Friday, July 20, 2012

Celebrating African Innovation in Washington, D.C.

By: Emily Weinstein (@emyli_rose)
From L to R: Evan Anderson, Senior Associate to the President,
Samuel Gebru, CEO, Emily Weinstein, Project Manager. Credit:
Marie Claire Andrea.
July 20, 2012

The past weekend was productive and gratifying for the Ethiopian Global Initiative (EGI). Following the success of our traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony at the Harvard Yard Starbucks in Cambridge, MA, EGI was honored to host a private reception at former Ambassador to Ethiopia The Honorable David Shinn's residence in Washington, DC. This was a truly great event, and I was thrilled as always to see my friends and EGI colleagues Samuel Gebru and Evan Anderson, President and Senior Associate to the President. I was honored to meet and mingle with prominent American government employees, two generations of Ethiopian ambassadors, as well as representatives from the Ethiopian Crown Council. I recall current Ambassador of Ethiopia Ato Tesfaye Yilma noting "EGI is a pioneer project," aligning our work to the theme of the weekend, which was to celebrate the pioneers of innovative business in Ethiopia. In a later discussion with Evan, I discovered we both shared a sense of pride at the Ambassador's supportive sentiments, as well as Samuel's description of EGI's projects which had inspired them.

Ato Thomas Debass, Director for Global Partnerships at the Department of State, also made an appearance with his wife Gelila Teshome, Senior Contracting Officer at the Executive Office of the President. The two were glad to share stories of their family, and I was eager to listen as they described the joys of raising their children in America, while striving to maintain a strong Ethiopian influence in their lifestyle. Thomas was honored as a keynote speaker the following evening at the 2012 Pioneer Ethiopian Diaspora Business Person of the Year Awards Dinner, where I and Dr. Lemma W. Senbet (who was sitting next to me, I caught him scribbling this quote onto the back of a business card just as I tweeted it!) made note of this profound highlight from his speech: "Africa cannot just be a destination for innovation, but also a source of innovation."

Honored at the 2012 Awards Dinner were Ato Tadiwos G. Belete and Ato Zemedeneh Negatu. The two men were awarded for their contributions to the growing economy of Ethiopia; these ambitious men took major financial risks because they believed Ethiopia was worth their investment. Tadiwos, CEO and founder of Boston Partners PLC has opened many resorts and day spas throughout Ethiopia, providing jobs for locals and attracting tourists. Zemedeneh is an industrious promoter of investment into Africa, as well as an active participant in initiatives showcasing Africa as an attractive investment destination. Both men were accompanied by an entourage of family, including Zemedeneh's young son Michael, who was more than happy to accept his father's award and participate in an EBS interview! In my opinion, young Michael's presence was a fervent reminder of the importance of youth in development, and I couldn't agree more with the notion illuminated by his father:  it is our responsibility to set a stable groundwork for the next generation.

Earlier in the day, both Tadiwos and Zemedeneh were featured panelists at the Ethiopian American 7th Annual Diaspora Business Forum, speaking of their success and the many reasons to invest in the rapidly growing yet largely untapped economy of Ethiopia. Beside them, other panelists included Dr. Lemma W. Senbet, The William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance and Director of the Center for Financial Policy at the University of Maryland – among a much longer list of credentials – and Matthew Davis, founder and CEO of Renew, an innovative investment company that "works with development organizations, development finance institutions, NGOs, governments and private investors to facilitate investments into promising businesses in developing countries." Conference attendees ranged from the areas of business, social science, academia, arts and entertainment. I was especially taken by the panel on tourism featuring archaeologist and anthropologist Dr. Yohannes Zeleke, President of the African Travel Association, and photographer and Ethiopian at heart Matt Andrea. An anthropology and photography major myself, I was captivated by the beautiful photographs of Ethiopian people, culture and the country's fascinating landscape. The information in this panel was presented with such passion, it solidified my desire to study abroad in Ethiopia; after all, where better to study anthropology than the birthplace of humanity and religion?

Following a day full of networking and inspiring presentations, Samuel and I joined Marie Claire Andrea and a few friends to relax with some traditional and modern Habesha dancing at a local Ethiopian restaurant. Overall, a fantastic weekend to be a staff member/supporter of EGI!

Congratulations to Ato Tadiwos and Ato Zemedeneh, proof that hard work, determination and faith do not go unrewarded. Special thanks to Ato Yohannes Assefa, who exerted much time and effort organizing the 7th Annual Diaspora Business Forum, as well as Dr. Liesl Riddle of George Washington University, gracious host of the conference.

For more information regarding the mission and projects of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, visit our website. 

Emily Weinstein is the Event Manager for Ethiopian Global Initiative. She is also double majoring in Anthropology and Photography and minoring in International Humanitarian Affairs at Fordham University.


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