Since the beginning of October, PROJECT-E has a new Country Representative in Addis Ababa. Marianne Siede was a volunteer in the Fundraising Team for one and a half years and was active on site at PEHI in Addis – how she got to the position of Country Representative and what are the goals she is pursuing for her time at the institute in Addis Ababa, she tells in an interview.
What attracted you to fulfil the position of Country Representative (CR) initially?
It has always been clear to me that, after completing my masters studies, I would return to Ethiopia to work in the field or in a setting similar to PROJECT-E (PE). Therefore, the past year I was entirely focused on this personal goal. I even dedicated my masters’ research on women’s empowerment in Ethiopia, applying PE as an example of best practice. Thus, suddenly my entire life revolved around PE, the institute in Addis Ababa and its local stakeholders.
However, I first realized that I wanted to become CR in 2019, while volunteering at the PEHI. The whole institute, its dynamics and organizational struggles, reminded me a lot of my previous job: I had so many ideas in mind to bring forward structural and efficient change.
While in the final stage of my graduate studies, the opportunity arose for me to apply for the position of CR. The timing could not have been better, because I felt that my research had, to some extent, already prepared me for the role. Moreover, I think combining my European and Ethiopian heritage with my professional background is such a great advantage to hopefully excel in this role.
What is your academic background, your expertise and what did you do before coming to Addis Ababa to the PEHI?
I completed my undergraduate studies in International Relations in Germany, the US and France. After that, I worked as a program coordinator in the field of intercultural academic exchange for two years. I really loved this job, as I learned so much about myself and it gave me a multitude of soft skills especially in terms of time and “crisis” management. Moreover, it allowed me to discover a lot of new places, learn new topics and meet interesting people and businesses.
Throughout the years, I became an expert in adult education programs, i.e. in how to coordinate, monitor and evaluate them. I am now extremely grateful to be working in a similar setting, which allows me to focus on many different topics while giving me the freedom to address issues and find solutions. I literally wake up every morning with a big smile on my face because I am excited for work. Finding your passion at such a young age is truly one of the greatest gifts!
Which goals have you set yourself for your time as CR?
One of my biggest goals in the upcoming year is to work on capacity building for our staff. PE Team Ethiopia is really the backbone and driving force of our institute. Their commitment and loyalty goes beyond the call of duty! For this reason, I strive to improve transparency and communication in and between the different staff levels.
Lapses in communication are what create misunderstandings, insecurities and inefficient work processes. Moreover, although I take my responsibility very seriously, I do not see myself at all as someone who has the last say in all decisions. My approach is to allow everyone to sit at the table and work towards a mutual goal. I do believe knowledge is key, and that sometimes listening brings you further than arbitrary decision-making.
What were your impressions in the first few weeks at the institute in Addis Ababa?
First of all, I was very impressed by the resilience of our staff. The global pandemic slowed down our institute’s operations, and required a lot of patience in times of uncertainty. Yet, the pandemic also challenged our staff to think outside the box and to develop creative ways of continuing our training, while upholding the motivation of our students.
What do you think could be particularly challenging in your time as CR?
Overall, I see the continuation of the global pandemic and its consequences in terms of regulations and teaching capacities as our biggest challenge. Finding a new facility for our institute in Addis Ababa, and making sure our graduates find job placements in the severely affected hospitality sector will also be challenging.
Please feel free to share anything else that you have experienced so far or that you are looking forward to.
My master thesis tested if PE’s empowerment approach is exemplary. As I am now back at the institute in Addis Ababa and have daily exchanges with local stakeholders, my theory proves to be reality: PE is one of the best practices here in the area. I look forward to working more closely with my colleagues and learning from them, but also to collaborating with other organizations who follow a similar cause. Ultimately, I hope to establish a network in which we can all exchange our knowledge, share experiences and struggles, and work together toward greater goals for the future of Ethiopian women.