Passionate, driven, determined
In front of the Ramada Hotel in Bole, at a new Italian restaurant inside what was once a smoke filled busy nightclub is where two cell phones are ringing all at the same time. They belong to Alem Bekele, a marketing whiz who returned home from Europe to pursue a career in Ethiopia. There are many people wanting to speak to her.
She was busy returning phone calls from many. Some wanted to congratulate her on becoming a Rotarian; the young are calling for internship opportunities while the Diaspora is looking for career advice while few were asking for sponsorship. Her phone does not stop ringing, but that has been her life since 2012 after she returned from France and joined Castel Winery as its chief marketing strategist.
The night before, inside the ballroom of Sheraton Addis, she was toasted among friends, as the newest member of the Rotary Club Entoto. Her mentor, Frank Bellet of the French Embassy had recommended her for membership sensing she would be the ideal candidate and bring relevance to the club, as it attempts to bring younger professionals to its fold.
He described her in glowing terms, as a person who is respected, admired and emulated by many and as someone who can bring needed youthful idealism, business sense and experience to the club. “That was unexpected,” she told The Reporter. “I had assumed the Rotary club was something I would join, at the later stages of my career, life, but I am most honored to join it now, grow with its tradition, as I move forward and fulfill the obligations I have for the community.”
In 2008, a fresh graduate student of the Mekelle School of Industrial Engineering Management, she was restless about her future prospects. Her experience there had been an eye opening experience, where she was exposed to the shortcomings of her society, the poverty of her friends that was out of bound from her upbringings in the capital, which included adolescent years spent among her rich peers of the Ethiopian middle-class and the children of diplomats spent at Lycée Guébré-Mariam.
Beyond Mekelle where she spent five years earning her first degree, a career in engineering was an option, but she also wanted to study more and travel the world. Whatever her future would be, she wanted her career to be in the Ethiopian soil, where she can have a professional career and help the narratives of home.
With an acceptance letter in hand, she walked into the office of BGI, which was on the verge of starting a wine making venture in Ethiopia and asked about her job prospects when she would eventually return home. She had been fascinated about wines as long as she could remember and the prospect of quality wines appearing in Ethiopia had excited her.
Her ambition was to study for a graduate degree in Viticulture & Enology and International Wine marketing in France and something that would be needed in the near future. This as Ethiopia was welcoming international brand names companies to invest and operate in the country as a strategy to complement its hot economy.
BGI was said to be impressed, as they were planning to bring in professionals from aboard, perhaps from South Africa to fill a number of positions. She wanted to turn the tide around. They were impressed with her drive and determination. In her, they saw the ideal candidate, who would have the right education, the perfect attitude, who would be multilingual and can best position the new venture in to the heart of the local market.
For the next two-and-a-half-years, she would stay in France, Spain and Italy, experiencing, learning and earning graduate degrees from three different universities, including the Ecole Superieure d Agricutlure d Angers in France, the Universita caholica di Piacenza in Italy and the Universidad di Valencia in Spain. Few weeks after graduation in 2012, there was no doubt where she wanted to head home and fulfill her plan. By then, Castle Winery was slowly gaining ground and making its presence in boutique hotels in the capital. She wanted to make it a brand name wine in the nation, as she was scooped as soon as she arrived in Ethiopia.
In just a few years, she had led an ambitious drive to distribute the wine in many corners in the nation and is now available in major hotels in the country. Producing an array of wines, it even has begun to export in other nations, including to China, the United Kingdom and the United States.
“The idea has always been to put Ethiopian wine in the world wines map”, she said. “We are starting to see some result of our efforts. But we are in the long term, as we want to help create a society that enjoys quality, affordable wine drinking habit, while also being a company that practices corporate responsibility.”
As she was bestowed with membership of the Rotary Club, she spoke of home, nation building, charity and citizenship.
“I am glad I finally joined the Rotary Club and you all thought I was a worthy candidate for such a great honor. Like you, I am a person who has had a busy professional life but there is nothing more important, quite frankly, citizenry-like than the idea of helping change the narrative of our society by volunteering,” she said. “We need to ensure, nation building starts at home. In the feeding centers helping the vulnerable, building schools to empower the future generation leaders of Ethiopia and ensuring better health is not just afforded to the privileged but everyone.”
Looking to the faces of the people who have come to congratulate her, the Canadian ambassador to Ethiopia Philip Baker, the head of Castel Winery Ethiopia, her twin brother, colleagues and friends, she said – “You have placed high confidence in me. I will do my best to help fulfill the promise, the ideals of the Rotary Club.”
No one needed to be reminded of the ancient imported ideals of the Rotary Club, but it was her own ideals, passion and determination the earned her the richest standing ovation of the night.