Ms. Ebba Kalondo: Being a black African woman in leadership is not for the faint-hearted

Ms. Ebba Kalondo is the spokesperson in the Chairperson’s office of the African Union Commission. Prior to that, she has held several senior positions in strategic and Risk Communications at the World Health Organization, Foundation Hirondelle, France24, and Reuters.

In this interview, Ms. Ebba talks about her work as a leader in the African Union Commission.

Be the exception to the rule. Go to that meeting that no one invites you to, sit there like you belong and speak up - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

 What was your ambition growing up?

Growing up I read a lot and questioned everything around me. I was always inquisitive and analyzing the information presented to me with a desire to learn more. So upon reflection, I must say that my ambition was always to learn more.

Would you say your family environment/childhood shaped the person you are today?

My parents’ relationship which each other forged my personality. They were and remain a strong united front.

They had five daughters and a son. We were always allowed to ask questions and encouraged to read. My mother was soft-spoken but strong. She was a disciplinarian and my father taught us the importance of family.

Did you ever think you would end up in international affairs, or at the AU specifically?

Yes, I worked in international news and in development with a strong focus on security and the humanitarian industry.

With my desire to constantly learn, I grew a desire to ignore the headline and discover the more nuanced reality behind the story.

What was your path to working at the AU? What factors helped you along the way?

It is the people I met on this path that I walked and the rich experiences that brought me to where I am. I always knew that I wanted to be of service to my continent and I am very fortunate that I have been able to do so.

The AU is the platform to do this, and I will always be grateful for the call to be of service.

Can you compare the AU with other organizations you have worked with?

The AU is a microcosm of the state of its evolving Union – a 55-member Union of nations with different governance systems, varying levels of socio-economic development on a continent that is home to a third of humanity but that is still fighting for its rightful place in the world as a primary actor of its own development and indeed that of the world.

Born of a unique history of colonialism not seen in any other continental grouping in contemporary history, the African Union is also the largest intergovernmental in the world.

There is no other organization quite like it, that I know of.

The AU is currently undergoing a process of institutional and financial reform. Why is the reform of the AU essential?

Our continuing existence in the new world we live and engage with depends on making our Organization more fit for purpose to better serve the needs and aspirations of the people of the Continent.

This is not a choice, this is a stark existential reality and an obligation to the founding fathers of our Union.

Are the reform’s youth and women targets attainable by 2025? (35% of AU staff as a youth and 50% as women).

Why should they not be? Self-belief and the ambition we have set out for ourselves is key.

What do you say to critics of the AU who point to its bureaucracy and who doubt its capacity to change?

The AU Commission is a bureaucracy like other multilateral intergovernmental organizations such as the United Nations and the European Union Commission. And like all institutional bureaucracies, it is a slow-moving ship.

It is not as agile as say a start-up. This is not unique to the AUC. What is unique is that unlike the UN and the EU, the AUC has started to implement its reform agenda.

Who influenced you the most in your professional life?

Not one person in particular. There have been so many people who have, through their experiences, mentored and supported my journey.

Have you ever received a painful rejection in your career? How did you handle it?

Not rejection per se, but definitely some occasions where I could and should have acted differently. The first thing is taking responsibility and then fixing it and learning to do better.

In case of a rejection, the first step is taking responsibility and then fixing it and learning to do better - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

When have you felt most out of your comfort zone?

On the contrary, I actively avoid comfort zones, I feel most comfortable pushing myself outside of comfort zones. Growth has always been more important to me than comfort has.

Having worked in war zones where putting oneself in harm’s way is part of the job, I’ve learned that security comes from within.

What have you learned in your career about women in leadership? Any advice for women who aspire to leadership positions?

Being a woman in leadership is tough, but being a black African woman in leadership is not for the fainthearted.

Be the exception to the rule. Go to that meeting that no one invites you to, sit there like you belong and speak up. Your opinion matters. Even if there are other women there, and none are speaking up, be the one that does.

Stay informed about everything around and never take the bait of being treated as the “affirmative action” or “gender sensitive” presence. Your results will not be judged on your gender.

You got the job, not your gender, so do it. Never fear ridicule. Ever.

I've learned that security comes from within - @EbbaKalondo Click To Tweet

Have you undertaken any measures to support women in the professional workplace?

There is nothing I can teach, but I can share my experiences truthfully and what has worked for me, and what has not. I find that we support each other not so much by saying or doing, but by really being there for each other, making the time to listen without judgment and simply accompanying each other on our journeys.

That I do by instinct, not by obligation. Empowered women should empower women, through service and support. Always and without exception.

What’s your advice for fresh graduates looking to join the AU?

Don’t fear to start at the bottom, in fact, it is always instructive to see how those who think they have power treat those they think don’t have power.

Study by doing. Don’t fear failure. We are who we are despite it. And again, never fear ridicule. Those who laugh at you and make fun of you while you are learning will learn from your courage.

Even if they will never acknowledge it. And the job has nothing to do with your feelings. Do the job. Keep your feelings.

What do you struggle with, in the work environment?

I strongly believe that struggle is inevitable, and contrary to popular belief, I believe we hone our survival instincts through struggle. But the struggle to maintain a life-work balance is real, and it never gets easier.

What are some of the most challenging things in your current role?

That’s a tough one. But in a world where the everyday person doesn’t trust politics and politicians in general, it is important to stay honest and credible despite the challenges. And to be honest, it is the challenges that most attract me. No two days are the same.

What do you consider to be your biggest accomplishment, both personal and professional?

My biggest personal accomplishments are my children. They have taught and continue to teach me some of my most important life lessons.

Professionally, I’m proud of where I am but the road ahead remains long and I’m still working at it.

Do you have any regrets?

Being far away from my family is not easy.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing today, what other career paths would you have taken?

I would have become a psychiatrist.

What is your dream destination?

As a child, I was fascinated by Genghis Khan, so Mongolia remains a mythical place for me. Samarkand, Timbuktu, Kano, and Isfahan are also cities that I dream of visiting.

What are you currently reading? What genre of books do you read?

I’m reading a few books simultaneously:

  • Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Extremes
  • Rene Girard’s Violence and the Sacred

In French, I’m alternating between a book on mindfulness by Christophe Andre – a French psychiatrist, Alexandre Jollien – a Swiss philosopher, and Matthieu Ricard – a Buddhist monk, called ‘Trois amis en quete de sagesse”.

I just finished Behave by Robert Sapolsky and Aisha La Bienaimee du Prophete by Genevieve Chauvel.

What’s something your friends and family might not know about you?

I’m an open book to those who know me, so I would like to think that they know everything necessary to know. Those that don’t know me, probably don’t need to.

How do you stay motivated?

I am motivated by my desire to keep on learning, there is so much I don’t know. And working at the African Union, having a front row seat in the process of working towards the Africa we want, and it is within our reach, is enough motivation every day.

I am also motivated by my family.

What do you do in your down time?

I read. I read and reread. I buy and rebuy books.

What do you think will be the biggest challenge for the next generation of women?

I frankly don’t know, but what is certain is that challenges will remain. The important thing is to keep on going and that no one can make you feel illegitimate unless you allow it.

So it is our responsibility to focus on the solutions together, and work towards our goals and achieving our ambitions.

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5 Powerful TED Talks every MotherlandMogul must watch

Getting addicted to TED is a habit that would not only spur you to greatness but would keep your mind bubbling with ideas. If you only watch TED videos once in a blue moon, it’s time to make a switch and come to the winning team. TED seeks to share great ideas with the entire world through storytelling and sharing insights. 

With the many TED Talks I’ve watched, it’s been hard to choose my favorite. However, those I liked were by women who have ignited my passion and encouraged me to chase my dreams.

The following videos have left me sprawling with laughter, and I must tell you, they are the top TED Talks that every Motherland Mogul should watch.

1. Natasha Case and Freya Estreller –Female and Millennial Entrepreneurship

If you think you’ve reached the peak of your entrepreneurial journey, this video is definitely for you. In this TED Talk, two co-partner entrepreneurs talk about their journey starting a distinct ice cream brand – Cool Haus.

With over four thousand stores in the United States alone, Natasha and Freya are making a huge impact and taking a fair slice of the market. In this talk, they talk about their experiences navigating the business world as female CEO’s and the changing trends of women in business.

Though a lot of data shows that there is still work to be done in bringing more women to the top of the corporate ladder, some women such as Natasha and Freya are already slaying!

3. Sara Nuru  -Finding your Identity

Do we get to choose what we do without existence? In this TED Talk, Sara presents a strong message of an identity of how we can make a choice on positive living. As a model and an Ethiopian activist, Sara has spent her life bringing impact to young children in Ethiopia.

Her talk is both insightful and inspiring. She shows us that nothing stops us from being who we truly are if we dare to believe.

“Who you are right now might not be who you will be in the next five or ten years, sometimes all you need is a breathing space, to step back and look at your life” @therealsaranuru Click To Tweet

3. Whitney Thore – Living without Shame

No one can achieve much without a healthy self-esteem. Having self-confidence and loving yourself should be something we strive for every day.

Whitney is bold, powerful and very unlike any other speaker you have heard before. She spares no ground in sharing her experience of Obesity and it’s grappling effect in her life.

She dealt with shame, something we all have experience in one way or the other. Using emotional intelligence, Whitney keeps you captivated with her story of self-confidence.

At the end of the Talk, you are left with one lesson: learn to love yourself because nothing changes until you do!

4. Yvonne  Orji – The Wait is Sexy

You may not agree with everything Yvonne says but this girl knows how to work her space! She knows how to knead her dough. Yvonne is audacious in her choice of waiting until marriage and she explains her reasons for staying true to her stand.

According to Yvonne, we all have to sacrifice short-term comfort to get a long-term quality relationship. This principle can be applied to everything including business and personality.

When making decisions, we should consider principles such as compromise, purpose and taking a stand for what you believe in. Whatever you’re working towards will definitely be worth it.

“The wait is powerful, disciplined and focused. The wait keeps the main thing, the main thing.” @YvonneOrji ‏ Click To Tweet

5. Courtney Ferrell – Girl Up! The Secret to the Extraordinary Life

This has to be my absolute best video! From the moment she walks on stage, Courtney keeps you wanting more. She cleverly engages the audience through picking one random person who she delivers her message through.

Courtney’s intimate yet personal talk carried a strong message for women and girls. She believes these are the key to development in every society. Sometimes, all we need is to be who we are and say what we believe in.

Though these are just a collection of some of my favorite talks. There are many more TED Talks that will inspire you, challenge you and expose you to many more great ideas.

From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to film director Wanuri Kahiu, there are a lot of Motherland Moguls who will definitely set you on the path to slaying.

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Yoadan Tilahun: Nothing gives more credibility than the quality of your work

yoadan tilahun flawless

So many of us dream of turning our side hustles into main ones. Few of us do but Yoadan Tilahun is one of the few who’s managed to succeed. Yoadan founded Flawless Events while working full time in corporate trade in the Washington, DC area.

Flawless designs and produces corporate events, brand activations, international conferences and trade fairs on behalf of its clients in a number of industries. These include Coca Cola, Google, World Economic Forum, Africa Leadership Network among many others.

Yoadan moved Flawless to her home city, Addis Ababa in 2008, where it has been flourishing since. Heran Abate, SLA contributor, spoke to Yoadan whose career decisions and approach to life demonstrate a calm boldness that exemplifies the #MotherlandMogul.

Having worked in corporate trade, why did you decide to start an event management company?

It started as a side gig, actually. I was looking for an additional source of income to supplement my day job. Around that same time, the events I was attending were quite unorganized —so I leveraged my existing network and tried my hand at it.

But from the beginning, there was no two ways about it. The very first event sparked this exhilaration in me —from brainstorming initial designs to realizing the finest details, I was hooked!

To this day, there’s nothing quite like the adrenaline rush of being in perfect sync with my team. Especially when months of planning and toil pay off and an event falls seamlessly into place before our eyes.


It sounds like it was going well in the US, what prompted the re-location of the business to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia?

Ethiopia has long been a center for African intergovernmental affairs, being the seat of the African Union and the Economic Council for Africa. So, there were already many international conferences going on.

Particularly around the Ethiopian millennium (September 2008 —we follow a different calendar), there were a number of grand initiatives to broadly expand Addis Ababa’s infrastructure and create larger FDI (foreign direct investment) opportunities. This meant an increase in modern facilities, roads and an influx of investors who were looking to tap into networks and opportunities.

That was the market gap Flawless came to Ethiopia to fill.

Would you say this re-location was the turning point for the company?

Yes and no. While it was good timing, the hard work ahead was in building the momentum. We had to adapt to new regulatory frameworks, re-adjust to an entirely different set of clients. And also build relationships with vendors from the ground up.

Like any start-up, the initial stages were crucial. You have to be tireless and tactful in pursuing new clients, being a step ahead of their needs. Until you build a reputation for over-delivering in (seemingly) effortless fashion.

That sounds like there’s more good advice where that came from for our readers, could you elaborate?

Certainly. To put it simply, nothing gives you more credibility than the quality of your work itself.

No amount of advertising can make up for a poorly managed event. It was through happy clients’ referrals that we were able to get some of our highest profile and exciting events.


So what makes for a flawless event? What else helped you establish a compelling brand and reputation?

Clear process and production, the two are different but both critical. The first requires top-down strategy to tackle the separate pieces of the whole. It also entails investing time in creative output and designs to personalize the event then tireless follow-up.

As the event nears, we burn the midnight oil, making sure there are no loose ends affecting back up plans and that we are in constant readiness for crisis —this is inevitable. Our clients rely on us to trouble-shoot and problem-solve on the spot —a late visa, equipment held up at customs etc.

Are the majority of your clients international? What industries do you serve?

About two-thirds of our clients are international. We mostly do corporate events, international conferences in trade and investment, development as well.

We have held events that companies used as entry platforms into the Ethiopian market —Google’s first event for example. We’ve set up high-level meetings for finance entities who don’t have contacts in the country.

Most recently, we organized an event in which Ethiopian Airlines celebrated its newest plane acquisition by setting a Guinness World Record for the largest human formation of an airplane. That was fun!


How do you nab these high-profile events?

We are tireless in building and sustaining relationships both locally and internationally. We are the only private-sector members of the International Congress & Convention Association. We are close partners with professional networks in Africa including African Leadership Network (we’ve hosted their event in Kigali and Addis) as well as Extensia —a continental group of high-level professionals in ICT.

On the ground, we have excellent working relationships with hotels, government offices as well as previous clients. This gives us a lot of leverage to flexibly offer our clients a whole buffet of options.

Your increasing influence sounds like a direct result from the events you have previously organized.


Our influence is built on opportunities born out of our previous work and our growing network, clients calling us back to take on new events or referring us to contacts in new industries.


You were very recently selected among 30 women entrepreneurs to take part in the Graça Machel Fund’s Woman Advancing Africa. What was the goal of this forum? What are the implications for Flawless?

I’m honored to have been selected. Graça Machel is a Mozambican humanitarian and also the widow of Nelson Mandela. This forum is a platform for African women entrepreneurs to leverage their capacity and networks to influence the economic trajectory of the continent.

It’s because of the integrity of the work that our client’s have attested to that we are invited to take part in larger conversations about entrepreneurship, economic growth. In Ethiopia as well, we are now well-positioned to take initiative in expanding the MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Events) industry to a new level.

We have found our own means of being part of Africa’s growth story.

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

Atti Worku: I wasn’t smarter than them, I just had more opportunity

Former Miss Ethiopia and Columbia University alumni, Atti Worku started Seeds of Africa Foundation (Seeds) as an afterschool program in the backyard of her childhood home in Adama, Ethiopia. Eight years later, the program has evolved into a full-time school which serves 114 children from poor families (with plans to serve over 150 students from September). Seeds’ model is a far cry from the traditional ‘chalk and talk’ methods in most Ethiopian schools with project-based learning forming the base for all learning.

In addition, Seeds runs complementary community development programs including a microloans program for women to start or grow businesses, adult literacy training and health and gender workshops. Seeds of Africa plans to expand to a full pre-K to 12 program through its Dream School Campaign to purchase land and build a state-of-the-art education and community hub.

SLA contributor, Liz Moran, who just so happens to be the Country Director of Seeds, recently chatted with Atti about Seeds’ origins and visions for the future.

Where did the idea to start Seeds of Africa come from?

You know, in the neighborhood where I grew up, most of the kids who lived nearby went to public school. I was lucky to attend a good private school. By middle school many of my neighbors were dropping out of school. Boys would drop out and work in the informal market while girls were getting pregnant. You could see all of the issues associated with poverty.

I didn’t fully understand what it all meant at that time but as I got older I realized that I wasn’t smarter than them or anything. I just had more opportunity. Seeing these issues firsthand left a great impact. It was people I knew and grew up with and once I had that understanding I knew I wanted to do something.

You started Seeds as an after-school program which later evolved into a full-time school. When you were laying out your plans for Seeds, how did you want it to be different from other schools in Ethiopia?

When I was conceptualizing the program, I wanted to focus on quality. At that time elsewhere, there was a huge focus on numbers. The big push was to put kids in school rather than looking at what they were learning or the learning outcomes. I wanted to provide opportunity for students to reach their potential. I know this is cliché but I didn’t want kids to be limited by what was around them.

I also wanted something that focused on the whole family rather than push kids away from homes. I knew I didn’t want a boarding school. Finally, I wanted to create a place where both boys and girls got the opportunity to learn together. We definitely need a push for girls’ education but I also believe that if boys and girls are in same space and learn to collaborate as children they can work better together as adults.


I know that you recently returned to Ethiopia after several years abroad. How did it feel coming back and what changes have you seen in the country?

The population growth is intense. You read about it but then in person you are confronted and think, “Holy cow, that is a lot of people!” The difficult thing is that the poverty is still there. The economy is growing but the population is growing even faster.

On the positive side, the infrastructure has really improved which is necessary for development. Mostly, I was struck by how a lot of younger people are working now. People are very entrepreneurial. Growing up there was always a sense that people had lost hope. It just seemed insurmountable. People didn’t know where to start so they didn’t. I loved seeing the hustle of so many people –especially women– going to work in the mornings.

With Seeds, seeing everything after so many years was really incredible. The kids are unbelievable. They are so smart, and inquisitive; so confident! When you think of the backgrounds they come from it is really a testament to the work of our team. They really understand why this work is important and treat the kids with a lot of love and respect.

I also loved seeing the women whose businesses our microloans program has helped start or expand. It is actually changing the quality of people’s lives.

I know this is probably hard but if you had to pick a favorite moment from your trip to Adama what would that be?

So many but I really loved break time when the kids would all be jumping around. Everyday, I was secretly waiting until they’d come out of class. For me to be able to play the games I played when I was a kid with them was really great! I was also really touched when the mothers organized a coffee ceremony for me. They took initiative on their own.

Oftentimes people think that if you’re poor, you’re helpless but that could not be further from the truth. They made that very clear when they collected their own money to have a get together and talked about wanting to give back to Seeds and contribute. They would say, ‘Tell us what more we can do.’ I really appreciated that!

atti and students

Looking towards the future, tell me a bit about the Dream School Campaign and Seeds’ plans for expansion.

Currently, we have been renting facilities for our current campuses which is difficult. I believe that environment is a big part of learning. If you learn in a well-designed environment, you learn better and, more importantly, you see what is possible. I want to build something that our students and the community are proud of. In addition, the new facility will not only be a school but also a space that the community can take advantage of.

We want to create a hub for other organizations to provide service and collaborate. We want to create the first public library in Adama and establish a model of how to build sustainably using recycled and indigenous materials that meet the standard of a quality school anywhere in the world. Right now, we are in process of acquiring land and the initial stages of the design process. It is a big project but we are hoping to open the first phase by 2018/2019.

Seeds is a women’s run organization. Was this an intentional decision or did it happen organically?

To be honest, it organically happened that way. In the beginning on the US side, we were all volunteers and as a lot of data shows, women are more likely to volunteer than men. Once we started growing (and paying staff), I interviewed a mix of men and women but mostly I’ve found that the best candidates happen to be women, which is even better!

Now I’m happy that we can show that it is possible to be a woman and run something and succeed doing what you love. We have seen many unintended positive impacts of having a female-led team.

What has been the greatest challenge with establishing a non-profit in Ethiopia?

That’s a sensitive question! Things move a lot slower. That is the biggest challenge about working in Ethiopia generally.

atti and her mother

What I think is even more impressive is that you started Seeds as a full-time student. How did you manage this?

Thank you! I actually started Seeds before when I was modeling but then I became a full-time student just a year later so I honestly don’t know how I managed it! It required extreme organization and time management. I literally had my schedule for everyday from when I would wake up to when I would go to sleep, seven days a week on a spreadsheet. And I had to follow it.

When you don’t have a lot of time, you are forced to work more efficiently. Sometimes I had to answer work emails while sitting in class, or miss social things at school in order to attend work events. It was difficult but I enjoyed it. I thrive under stress.

What else do you see in the pipeline for yourself?

Personally, I want to do more writing. I have been writing for Huffington Post and I want to expand on that. I am also applying for some leadership fellowships and have started to look into how I can be involved with economic development work in Africa.

What advice would you have for a woman who wants to start her own organization or company?

If you know it’s something you want to do, just get started. Starting is the most difficult thing. Then stay focused on the long term. It is stressful and difficult in the short term and there are a lot of sacrifices you have to make, financially (especially at the beginning). Also ask for advice by those who have done something similar before.

Some people might tell you it’s too hard to do but trust your instinct and the research you have done (make sure you have done enough research to understand the marketplace for whatever you are working on before you start). It’s not an easy road but it is one of the most fulfilling experiences because even if your venture doesn’t succeed you gain experience and expertise that make you a more valuable asset to others. If you fail, try again. Never give up, ever!

Want to see women you know featured on SLA? Tell us what amazing things women are doing in your communities here.

7 African Women to watch at #Rio2016

The stakes are high this time of the year as Rio2016 kick off. Lots of hopes and dreams are riding on this year’s wins. The national pride of certain countries is at stake at the sporting event as those of us living in African countries stayed up late to watch the opening ceremonies.

Btw did you know that the Olympics started in 776 B.C. in Greece where the first Olympian, Coroebus won the single event, a 192-metre foot-race? In 2016, we’re all about the African women doing us proud at the Olympics. Out of this year’s lot, lets’ focus on seven African sportswomen who we’ll be keeping an eye on as the event unfolds.

Yolande Mabika

Refugee Olympic Team

This 28-year-old judoka (a person who practices or is an expert in judo) is a refugee from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She’ll be participating in this year’s Olympics under that flag.

There’s no shying away from it Yolande has suffered to get to where she is now. She’s slept on the street, and worked as a sweeper and at a textile mill. In 2013, she qualified for the World Judo Championships held in Brazil. She sought asylum in Brazil and started training at the Instituto Reação, a judo school founded by a former Olympic bronze medalist. She is aiming for gold at Rio2016 under the women’s 70kg category.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: Nothing should hold you back the way nothing held Yolande back. We’ll be keeping our fingers crossed that she gets the gold she’s aiming for.

Vivian Cheruiyot


Known as ‘pocket rocket’ due to her short stature, Vivian is a Kenyan long-distance runner who specializes in track and cross country running. She has a massive track record under her belt but her most notable moments include how she lost 17kgs after giving birth. Vivian did this in order to compete in the 2013 International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Athletics Championships 10,000m gold medal in Beijing, China. She won that by the way.

These aren’t Vivian’s first Olympics. She scooped 2nd and 3rd place in the 2012 Olympics for women’s 5000m and 10,000m respectively. She has also crowned Laureus World Sports Award for Sportswoman of the Year 2012. In Rio this year, she is doubling up in the women’s 5000m and 10000m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: There’s always room to do better and improve on your best. Vivian has pushed herself to do better and succeeded. She won and we can learn from her by pushing ourselves to win too.

Hortence Vanessa Mballa Atangana


Another judoka on the list, Vanessa has been flying the Cameroonian flag high since 2013 when she won the African Championships where she won a bronze medal in the women’s 78kg category. She also scooped third place in the Commonwealth games of 2014. In this year’s Olympics, she is going for gold in the same category.

Margret Rumat Rumat Hassan


Margret’s story is touching. The 19-year-old will be one of South Sudan’s two athletes to participate in the Olympics. She is from Wau, a South Sudan city, where, as recently as 2015, this world-class athlete didn’t even have access to a gym.

Against all odds, she trained her way to the 2014 Youth Olympics in Nanjing, China. There she competed in the Women’s 400m as an Independent Olympic Athlete. This was even before South Sudan was recognized. She is aiming to be first or second at Rio2016 in the women’s 200m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: Margret forged a path where there was none before. Some people spend their lives training to be athletes in world-class gyms, Margret didn’t have access to that last year. And still, she stands.

Blessing Okagbare


Blessing also holds many feathers in her cap. This Nigerian track and field athlete specializes in long jumping and short sprints is an Olympic and World Championships medalist in the long jump. Blessing is also a world medalist in the 200 metres. She holds the Women’s 100 metres Commonwealth Games record for the fastest time at 10.85 seconds.

Her 100m best of 10.79 made her the African record holder for the event until it was eclipsed by Murielle Ahoure in 2016. She was the African 100m and long jump champion in 2010. She has also won medals at the All-Africa Games, IAAF Continental Cup and World Relays. As a sign of her prowess, she is poised to take part in four events during Rio2016: women’s long jump, women’s 100m, women’s 200m and women’s 4x100m relay.

Genzebe Dibaba


This Ethiopian middle- and long-distance runner is destined for great things. Genzebe is the sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Olympic silver medalist Ejegayehu Dibaba, and the cousin of former Olympic champion Derartu Tulu. Her veins are literally flow with the blood of a winner. However, that’s not to say her own efforts are for nothing.

Genzebe was the 2012 World Indoor Champion for the 1500m, and is the reigning 2014 World Indoor Champion and World Indoor Record Holder in the 3000m. She represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Summer Olympics and has twice competed at the World Championships in Athletics (2009 and 2011). Genzebe was named Laureus Sportswoman of the Year for the 2014 year and was 2015 IAAF World Athlete of the Year. She is the current world record holder for the 1500m (both indoor and outdoor), the indoor 3000m, the indoor 5000m, the indoor mile, and the indoor two miles.

She is looking to win the women’s 1500 m track and field event at Rio2016.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: We know we mentioned this before but…look at Genzebe’s family! The Dibaba family, aka the “world’s fastest family” are goals for how healthy families can reach their peaks and excel. They challenge us to ask, how can we work with our families to ensure that everyone stays winning?

Caster Semenya


A middle-distance runner, South African Caster Semenya’s track record is bright. It all started in the 2008 World Junior Championships, where she won the gold in the 800m at the 2008 Commonwealth Youth Games. In the African Junior Championships of 2009, she won both the 800m and 1500m races. In August of the same year, Caster won gold in the 800 metres at the World Championships setting the fastest time of the year.

Caster was chosen to carry the country’s flag during the opening ceremony of the 2012 Summer Olympics where she scooped a silver medal in the women’s 800 metres. Amidst the shadow of gender testing that has been haunting her career, Semenya aims for gold in this year’s Olympics in the category of Women’s 800m.

#MotherlandMogul lesson: After the gender testing troubles, some people thought Caster will no longer participate in competitive sports. Caster has proven those haters wrong by rising again with no consideration for what others may think.

As the Rio2016 unfolds, these are just a few of the #MotherlandMoguls to keep your eyes on as they do us proud!

7 history lessons from bomb-ass Ethiopian women

Empress Mentewab ethiopian woman history

In our modern quest to being Motherland Moguls, sometimes it’s refreshing to peek back into history for validation. There, we find stories of women who just didn’t take no for an answer. These women also overturned the status-quo and created worlds that they believed they deserved to live in. There are countless women in our continent’s history that were kings of their own castles, literal and metaphoric, despite the odds.

This is the case for these five Ethiopian women who insisted on their individuality at any price and still brought repute and victory to their country and continent.


Yodit Gudit, c. 900

The Commander in Chief.

For the woman who courts controversy and knows that sometimes she needs to be ruthless.

This rebel queen reigned over a sovereign kingdom just outside the sprawling Axumite Empire, which at its height spanned all the way from Ethiopia to present day Yemen.

When her territory was threatened with occupation by the Empire, Yodit initiated an offensive. Her tactics didn’t just expel enemy troops from her lands but chased them all the way back to the seat of their kingdom. She chased ruling elites of the Empire from town to town, until she brought about the complete dissolution of the Axumite Kingdom. Yodit’s rule marked the beginning of a dynasty that introduced a new bloodline, breaking nine centuries of rulers who traced their kinship back to Queen Sheba and King Solomon.

She is notorious in written and spoken accounts of ancient Ethiopian history for her zeal for vengeance. In fact her last name, Gudit, is an epithet that translates to an infernal capacity for destruction. While her legacy is controversial, it is undeniable that she was resourceful in leveraging military might as well as fear tactics to take on a behemoth Empire that was much more endowed in artillery and troops than she was.


Empress Taytu Betul, c. late 1800s

Military strategist and pioneering Motherland Mogul.

Empress Taytu’s goals for the woman who accepts diversity in business development.

When Italy invaded Ethiopia the first time, the empress didn’t sit back while her husband, Emperor Menelik, drove troops to the war front. Instead she led 5,600 infantry and cavalier men into battle and took the stead of military counselor to the generals in command. Leading up to the decisive battle of Adwa, she suggested a decisive strategy to weaken the opposing troops –cutting off water supply to the Italian fort rather than attack it directly.

After a humiliating defeat of the Italians, diplomats looked to the peace treaty to achieve their colonial ambitions through a deceptive technicality that would allow them to have protectorate rights over Ethiopia. Taytu stopped at nothing to revoke the treaty, which she did successfully.

In peacetime, wife and husband capitalized on their separate strengths to build a formidable and forward-bound nation out of the newly reconstituted Ethiopia. While Menelik travelled to quell rebellions within the country, Taytu stayed in the new capital, Addis Ababa, a city she had selected herself.

She pioneered industrial growth by setting up the first wool factory in Ethiopia after consulting with experts from Turkey and India. She encouraged the growth of cosmopolitan life by opening the country’s first modern hotel that served both local and international cuisine.


Screen Shot 2016-08-08 at 15.16.55Yewubdar







Senedu and Yewubdar Gebru c.1930s

Freedom fighter and vice president of parliament.

Freedom fighter and virtuoso pianist.

These sisters show that two heads can be better than one in the marketplace.

The repertoire between this sisterly duo includes guerilla warfare, virtuoso classical music, ten books, five languages and leadership of the country’s largest institutions. They were among a handful of their generation to win scholarships patronized by their home city governor to study in Europe.

Quite like our present day shift towards repatriation, they chose to return to their country and become teachers. Soon after, Fascist Italy invaded for the second time. Rather than join their families in safe exile, these sisters took up arms alongside their countrymen. They joined the Black Lion movement to expel Italians out of Ethiopian territory. Before Ethiopia was liberated by 1940, they spent two held captive in a jail on an Italian island. There, they snuck in material to learn Italian to cast off lethargy.

Upon return to their motherland, they took separate paths but continued to share a passion for life. Senedu became a national figure in the multitude of public roles she assumed. As a headmistress of a renowned all-girls school, she became a compelling role model. She cultivated a generation of girls into leadership under her strict tutelage. As the first woman in parliament, she was also known for her bold challenges to order and outspoken rhetoric. This earned her vice presidency in later years.

The younger sister, Yewubdar, joined a monastery, adopted the name Emahoy Tsegue-Mariam and continued to hone her expertise in classical music. To this day she lives in Jerusalem and travels worldwide to play her self-written numbers on the piano.


Asnaketch Worku, c. 1950s

Artist Extraordinaire.

We all love women who calmly ignore societal dictates on what is “proper feminine behavior”. Asnaketch is the one for the women in industries that are considered unfeminine.

This woman was a force of nature. Her charm on and off stage held her audience’s attention in a fit of willful siege. Asnaketch was a theater actress and a dancer to boot, but she was most revered for her music. The mastery with which she spun her hoarse and sonorous voice with the searing sound of the kirar (a traditional string instrument) into bewitching tales of love, loss and independence held many in awe.

She belonged to a school of music, azmari, that at the time was considered immodest. This was due to its explicit nature compared to the characteristic conservatism of Ethiopian culture. Asnaketch paid no mind to the stringent mores of womanly propriety. She had a tailor on hand to weave her daring costumes, raised children that weren’t her own and held a cigarette with as much effortless cool as she played her kirar.

Ledet Muleta: I had to ask myself, “What is the loudest way to make a statement?”

ledet muleta

Mental health is rarely approached with the care and attention it deserves in both African and African Diasporic communities. Nurse turned filmmaker Ledet Muleta hopes to change this statusquo. She started Medixaa Health Services to address the lack of proper mental health care in many African countries. Now Ledet wants to push further with her most recent project the film CHULA, which she is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for. Here Ledet shares valuable insight to those Motherland Moguls who want to be filmmakers but are not sure how. She also reminds us why mental health and substance abuse should be of more concern.

Your work draws attention to mental health in Africa, is there anything in particular that lead to this?

I have been pretty fortunate to have the experience of working in facilities that support a large population of psychiatric patients. I worked for six years at the University of Maryland Medical Center where I gained great experience in giving care to those affected by different types of psychiatric conditions. Our hospital was in the heart of Baltimore City and we took great pride in providing high quality psychiatric treatment. I learned how to deal with acute psychiatric conditions and took care of patients that smaller hospitals could not care for, enhancing my ability to handle stressful situations.

Since then I have been working at the National Institute of Health (NIH) as a Research Nurse focusing on mental health. The NIH has inspired me even further as I get to work with renowned scientists, dedicated nurses, and an overall interdisciplinary team. Each time I traveled to an African country, I dreamt of replicating that level of care and the impact it makes. I also had a year long volunteer position as a nurse working with refugees in the Washington D.C. area, mostly from Ethiopia and Eritrea. That was certainly an eye opener and the motivator behind this entire project. The stories I heard and the heartache I felt enabled me to be fearless about starting this project.

How is mental illness viewed in your community and what else can be done to change attitudes?

Mental illness carries stigma all around the world but in my community, this stigma is severe. People who suffer with mental illness in Ethiopia are often forced into isolation because their families are ashamed of them. The problem is often hidden and ignored until it is too late. Some forego healthcare completely, and subject their mentally ill family members to constant religious intervention, when the issue could easily be solved with medication.

It is important to divert more funds towards mental illness. With the proper funding, access to medication and information could make mental illness easier to manage. In order to change attitudes, it is also important to create a more public dialogue about mental illness and what it means to be mentally ill. If people talked about their experiences with mental illness, it would be normalized and those suffering with mental illness would know that they’re not alone. Another way to combat these issues is with education. By providing educational resources on substance abuse and mental illness we can ensure that our community no longer feels the need to be ashamed, and that they know that their conditions can be effectively managed.

CHULAWhat message do you hope to tell with CHULA?

The inspiration for CHULA comes from seeing some preventable issues becoming life threatening problems for individuals. There is no cure for mental illness, however, most mental illnesses are treatable and can be managed. The lack of access to adequate mental healthcare combined with the stigma of mental illness has intensified the impact of mental illness in Africa.

Furthermore, the market for drugs like heroin and cocaine is growing in many African countries, making substance abuse a major health concern as well. With the public looking for preventable education, many are becoming victims and that disparity is what inspired me to make this film.

As a nurse, when did you take the leap into film making? Is CHULA the first film you’ve made?

I never thought I’d ever venture into film making. This happened out of desperation to tackle the stigma of mental illness in the African community. In my own experience, I see too often that Africans in the Diaspora have a hard time dealing with the stigma in their communities. This often forces them to hide their personal struggles and as a result, they often find themselves in a more dire predicament.

In my travels across different countries in Africa, I was enraged to see so many affected by mental illness as well as substance abuse. I wanted to start a campaign that would address these issues and I had to ask myself, “What is the loudest way to make a statement?” which led to the creation of my first film, CHULA.

chulapic1How did you go about getting the skills to be a filmmaker?

The first thing I had to do was to draft the script for the film while simultaneously weaving my travels as a great source of inspiration. I wrote the script in various environments, either spending time with my close friends or on long flights from DC to Maputo, for example. Once I completed the script, I reached out to friends who were highly involved in the arts and pitched my script in the hopes of finding a director.

That’s when I was connected with Shane Colella, CHULA’s director, and it was through him that I was able to learn more about the film making process and gain the relevant skills needed in order to be successful. Additionally, I had to take the initiative of going through my own personal learning process; this occurred through attending film events and turning to the library and internet for resources, and so forth.

What words would you use to describe the last three months of your life?

Fearlessness, trust, dedication, team work, and change are some of the words that can describe the last three months of my life.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here.

10 East African songs that will get you hyped for your next big interview

Stella Mwangi

No matter how many times you practice your introduction or write down the skills you’ll bring to the position, interviews can be the most stressful part of getting a new job. We all know the stakes are high for an interview – you can go from the bottom of the pile to the #1 candidate by presenting yourself well and telling a compelling a story. 

With so much riding on your success, you can’t go into the interview room full of jitters and unsure of yourself. The best way to make yourself stand out is to be confident and calm. Not sure how to do that?

We’ve pulled together a list of 10 East African songs to help center yourself and find some inner peace before the big moment. 

1. Habida – Superwoman

As the title suggests, this song will get you into a ‘conquer the world’ mood. With its catchy beat and uplifting lyrics, it is just the kind of song you need to conquer an interview.

2. Octopizzo – Black star

Straight from the chorus, it is clear that the song is telling the listener to believe in themselves.

“Forever you will be, a shining star…

You will always be, a black star…”

Go forth black star and rock that interview.

3. Khaligraph  Jones – Yego

This song is about Julius Yego, the Kenyan javelin thrower who broke the African record twice and Kenya’s national record four times. Seeing as the song is based on a champion, it shouldn’t be hard to get into a winning spirit when listening to this song.

4. Juliani – Exponential potential

The title says it all and so does the video. The video is set within the confines of a boardroom which seems appropriate given the lyrics of the song. This is just the song you need to get the energy to unleash your full potential.

5. STL – Dreamer

Stella Mwangi (STL) uses this song to encourage all the dreamers to go out into the world and follow their dreams while recounting her own story. It will definitely get you in the mood to conquer your fears and ace the interview.

6. Wangechi feat Karun – Analogue dreamer

Although on the surface, the song seems to be talking about following your dreams, the more profound message is about being courageous enough to be different and to be you in a world clogged with similarity. Just the dose of courage anyone needs before an interview.

7. Muthoni the Drummer Queen (MDQ) – Nai ni ya who?

This song  was written for the city of Nairobi and what it takes to make it. But the song’s universal message also applies to any other city in the world. At its core, the song emphasizes the importance of getting up and doing something to change your life. The track’s awesome beat will get you hyped in seconds.

8. Avril feat Rabbit King Kaka – Ninaweza

‘Ninaweza’ means ‘I can’ in English. The song stays away from metaphorical analogies and remains as simple as its title suggests. It is the only motivation you need to get hyped for your interview. The message is clear, ‘You can.’

9. Vanessa Mdee – Hawajui

With a colourful video, Mdee encourages her listeners to overcome any obstacles that come their way, including unfair judgement from people who have no idea who you are.

10. Jua Kali – Baba Yao

The song begins with these words,

“Hauezi niekea chini, me ni baba yao”

“You can’t put me down, I am a champion” (English Translation).

Side Note: The Direct translation of the phrase, ‘me ni baba yao’ is ‘I am their father’ which is a sheng colloquialism used to refer to oneself as the best or a champion among colleagues.

Which of these are your favorites? Any ones we missed? What is your all time favorite song for getting pumped your big interviews?

Xiomara Rosa-Tedla: There are benefits to starting a business with family

Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth

Many people ask how and why my father and I started our business. And to be honest, it was by accident.

About two years ago, my father returned home from a trip visiting family in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After picking him up from the airport and unloading luggage, he handed me a gifta custom, handmade leather messenger bag. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla Unoeth Immediately, I fell in love with my new gift and sported it everywhere. From work to dinner to weekend trips, I toted my new bag all around the world. And soon after, friends, family members, and strangers started asking, Where did you get your bag? I love it! Can your dad get me one as well?” For months the questions and requests kept coming. Even my father told me he had been getting the same questions, and suggested, Hey, I think we have a business here. Lets start a leather bag business!Shortly after, the birth of UnoEth began.

Starting a business from scratch is a fun creative process, where brainstorming sessions let your mind run free with ideas and opportunities for your business to grow exponentially. Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethBut as with any business, the road to success is never a straight line up. There are dips, curves and encounters with the unknown. In addition, it can be a lot of work. On the bright side, there are benefits to running a business with family.

A family member as a business partner can be extremely beneficialespecially my dad. Having an equal partner with a long history (my whole life) and blood ties helps solidify communication, trust, and dedication to succeed. Neither partner wants to let the other down. From day one of creating our new business, I felt unbelievably confident in our new venture because my dad and I shared the same vision and passion for our budding brand.Screen Shot 2016-02-06 at 1.42.31 PM

In addition to trust, communication, and dedication, working with family also means splitting responsibilities. As we both grow our business around our full-time jobs, we wish there was more time in the day to juggle responsibilities. We split outstanding tasks, which alleviates the stress and workload on both of us.

Communication is key to maintaining strong relationships with each other, our vendors, shipping counterparts, business partnerships and most importantly, our customers. In the development of UnoEth, weve learned to communicate promptly to avoid creating a bottleneck in our business. Thanks to apps like Viber, were able to communicate easily internationally via wifi and all stay on the same pagejust in different time zones.Xiomara Rosa-Tedla UnoethIts incredibly important to maintain a positive, can-do attitude with a goal always in sight. As mentioned before, the road to success is never a straight line. Every business experiences road blocks and obstacles, which can deter most individuals from starting a business in the first place.

But with an optimistic, focused, and goal-oriented outlook, one can overcome the temporary downfalls, cross the finish line and push on to the next stage. At the end of day, one must ask, How bad do I really want to be successful?And then simply just go for it!

What are your thoughts on starting a business with a family member? Enjoyed Xiomara’s story ? Share the UnoEth story with your network.

Career lessons from Ethiopian born business mogul, Mimi Alemayehou

Mimi Alemayehou

Ethiopian born, Kenya raised Mimi Alemayehou is a Managing Director at portfolio company Black Rhino Group, and Executive Advisor and Chair of Blackstone Africa Infrastructure LP.

After studying International Law and International Business, Alemayehou found development consultancy firm Trade Link Holdings LLC. She has held major positions as Director of International Regulatory Affairs at WorldSpace Corporation and was United States Executive Director at the African Development Bank. The mother of two has also served as Executive Vice President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC).

If you are like us, you will hold your breath after reading about Alemayehou’s career journey. Below, we share some insights from this African power lady.

1. Strive for your educational goals

Mimi: The first successful entrepreneur I knew and looked up to was my grandmother. She could not read or write but she was one of the smartest women I have ever known. I often wonder how far she would have gone if she had been allowed to go to school by her parents, who chose only to send the boys to school.

Although, the silver linings of your career may not shine through that window frame just yet, your education is a step towards reaching your career goals. Mimi agrees (higher) education is a huge part of the African growth story. 

Mimi Alemayehou

2. There is much more in your future

After being asked whether she thought her position at OPIC was the climax of her career, Mimi replied: “I have always believed that life is a journey of learning; there is no end to it until you are no more.”

Although, success can be comforting, that comfort shouldn’t stop us from going beyond our comfort zones. There is always a next move. “I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect position or a dead-end job. At every step, you learn. Life’s a journey of learning.”

Mimi Alemayehou 3. Believe in your work ethic

During her career at the African Development Bank, Mimi was the only woman working in the midst of 17 men. I have never doubted myself in the things I pursued. Fortunately, I have had some amazing mentors in my life and in turn I try as much as I can to mentor as many people, particularly young women.”

Confidence is key when it comes to directing your future. Feeling strong about what you do and what you want will minimize doubt.

4. There are ways to do it all

In terms of the balancing act of career and family, I believe mothers are natural multi-taskers”, is Mimi’s response to ‘how she does it’. And no matter how many exciting career moves she has made, she says “being a mother is my biggest accomplishment so far.”

Mimi believes prioritizing and accepting the pros of cons of having to travel for work is key to combining career and motherhood.Mimi Alemayehou

5. Approach situations with an open mind

My most impressionable years were probably during my time in Kenya. I met so many people from many parts of the world for the first time in my life and that had a long term impact in my life as it made me more open-minded and gave me a greater appreciation for human diversity,” says Mimi.

6. Be picky with what advice you take

Mimi’s powerful statement: “I got to where I am today partly because I did not always listen to the advice I got. For example, earlier in my career I was always interested in working on Capitol Hill but a lot of people, including some of my own family members told me that there was no way a member of Congress would hire someone who was not an American citizenI pursued this dream anyway and was ultimately hired as legislative staffer on Capitol Hill. I have found it invaluable to question things and not necessarily take “no” for an answer.”

Be aware of your possibilities, be thorough in how you approach them and follow through.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here