‘Arengwade gorf’ or ‘the green flood’ was what we used to call our athletes more than a decade ago now. I bet many of you remember this brand. I remember the feelings of anxiety, excitement, and sense of pride we had as we watched our athletes compete and win in the Olympics. They showed us that if we worked hard at it and put our minds to it, anything is possible. And athlete Haile Gebre Selassie iterated this in his moto ‘yes we can!’ or ‘yichalal’ in Amharic, a moto we saw posted in the streets of Addis. One thing that keeps me wondering though is why Ethiopians are only known for long-distance running. Why not for long jumps or hammer throwing for instance? I do not suppose these activities require some sophisticated equipment for training. Yes, maybe us Ethiopians have a landscape and maybe a physical that makes long-distance running a perfect fit for us. But still, my bet is that there are several other types of sports we could be excelling at even at the global level. I think the main reason we are holding ourselves back is not because we are incapable but because we need someone that can show us that it can be done! Many of us would like to have the water tested by others before we decide to jump into it. Abebe Bikila, Miruts Yifter and then later Haile Gebresselassie have demonstrated that it is possible to be a high-class long distance runner. Thanks to these people, a point has been reached where long-distance running cannot be distinguished from Ethiopia (and few other East African countries).
We are shaped by our exposures and experiences. People believe in what they see and what they hear. In the Ethiopian context, a typical illustration of this is the similarity of businesses in the country, and especially the smaller ones. The range of services and products you find in the country are quite similar. Only few dare to enter into the unknown zone because it is untested. New and very different business ideas are almost always frowned upon and face loads of challenges before they are finally accepted by society. The taxi service provider Ride is one recent example of this. I remember drinking bottled water used to be labelled as something that is done only by the Ethiopian diaspora. And now look at all the plastic bottles polluting the city. Even collecting disposed plastic bottles and recycling them has now become another line of business.
Sometimes I feel that, whenever you have a new and disruptive business idea you would like to pursue, you should not discuss about it and seek the opinions of the crowd before making one step towards its realization. Particularly in a society like ours where new ways of doing things are generally frowned upon, and where the safe and tested is appreciated, it is better to keep your new ideas only to yourself, your most trusted ones and the ones you truly believe would share your visions until you have at least a small evidence that you can actually make it happen. I am sure many people have already been discouraged and left handicap because of those who jump with negative opinions at the first mention of a new and disruptive idea. Such opinions are particularly disabling when they come from people that we consider to be closest to us. But there is always this inner voice which we try to shut down distracted by opinions of others but which keeps popping up and telling us that we should take that first little step needed to realize our ideas. The key is to take time to listen to that voice. At the end of the day, only the crazy ones who believe they can change the status quo are the only ones who do.