Billene Seyoum Woldeyes | Acumen Fellow | 30 June 2017
In late 2015, I was introduced to The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) through an acquaintance based in Ethiopia that recommended me to the organization. TPW was then in town doing the groundwork for their upcoming learning journey to Ethiopia. I met Jo Ensor and Marylou Gourlay for a late afternoon coffee in the lobby of the Hilton Addis Ababa. It was intriguing to learn of what they were doing at TPW and the nuances of the upcoming learning journey they were organizing for up to 18 philanthropists. The learning journey would look at the theme of agriculture, women and health within the Ethiopian context, and the group would be coming in early 2016 to learn from practitioners in these fields.
At that point, I was managing a program with the Synergos Institute in Ethiopia, focused on building leadership and institutional alignment capacities for systems-shifting projects and partnerships in the agriculture sector. However, I was also in a period of transition, focusing on leveraging the experience I had accumulated in this work with my prior experience and passion in promoting gender equality and women’s agency. Therefore, following our initial meeting, when Jo proposed that I join them as a content expert for the duration of the learning journey in February 2016, to answer questions from TPW members and help set context before and after sessions, I gladly accepted. During the course of the learning journey, I also gave a talk, “From Emotionalism to Sustained Activism,” exploring lessons learned of local experiences in mobilizing and raising awareness on violence against women in Ethiopia.
It is among the 18 philanthropists who visited Ethiopia in 2016, that I was introduced to Cristina Ljungberg, a TPW member, Founder of Giving Wings Foundation, partner at Influence Film and advisor to Acumen. However, I would not really know of her advisory role at the latter until twelve months later, where after I had completed a year as an Acumen East Africa fellow, our paths would cross again.
In the period from when I had first met her in Addis Ababa, to when we would reconnect in Naivasha, Kenya, so much had happened. I had transitioned out of my program managerial role at Synergos, become an Acumen fellow that would push me and propel me into a new dimension of growth, embarking on my own start-up Earuyan Solutions as a result and marrying my interest in raising gender equality consciousness with building leadership capacities. As a social-impact driven company, Earuyan now offers social issues based forums, workshops, project/program design and content development solutions with a particular focus on projects promoting gender equality in East and Horn of Africa. Capitalizing on the experience accumulated in leadership capacity and organizational development, I also provide leadership development workshops and organization/team alignment solutions through my company.
It was also during my fellowship year, reading the Blue Sweater by Jacqueline Novogratz, that I would connect the dots and learn that Jacqueline founded TPW. So, when in mid-March of 2017 I headed to Naivasha to learn, connect and be transformed at the first Acumen Global Gathering, I was pleasantly surprised to bump into Cristina at the opening cocktails and learn that she served as an advisor for Acumen. She would later join a “Breaking Gender Stereotypes” workshop that I co-facilitated with another East Africa fellow. Following the workshop, Cristina and I sat to have dinner together and catch up under the breeze of the Kenyan Rift Valley, connecting the dots to how our paths crossed again in East Africa, a year after our initial meeting.
With the feminist ideals with both espouse and live through our work, I wouldn’t be surprised if our paths cross again – perhaps on purpose this time around.
Billene Seyoum Woldeyes is the founder & managing director of Earuyan Solutions. She is also a feminist writer and curator at www.africanfeminism.com, a collaborative writing project between African authors/writers from throughout the continent encouraging open discussion and dialogue on feminist issues with the long-term ambition of featuring at least one feminist voice from each country on the continent. She is the author of the book Transformative Spaces: Enabling Authentic Female Leadership Through Self-Transformation – The Case of AWiB. She can be reached at email@example.com.