Game changers in the making
These are ordinary people doing extraordinary things and they are set to make their mark in 2012 (EC). They are involved in many fields yet they each have great things in common - excellence. They were picked as samples of the great community builders we have among us - based on their willingness to be highlighted and availability. Samuel GETACHEW of The Reporter met with each one of them individually as they reflected on their own stories, as part of the bigger story that is Ethiopia.
Bethlehem Ketsela, Engineering
Bethlehem Ketsela is in the midst of the construction boom in Ethiopia and she knows it.
The head of structure for Noah Read Estate, one of the emerging real estate developers in Ethiopia, the 28-year-old graduate from Addis Ababa University’s Civil Engineering Department seems to take to heart the fact that while her field is slowly progressing, it still remains to be a male dominated field.
Within Noah, she has helped mentor others and motivated many to join the field and change the narrative. Today, Noah now has more female engineers within its roster than ever before.
“When I graduated in 2014, engineering was very male dominated, but it has evolved and it’s becoming an attractive field for all kind of people, for males or females alike,” she said. “The motivating factor has been that I wanted to prove to myself and others than engineering, while it involves hard work and is labor intensive, it can be done by any one and it’s not just reserved for men alone.”
“Then again, I do not see myself as a woman engineer, but just an engineer,” she added.
For her, the motivation to enter the field began as she saw none who looked like her in it. And as a child, she grew up being told such a profession best suited boys, not girls.
“I have wanted to be a civil engineer since I was a child,” she told The Reporter from her office inside Noah headquarters in Bole. “The motivation factor has been that I wanted to dispel the myth that engineering, while I note it involves hard work and is labor intensive, it can be done by anyone”.
Within Noah, Bethlehem is said to be respected and her hard work has been noted. Her superiors have glowing complements for the person they have come to nickname “Betty Boss”.
“We nicknamed her ‘Betty Boss’ because of the kinds of work she has shown us and her supervision skills. She is our lead when the work involves anything to do with the concrete part of our construction projects. We see her; many of our clients see her as their right hand person. We know, anything she is involved in is done to perfection and it’s not just because of luck, but hard work.” Addisalem Berhun, the manager of the soon to be launched Noah Foundation, told The Reporter.
Noah continues to be involved in big projects within the capital, with an eye on expansion throughout the nation, and is even rumored to be interested in expanding in neighboring nations. With that comes more opportunity for Bethlehem and others to be tasked with expanding roles and she is excited by it.
“For me the work I do is not just a 9-5 kind of a job, but is a passion,” Bethlehem said.
For Addisalem, “Betty Boss” is more than ready to be given such an expanding role.
“Not only does she meet our standard and build on that standard, but she exceeds them and for that, we are excited she is part of our brand and journey forward”, she said.
Tsion Engdaye, Politics
Tsion Engdaye is set to make a huge leap in national politics in 2012 EC.
With an eye to electoral politics, the 23-year old has joined as a youth representative within the National Executive Committee of the Ethiopian Citizens for Social Justice Party (ECSJ), one of the few youth and female member in the hope of using her voice to represent a segment of a population whose voice have somehow been mute.
“For me, politics is a powerful tool to make your perspective known and noted and bring the kinds of changes you want to see in our society,” she told The Reporter. “I have always known our politics to be something practiced by older men in suit and I became tired of waiting to see the change and I wanted to be at the table and advocate within”.
She is no stranger to activism, having started hers in earnest. From being a peer educator with the African AIDS Initiative International to being a prominent member of the Yellow Movement, a youth led group fighting for gender equality within Addis Ababa University, where she obtained her Law degree earlier this year; she was also selected as the YALI Regional Leadership Center for East Africa.
Counting the likes of Birtukan Mideska, Berhanu Nega and Andualem Arage and Nathanael Feleke, the once member of Zone 9 and a political prisoner of conscious, she wants her contribution in politics to have a trickle-down effect to younger people.
Nathanael is said to be impressed with her youthful and vigorous energy. “She is a positive energy and someone we are glad to have on board, a rough road ahead”, he wrote on her Instagram.
In return, Tsion is hoping her contribution to politics will motivate others, from her generation, into becoming active participants.
“I want young people to know, they belong in politics and that they understand, they can have a huge impact, not just as a mere observer, but an active participant and something that can be used to bring positive change”.
She is aware of the potential of politics and the citizenry role she is playing, understanding while she many not have directly been affected by it like most of her political heroes, but understanding all are victims of the political system, when even some are affected. Besides, she says, she wants to see a better society and a better Ethiopia for all.
“Our democracy is new, it’s hard won and unless we become its guardian, we might be forced to go back. I want to see it move forward, not backward,” she concluded.
Part idealist, and part a dreamer, she is certain, 2012 is the year she will play a profound role to not see her nations democracy go backward. "Only forward", she shrugged.
Rebecca Araya, Business
A proud Ethiopian – American, Rebecca Araya moved to Ethiopia from the United States in 2013. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, she was determined to help change the narrative of Ethiopia to show the beauty and opportunity that lies within the landlocked country.
Upon her arrival, she worked hard to get to know the ins and outs of the business environment within the capital.
For her, Ethiopia has an immense investment potential and she knew it needed empowered human capital to help move it forward and build a great nation. She also understood, beyond her own success, she needed to be a role model and a supporter of others – as an engaged person, balancing a professional career and fulfilling her civic obligations at the same time.
For Ambaye Michael Tesfay, a technology entrepreneur, she is a “great representative of the youth and the future Ethiopia is moving towards”.
“Rebecca is not only a childhood friend but one of my closest confidants today. She is one of the most honest, respectful, hardworking people I have ever met”, said Ambaye Michael Tesfay.” She is equally interested in investing her community and takes others success as her own”.
The graduate of the prestigious Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, she has been at the helm of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Addis Ababa for over two years where she leads the association’s commercial activities to attract US investors to Ethiopia.
“When I first moved to Ethiopia, I had no idea I would open my own business. I was so scared and nervous. But while Rebecca worked at Precise Consult, she would invite me to all the great events the company organized that showcased young CEO's and it was by attending those events and meeting other entrepreneurs that I began to see myself as a businessman,” Ambaye further reflected.
An active member of the Global Shapers Addis Ababa Hub, the affiliate of the World Economic Forum, Rebecca served as Curator for one year and became known as a dedicated and passionate community contributor, as well as a mentor to other young Diasporas, whom like herself, chose to return to Ethiopia and contribute to its economic advancement.
Rebecca is passionate about the work she leads at AmCham and the impact it has made since she took on the role to help set up the Ethiopia chapter in 2017. The business association recently launched an inaugural CSR report to highlight the contributions made by leading US companies in Ethiopia. A copy of the report can be found on the AmCham website.
“We work diligently with our partners to bring private and public players together to discuss challenges and opportunities in the market and to help ease trade barriers for investors entering and exporting from Africa’s fastest growing economy,” she told The Reporter.
Beyond her work and volunteerism, the great-grand daughter of Emperor Haile Selassie continues to advocate for issues related to mental health, environmental sustainability and gender-based violence.
2012 is certainly set to be a busy year for Rebecca.
Kalkidan Kassaye (MD), Medicine
At 27, Kalkidan Kassaye (MD) has not only managed to become a medical doctor, a lifelong dream of hers, but she has also constructed a role for herself as a noted volunteer and advocate within the community.
A graduate of Hayat Medical College, she has dreamed of becoming a medical professional since childhood, more specifically since she discovered Belay Abegaz, an award-winning medical doctor and founder of the Children’s Heart Fund of Ethiopia who she said has managed to use his profession to help the needy.
“I was impressed by what he has done with his privileged life to empower others,” she told The Reporter. “As you know, he is a cardiac center founder and he deserves to be known by everyone and he has shaped me to be the person I am today,” she said humbly.
For Kalkidan, it’s important that her legacy extends far beyond the hospital environment, but in the community and she is as passionate to help support worthy causes despite her busy schedule.
Her friends have also taken note of her efforts and dedication.
One particular person was Fairy Jalal, an environmentalist and humanitarian aid worker based in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire who recently assembled a group of young people in the capital to help plant trees, donate blood inside Bole Lemi Industrial Park and do other citizenry deeds. She found Kalkidan as an impressive participant and as an exemplary citizen.
“She is a dedicated, hard-working and cooperative young lady,” she told The Reporter. “As well, she is extremely efficient and professional.”
Kalkidan worked in DebreMarkos referral Hospital for over a year as part of the mandatory service requirement. She was not just an observer of the community; she became an active neighbor within the city.
The experience, not only confirmed her instinct that she had chosen a powerful tool to help change the narrative of Ethiopia, one patient at a time, but also gave her a glimpse of the potential and vulnerability of the medical sector.
Often times, not only did she help treat patients, but citizens who were too poor to pay for their basic medications, forcing her to look inside her own pockets to help and assist when necessary.
Together with her coworkers at Debre Markos referral Hospital, Kalkidan was part of a team that managed to create a center for vulnerable children who were left in the hospital’s Neonatal ICU.
Now stationed in Ras Desta Hospital in the capital as a full-fledged medical professional, she is content where she is in her young career. In 2012, she hopes to volunteer more, mentor young people who may want to emulate her empowering career and become a more engaged citizen and empower members of the community to do more to help and support worthy public causes.
That is because, for her, “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean”. That is the ideal and the mantra, she intends to live by.
Rahel Getu, Entertainment
Rahel Getu is the one new artist everyone is talking about. But one will be wrong to assume she is an accidental star in the making. She has been at it for a good part of her life and it shows. She is a veteran!
In 2012, she is set to release a full album for the first time. Some of the early initial reactions to her single, Tilobign in particular, has given her a buzz, earning her a chance to tour the world, in Europe and North America as opening acts to popular artists, including Ephrem Amare and soon with Wendi Mac to Europe and Canada even before she sets a release date for the album.
“People know me as a member of Yenga but I have been singing forever,” she told The Reporter inside Kenenisa Hotel. “The reception I have received with my own individual work has been overwhelming and I am excited with it and I appreciate it. It has been a dream come true so far.”
She has been communicated by veterans such as Aster Aweke, who called her personally to complement her last year and Fantish Bekele, gave her a watch as a gift as a symbol of her appreciation.
“Aster called me, after looking for my number from friends and said she liked my music and that she found them unique and wonderful and that was the biggest complement I could ever find.”
Rahel said, she cried all night knowing one of the biggest artists of Ethiopian music was joining the growing fan base she was creating for herself. She even had a chance to be an opening act for the legend artist this month, inside Sheraton Addis, preforming in front of thousands of concert goers and received a positive response.
“I was nervous, but I was inspired and was heartened as I saw people dancing to my music and singing along with me. As an artist, what more can you want,” she said.
A fan of the late Tilahun Gessesse, she said, it would be a dream to collaborate with Aster.
She looks back at her long career, in particular with Yenga, the all female group that is known for songs including Taitu. That experience perhaps prepared her for the stardom that seems to be within reach for young diva. In addition to that, she was a one-time member of Yetemesgen Lejoch, a dance group and she was included in the song by Netsanet Melese, Bye Bye.
The mother of one, she has also appeared on numerous productions, including a Fana special from Arba Minch along with the likes of Neway Debebe, Tsehaye Yohannes and Mahamud Ahmed, covering the old classics of Eprhem Tameru and the others.
At the end, Rahel, on the eve of releasing an album is hopeful; her music would be appreciated and liked, as the likes of the legends that have influenced her own sound.
“That is what, I hope, its legacy would be, and hopeful it will inspire others to follow suit, as the music of other artists have been to my own,” she concluded.
Kisanet Haile, Information Technology
Based in Mekele, Kisanet Haile Molla is helping run Hadas Technologies, while starting Deamat – a startup to help empower local farmers. In 2012, she wants to empower more farmers with the use of new advanced technologies.
She launched Deamat – an e-commerce website last year to buy and sell vegetables and other dairy products and is beginning to have local and international support.
A civil engineer, alumni of Gonder University, the 25-year old hopes to take her initiative forward and hope it will change the narrative of local farmers who are used to benefit the least when their products are sold in the market.
“I lost my mom when I was seven years old; I was raised by my brothers and sisters who I call Hadasey (1-8), because we are eight,” she told The Reporter. “My brother, who was a first-year student (Yirgalem) at the time when my mother died, became our father and mother. We were one of the low-income families, though I still remember getting prizes and awardees for my efforts when I was still young.”
“Many thought that we would end up on the street because we had no one when my mom left us. But we had each other. I learned Empathy. And here I am”.
She calls DEAMAT – her “dream project”.
Deamat is an e-commerce start-up company positioning itself to become the market leader in offering online merchants and consumers a uniform and trouble-free way to shop unique and genuine products online,” she told The Reporter. “It offers a business-to-business and business to consumer solution by connecting smallholder and Commercial farmers with consumers or buyers.”
According to her, she hopes it will ease the market transaction, a structured market where small farmers are able to sell their products without any middle person, who are noted for taking a large fraction from the sell and in return, selling it “at ridiculously exploitative prices” with little benefit to the original farmer.
Deamat was started late last year and continues to look for investors, locally and from the international sector to help reach more farmers and fulfill its potential, she said.
A diplomat (who asked to stay anonymous) told The Reporter, how impressed he was when he met her in Addis at an embassy event.
“Most of the startups in Ethiopia have lots of passion but have little information on how to implement it and move it forward. With her, it’s different. She has a combination or all of that, information, passion and it’s easy to support her. It seems she has a road map on how to implement her idea in a practical sense and she is always concerned how to change society, how to bring an idea for the public benefit,” he said.
“While you interact with her, it’s easy to find out she is someone worthy of our support. She is certainly one to watch and she is someone who can go far,” he added.
Aklile Solomon, Activism
A noted women’s rights activist, a celebrated young feminist and a co-founder of the Yellow Movement – Aklile Solomon is emerging as a noted human rights activist and 2012 is to be the year she will take her voice to the national arena.
“Feminism is a theory of equality between the sexes in all aspects. Today’s feminism is more inclusive and sees the layers of identity and oppression women face which I really appreciate,” she told The Reporter.
With a law degree from Addis Ababa University and a youthful activism started while still a student – The Yellow Movement – as its noted co-founder, the 27-year-old is to use it to help empower women and advocate for their rights and fight against gender-based violence across Ethiopia.
A Mandela Washington Fellow, her efforts have been noted by others, who see her as a role model.
“I admire how articulate, passionate, hardworking and focused she is,” Kamlaknesh Yasin, the Digital Communication manager with Setaweet told The Reporter. “She is inspiring even without knowing it. She is strong, solution oriented, beautiful, and happy and all rounded and is a good person.”
Aklile is philosophical what today’s Ethiopian feminism is.
“Feminism does not allow us to see women as a homogeneous group that share the same concerns, same issue and have the same needs; even if there are commonalities to the issues women face everywhere and the underlying cause, today’s feminism demands us to see each woman; to see the difference in her concerns, struggles and needs,” she said.
She has big plans for 2012.
“I am involved in a lot of projects, but just to mention a few of them, I am currently, along with so many others, working on the expansion of the Yellow Movement to increase its outreach to other parts of Ethiopia,” she told The Reporter. Currently, it has presence in Addis Ababa and Mekele only, so we want to see it grow nationwide, I am also working, again with others, on a research project that assesses the role of Ethiopian women in past resistances.”
She remains convinced that human rights remain an important concept that should be embraced by all Ethiopians.
“I think Ethiopia and Ethiopians should embrace Human Rights as ideals. I see a lot of people embrace Human Rights as long as it works for them. For instance, when you talk about equality or non-discrimination, a lot of people want it granted for them or groups they belong to but lessen its value when others ask for it. It does not work if you pick and choose only when it works for you as an individual or a government,” she told The Reporter.
Seble Samuel, Environmentalist
Seble Samuel is a noted environmentalist and columnist.
The Montreal born Ethiopian – Canadian, a graduate of McGill University and the University of Oxford in geography and environmental change, respectively. She is motivated by socio-ecological resilience, environmental storytelling, and fusing climate justice with the arts and popular education.
Determined to make her mark, both in Ethiopia and internationally, Seble is currently championing the Menged Le Sew (car free day) initiative that has now been embraced by all kinds of actors – from activists, governmental officials and everyday citizens, to the environmental causes of the world.
With Menged Le Sew, she has become a noted member of the organizing committee promoting a cause inspired by the open streets movements of Latin America.
“We are working to create an Addis Ababa and an Ethiopia that are ecologically sustainable, that promote eco-mobility, active living and safe streets,” she told The Reporter. “My dream is that Menged Le Sew can influence the way we plan our cities, that we make space for non-motorized mobility – the majority in Ethiopia – and build cities that are resilient, healthy, inclusive and sustainable." The upcoming Menged Le Sew will be celebrated on September 22 - World Car Free Day.
From having worked in numerous nations, from the Ecuadorian Amazon, where she served with the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative, researching traditional ecological knowledge systems and Indigenous resistance to extractive industries, to the United Nations Development Programme in Bogota, Colombia, where she worked alongside local communities to strengthen their adaptive capacity to the climate crisis, she is now back to her roots in Ethiopia.
Currently with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), an international research program strengthening food security in a changing climate, she is the East Africa Communications and Knowledge Management Officer, creating multimedia narratives for climate-resilient food systems.
Her columns have appeared in various progressive blogs and news outlets, including in Open Democracy, National Observer and rabble.ca writing on issues of the environment, climate change and youth engagement among others.
A member of the Global Shapers Community Addis Ababa Hub, an affiliate of the World Economic Forum on Africa, Seble campaigns for a plastic free Ethiopia and is determined to make environmental justice a central piece of the local agenda in 2012.
“As part of the Addis Ababa Hub of Global Shapers, we are striving to make Ethiopia plastic free, starting with plastic bags. This means building economic alternatives, like reviving traditional practices of zembils and cloth bags, phasing out the plastic bags we currently have in stock, as well as making sure we are not the dumping ground for the plastic excess of wealthy countries,” she added.