Sunday, July 29, 2012

Bypassing Politics? A Meeting with Ethiopia’s President

Mr. Samuel M. Gebru, CEO of the Ethiopian Global
Initiative and H.E. Girma Woldegiorgis, President of the
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. (Photo: Grand Palace)
Samuel M. Gebru (@SMGebru)
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
July 29, 2012

It was an honor to be invited to the Grand Palace on Friday, July 20 to meet with the President of Ethiopia.

Girma Woldegiorgis, born in 1925, is currently 88-years-old and despite his age and health issues, his passion and service for Ethiopia is as young as my college-aged heart.

When I was told that I had an opportunity to meet with Ethiopia’s Head of State, I readily took the opportunity. While most discount the President of Ethiopia as a mere figurehead resembling Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, I would argue that—just like the Queen—the President is what should hold the national fabric together as head of the Ethiopian state.

In 2010, I mistakenly argued that the government should do away with the Presidency because I thought it had no clear purpose. I have come to learn that it is the President who should inspire a new generation of public servants through his/her own merits. And who better than Girma Woldegiorgis for this role?

Sure, he has had his fair share of health issues and at one point was rumored to have died (although I can assure you that he’s alive and kicking!), Girma Woldegiorgis has the resume fit for the Ethiopian Presidency. Beyond his ability to speak seven languages, of which three are Ethiopian (Oromiffia, Amharic and Tigrinya), the President has been a lifetime public servant since his youth.

As I walked into the Grand Palace, built for Ethiopia’s last monarch, I was stunned by the magnificent Judeo-Christian motifs. From the rugs to the ceilings to the President’s desk, formerly the Emperor’s, the Grand Palace was a magnificent display of the ancient ties Ethiopia has to Christianity, Judaism and Israel.

Already briefed on me, the President expressed happiness to receive someone my age. I told him that it was hard for many like me to be taken seriously because of our age and that one needs old age and a title before receiving respect in Ethiopian society. He interrupted me and disagreed. He reminded me that he was 36 when he became Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies of Ethiopia’s Imperial Parliament in 1961 and that he was my age when he was called to national service in the Imperial Air Force, earning the rank of Lieutenant. 

In our meeting, I briefed President Girma on the Ethiopian Global Initiative’s vision for Ethiopia. He was very happy to learn that the organization’s core is built of students and professionals ranging from 18 to 35-years-old. I informed him how the Initiative aims to increase its presence in Ethiopia and undertake more programs and projects in healthcare, education, civic engagement and economic development. 
President Girma Woldegiorgis shows CEO Samuel Gebru
his Lem Ethiopia membership card. (Photo: Grand Palace)
President Girma is a noted environmentalist. As Speaker of Parliament, he designed the first environmental legislation in Ethiopia—perhaps one of the first in Africa. In March 1992, he founded Lem Ethiopia (The Environment and Development Society of Ethiopia), Ethiopia’s premiere civil society organization responsible for the protection of the environment. 

What impresses me the most about President Girma is his ability to bypass Ethiopia’s unpredictable political system and work with all governments. His transcendence of the Governments of Haile Selassie, Mengistu Hailemariam and Meles Zenawi is truly remarkable—and that he has earned everyone’s respect in the process. 

At the end, I asked President Girma what was the best advice he could give me. He said, “Continue what you are doing in meeting people from all sectors and backgrounds and learn more from them. It is only then can you become an effective public servant.”

I look forward to many more encounters with the President and wish him and the First Lady my warmest regards.

Samuel M. Gebru is 20-years-old and the Chief Executive Officer of the Ethiopian Global Initiative.

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.

Important Information

© 2010 Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc. Material may be republished with credit to this blog and/or the original author. The views and comments expressed in this blog are not necessarily those of the Ethiopian Global Initiative, Inc.