleni presented a call to support her project on training street dogs to work as support dogs for the blind.   The monthly lead, Semhal Guesh, AWiB Board member, then introduced the speakers for the evening Biruktawit Tigabu, CEO of Wiz kids, Fitsum Kidanemariam Deputy Manager of Gift Business Group and Metasebiya Shewaye Yilma, Incoming president of AWiB and a media personality, were all invited to the stage.

Biruktawit Tigabu, who had just landed and headed straight from the airport along with her kids, introduced herself as Birkti, mother of two, author, founder and CEO of Wiz kids. She says she has been blessed to have a calling in teaching children, which she fell in love with in her first experience as a teacher. She recalls her three years of experience as a teacher, when comparing the performance of children from wealthy families that have been to kindergarten versus those that have not. She started asking herself how that gap can be bridged.


On June 30, 2017, AWiB and Earuyan Solutions presented a seminar on the involvement of Ethiopian women in leadership—“Ethiopian Women’s Reluctance to Visibility/Leadership? Fact or Myth?” The seminar, 3rd in the Dearth of Women in Leadership in Ethiopia seminar series and supported by the Austrian Development Agency, aimed to examine the factors that deter or propel women into key leadership positions and make meaning of facts and myths used to explain their absence. 

The session opened with an introduction by Ms. Billene Seyoum formEaruyan Solutions of the moderator, Ms. Selome Tadesse, founder of Emerge Leaders and Consultancy. Ms. Selome summarized the core questions of the session and revisited a question addressed by a previous seminar on the Dearth of Women’s Leadership in Ethiopia: Is it elitist for Ethiopian women to ask to share power? This question, according to Ms. Selome, had led them to ask what responsibility Ethiopian women have to level the playing field. Consequently, this forum investigates whether we as women want to be visible, whether we want to come to power or, according to the commonly held assumption, whether we are reluctant to assume such positions.


Change and Consequences was the title of the round table discussion (RTD) that took place on Saturday 10th June 2017 at AWiB’s Resource Center (ARC). Eight participated in this RTD facilitated by Meti Shewaye Yilma, AWiB’s President Elect.

The discussion was kicked off with introduction and what participants feel about change. The response was mixed. Few think of change as positive, one as negative but most of them have mixed feelings about change.

Change is perceived as positive or negative depending on the situation and circumstances. The terms we associate with change differ based on our experience during change; we call it growth when we enjoy it and hardship when we endure. We label change as negative when the consequences seem insecure, unpredictable, unsafe and unknown. We recognize it as positive when we feel we have more control over the consequences.


AWiB’s June monthly seminar was a descriptive look at the main bodies in government directly related to investment, trade and taxes. Each bureau, as listed below, plays an essential part in one’s decision to invest in Ethiopia. Individually each institution provides support as well as encouragement to anyone aiming to start a business in Ethiopia, invest with foreign institutions and contribute to the country’s economical development.

Although the bureaucratic ordeals are many, the fruitful success of the end goal of investing in Ethiopia is well worth the struggle. One must understand first and foremost that Ethiopia being a developing country carries its own set of obstacles, as the country is aggressively rearranging its government bodies and private institutions to better suit the willing and able domestic and foreign business investor in all sectors. Of the many topics covered during the seminar, the most imperative point that all the invited speakers wanted to convey was just that. 



The sixth annual AWiB’s May Forum with the theme “Strategic Leadership: Getting Where you Want to Be” began with an opening speech by Sewit Haileselassie, AWiB board member. The opening included an introductory video on AWiB and recognition of partners, sponsors, and other collaborators. The speaker introduced this year’s theme, Strategic Leadership and Collaborative Culture, stating that AWiB is a place of possibilities for herself and many women.

The speaker introduced the program for the sixth annual May Forum and concluded by emphasizing the importance of listening to the woman within before introducing the Keynote speaker; Yetnebersh Negussie who gave a brief presentation of her background and introduced the crux of her speech: DEAR – which stands for Determination, Empowerment, Adaptability and Riskmanagement.


The May 4th AWiB monthly event began with the host Meti introducing the evening’s topic “Negotiating through Ethiopian Business Culture”. The first guest Aster Solomon, CEO of Mosaic Hotel, owner and manager of many businesses and a founder & Board Member at Enat Bank was introduced as an expert in navigating through the Ethiopian business environment. The second guest Kathy Marshall is the manager of Sabahar, Handmade Ethiopian Textiles that works with traditional weavers and producing fair trade artisanal clothing and fabric to international markets.

Aster Solomon began her presentation defining culture and its impact on business citing time management, honesty and loyalty in the Ethiopian business context. She listed lack of transparency, commitment, non-assertiveness, poor team work and ethics. She insisted that in her experience there’s no sharing of risks or benefits in the work place and lack of skills, motivation and ambition among the work force. She also stated that the Ethiopian labor law is weak and not conducive for businesses.

Her negative assessment included people’s unwillingness to work for private companies choosing instead to work for large or international corporations. She also mentioned flaws in policies especially within the education system resulting in under qualified graduates.

Aster recommends young people to get a quality education, be hard working and persevere. She also emphasizes the potential role religious institutions can play in influencing young people to become more ethical. She said young people should have discipline, a strong culture, be hard working, thrifty, and well-educated.

Aster urges speaking openly about the business culture, following that statement with “I don’t trust employees so I do not invest in them”. She claimed there aren’t any legal safety nets protecting her investments and she can easily shut down the business and move on.

“I like to work with women but they have a lot of problems when they get married or have children” she stated. Her company is now trying to organize childcare services to battle what she regards to be the cause of a decrease in efficiency.

She also stated that she doesn’t rely on references of applicants when filling a vacancy. “I don’t trust them” she said, admitting it might be part of her own bad business practice.

She summed up her presentation by stating that the Ethiopian culture is not conducive to work. She thanked her family for the support they provided, contributing to her success. She then asked why Ethiopians residing abroad are more successful than those living at home. An audience member later offered that perhaps it’s because there are more opportunities available abroad especially in higher education, referring to her own tenure in the US.

Kathy Marshall began her presentation with a beautiful video on weaving, showing the colorful dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing process. The vibrancy of the hanging fabrics was a refreshing change after the W/zo Aster’s tirade that left this writer disheartened. 

Kathy used to work in NGOs until she decided to move into the private business sector, deeming it to be a better approach to change. Sabahar, a textile factory was established in 2004 to show the world the beautiful skill and workmanship that goes into producing Ethiopian fabric. Targeting the high end international market and using basic traditional equipment available in the country, Sabahar aims to create high-end goods. Kathy was unsure if she could comment on the Ethiopian culture and its effect on business and instead referred to her values as a Canadian. Her business philosophy is based on trust, the necessity of win-win scenarios and personal sacrifice for the common good. After stating that she loves what she does and the people she works with she continued to state the challenges her business has faced over the past decade.

Poor team work skills and inability to be strong decision makers compromises the active roles employees should be taking in the work place. Sabahar organizes frequent team buildings and empowerment trainings, creating a supportive space to make decisions and evening the playing ground. Kathy also mentioned the challenge with implementing a system of rewarding good work and promotions, stating some employees feel uncomfortable earning raises or promotions and becoming different from their coworkers. She said there are social pressures that may be unique to Ethiopia to assimilate and create fear of being rewarded.

Another challenge Sabahar mentioned was the lack of documentation and proper guidelines in regards to policy information for new businesses, especially the lack of transparency on regulations for foreigners. The little attention the public sector receives, especially pertaining to the development of technical skills, difficulties in the exporting process, the challenges of maintaining a supply chain and having consistent and reliable inputs regularly available has forced Sabahar to create multiple contingency plans.

Finally, Kathy stated, Sabahar has had a lot of support even though the company structure isn’t exactly what the Ethiopian government looks for in manufacturing and textile companies. This was followed by a question and answer session. A question about fostering good relationship with employees and creating a system that allows for good communication and productivity was asked. Aster answered that creating a system is always a struggle and she had difficulties with supervising employees and work details that constantly require her attention. She expressed her fear of employees leaving ‘once they get what they want’. The labor law, Aster stated, is in their favor, allowing employees to [receive whatever they deserve].

Kathy admitted that implementation and follow up for such a system is difficult but it was important to her to create a safe space where employees’ voices are important. By implementing a Kaisen Continual Improvement system for the past 6 years involving everyone in decision making, holding weekly meetings without management, choosing team leaders and coming up with solutions together, employees have come to foster feelings of personal responsibility and ownership of the work they do. She stated putting the people ahead of profit margins and respecting the workers’ choices has been a positive system. Transparency with profit and leveling with employees on how their personal input contributes to the larger picture has allowed a company with almost zero turnovers.

 Aster stated that, especially in her International School she owns and manages, trainings to improve the skills of employees to the extent of sending them abroad for higher education are offered to highly promising employees. Aster’s previous claim of not giving much attention to employee development was not addressed.

Meti’s final question to both guests asked what they would have done differently if offered the opportunity to go back to the moment they started their businesses. Aster replied that she would focus on self-development, going for her MBA, broadening her business into other sectors, working with banks and taking loans would be the changes she would have made.

Kathy stated that importing equipment for the dyeing process, learning more about how to run a business, becoming more aware of vulnerability and careful with the value chain would be improvements she wishes she had made earlier. Focusing on creating even more social impact, strategic product development and adding value to Sabahar’s product are things she would change in retrospect.

Meti then thanked the guests for sharing valuable information and sharing their experiences. She said she learned about ethics from Aster and the importance of sharing information from Kathy and ended the evening’s discussion by urging every attendee to spread the word about the AWiB Effect and May Forum to be held on May 25th at UNCC.



April’s monthly event revolved around the issue of social enterprise in the Ethiopian context, focusing on one social entrepreneur Ato Kibret Abebe. The host for the evening, Meti Shewaye Yilma opened the event by introducing the AWiB board members inviting attendees to visit the AWiB website for more news on current activities.

Ato Kibret Abebe is the founder ofTebita Ambulance the first privately owned pre-hospital emergency aid provider in Ethiopia. One of the top anesthesiologists in the country,Ato Kibret is social entrepreneur passionate about challenging individuals to think about their contribution to society and country.


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AWiB would like to proudly acknowledge its partners for the year.