As an experienced communications resource person Edda Zekarias has worked with a number of international organizations upon graduating from Addis Ababa University with an MA in Peace & Conflict Studies. She is of Ethio-Kenyan origin and had built a career in teaching as and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher for adults and as an instructor for O and A levels Cambridge school leaving certification. With an MA in Peace & Conflict Studies, she facilitated research and communications at the UN mandated university-UPEACE Africa Programme Office in Addis Ababa. She has worked in several other interesting capacities and has also been a rapporteur in a number of continental conferences/workshops conducted in Addis Ababa and around the world. Now a YALI fellow she plans to get back into volunteering and building capacity in woman. The Youth Hub Africa team got her to share her experience on the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African leaders formerly called the YALI fellowship.
Q: What’s your background? Your discipline and your socialization process as well?
A: There are two qualities I admire in people – humility and ability to listen. I try as much as possible to make these two characteristics a part of my daily life, better yet, a solid background. I bear a diverse heritage, my upbringing combines both Ethiopian and Kenyan roots. I am content to call myself an Addis Ababa University alumni having studied History (ancient, medieval, modern) for my undergrad studies. Then I went back into graduate school for peace and security studies, also at Addis Ababa University in collaboration with the UN mandated University for Peace (UPEACE). Over the years, I have worked as a teacher, web and print content contributor & editor, event planner, voice-over consultant and so forth; in other words, people are at the center of what I do. Overall, I like a good challenge, a great driver for my tendencies is to seek out exciting opportunities that push me to work harder.
Q: What do you think made your application a strong one and how much time and commitment did you put into it?
A: I believe that my application benefited from clarity and simplicity. I knew what I wanted to do with my learning at the fellowship. I had passion for my project and this made it easy to convey the message and also articulate it. I did not have all the answers when I applied, but room for listening and learning was evident, gaps of which the fellowship would help me begin to fill through the summer in the US and beyond. Having read and re-read the flyer for the fellowship, I built an understanding on where I would fit in, the Civic Leadership track; this too guided my application. Frankly, I applied on the very last day, in fact, just a few hours before the deadline. I recall it was on January 27, 2014 that I clicked on submit. I had been very busy with work but that day I stayed up late evening to fill out the application. But isn’t that the beauty of life? When you really want something, it remains in your head, and you have a constant reminder and make time for it.
Q: How were you informed that you were selected and what was your reaction on hearing the news?
A: A letter of acceptance was emailed to me by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. I cannot describe my reaction; but I know I went through a series of emotions. I think it kicked in little by little every day, bit by bit as I began to unfold the opportunity; reading the letter each single day thereafter.
Q: How has the 6-weeks fellowship changed you/your life?
A: Six weeks in Virginia have profoundly impacted my life. I am a different person today. 25 of us from 18 different African countries were hosted by The Presidential Precinct where we learnt and shared about servant leadership; what it means to build networks, think broadly but critically – the experience has sharpened our abilities to set realistic goals, articulate ideas and identify entry points for interventions we are or intend to pursue keeping interests of common good at the top of everything else. We spent time with faculty members, business tycoons, senators, women leaders, diplomats, journalists, and even young college students who regularly went out of their way to make sure our stay was supremely convenient – and even from each other, each day was a learning opportunity both in and outside of the classroom. From historical learning tours in the homes of America’s founding fathers including Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and James Monroe to daily realities we all lived during the 6 week period, I am taking home a multiplicity of lessons learned.
Q: What is the biggest take home from this fellowship and how would you apply it to what you do?
A: I would say I have a combination of take-aways from this experience, but ‘design thinking’/ processing scenarios from a variety of angles, networking techniques, collaborative governance, always encouraging others to share opinions and providing constructive criticism, insight into technology aided data compilation and mapping, are just a few.
Q: Do you have any plans to share some of the things you have learnt during the fellowship with your contemporaries back at home in some structured form and what does the fellowship expect of you as well?
A: Yes. There’s an original plan to share some of the learnings with my colleagues back home who have all been super supportive, and to whom I owe much gratitude. I will also definitely share the same with friends and peers through discussions, at least in the beginning – whether face-to-face or through internet and telephone communications The end goal being a common interest in advancing Ethiopia, and also giving back to Africa at large. As 2014’s Mandela Washington Alumni from Ethiopia, we are discussing ways forward and already making plans. On the fellowship, I believe our work has just began. The fellowship is creating tools through which we can continue to interact and share ideas across the continent. There is a vibrant on-line community of this year’s 500 fellows made strong by daily contributions from other amazing youth from across the continent. We all serve as information/idea creators and recipients in an exchange that will build US-Africa relations; for greater good of citizens from both continents and beyond. The network is a wealth of young decision-makers, educators, entrepreneurs, doctors, fashion designers, social workers, engineers, writers, government and civic leaders, advocators, innovators, and so many more – brought together by passion for creating opportunities for our communities, countries and continent.
Q: What are your next steps?
A: I will go back home early October. At this point I am learning further as an intern at The Boeing Company in Washington State. Civic Leadership and Public Management track fellows also had applied for internships with leading companies and organizations in the US; 100 were selected. Business track fellows applied for seed funding. In the next weeks, I am concentrating on practical skills in coordination, team-building, communications, corporate event organization, innovation and corporate social responsibility, among others. Am excited to be going back home to my work which grants me a strong opportunity to serve fellow citizens. Ethiopian alumni are planning a number of activities which I will engage in fully when I return to Ethiopia. I also have made myself a pledge to set aside more time to get back into volunteering. In applying for the fellowship, we all had to formulate and provide solutions for an essential question – mine related to capacitating women – I will continue to work towards achieving this intervention.
* Pictures 1 and 4 used are the of property Helawie Sewnet all others were provided by Edda Zekarias and were used with their kind permission
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