For article number three of our anniversary countdown, we asked another PROJECT-E Alumna about her experiences during the development of the PROJECT-E Hospitality Institute (PEHI). Julia Schubert first worked as a research volunteer in Addis Ababa before she became a part of the Management Board of PROJECT-E in Europe for a long time. In the interview, she tells us about the decisive role her research work played and about the experiences which were particularly formative during this period.
- General idea of opening the institute
Where and when did the idea of opening PEHI first come up? Who initiated it?
The situation at the time was that the college we had for secretaries was about to be handed over to Selam. The handover to Selam, our local partner organisation at that time, was imminent in 2014. Of course PROJECT-E did not want to give up its commitment in Ethiopia, not least because it took a lot of work to build up PROJECT-E. That’s why the position of a Research Volunteer was advertised, who was supposed to take care of what a new, second project might look like. That Research Volunteer was me. I went to Addis Ababa for four months, conducted three phases of interviews and research on the question of what a new project could be. After each phase, which always lasted four or five weeks, calls were made with the so-called Future Committee. These were people from each department of Team International, the Country Representative and me, and then we discussed how to proceed.
Do you remember the context of the idea?
I have already mentioned the three phases. In the first phase, we first had to understand what the macroeconomic situation in Ethiopia is like, what are the economic sectors that are growing, what are the sectors that are not so promising for the future, and also to understand what activities already exist in the development sector in Ethiopia. We knew a lot about secretary training at the time, but we didn’t really know the rest of the market that well. I spoke with embassies, with NGOs, with consulting institutes, with other organisations and people from different business areas. Then the second phase followed, where we picked out some of these fields and looked at what was going particularly well or badly. We realised that the drop-out rate was relatively high in the area of education for women and that although there were many short-term training courses, often the women did not get a job, that made them earn enough money to become independent, later on. It was in this second phase that I first came across the idea of a hotel college. I mainly talked to NGOs, and there was one NGO that already had a hotel college and offered us a cooperation.
How has the idea been specified?
The options that arose in phase two were further elaborated in a third phase. Shortly after I returned from Addis, there was a strategy weekend in Berlin, where I presented the different ideas. We held workshops on various possibilities and finally decided on the idea of the hotel school. Only then we really got going. We knew that there was a growing market for the hotel industry and a great need for personnel and that we had experience in running a college. After the decision, we first made an internal project plan, i.e. we focused on the basic questions again: How long should the project be? Where should it be? Should it stay in Addis or do we want to go to other regions? Do we want to continue providing accommodation and social support for the students? Where will we be able to hire teachers from? How do we deal with financial sustainability? How do we do the recruitment of the students? Then we had to submit an official project proposal to the Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) and hoped that they would accept us.
What were the expectations, were there any doubts?
There was no master plan, we couldn’t say that it was planned this way and that it would be done this way and that way. During the process there were sometimes very serious and big decisions to which we did not know the answer at first or which we did not even know themselves at the beginning. However, the fact that we had to submit the proposal already gave us a rough framework from which we did not and could not deviate any more. As I have developed with the project, my expectations have also changed again and again. The longer I was involved, the higher my expectations of the project became. Of course, there were phases in which one doubted whether everything would work out as it should. For me, that was mostly the case concerning the search for a location of the new hospitality institute and sometimes also concerning the long-term financing.
- Concrete realization of the idea
Which steps did you have to take to finally realize the project?
At the beginning of 2015 we started looking for a house for the college and for teachers. We did not directly hire all teachers yet, but we needed a few to develop a curriculum for the school. The next step was the TVET (Technical and Vocational Education Training) accreditation, which we also needed for the project. It all finally started in October 2015, which, in retrospect, was really fast. Livia Röthlisberger, the former Country Representative, has done an incredible amount of work on the ground and has worked with unconditional passion.
How did this work logistically, who organized what and which local partners did you collaborate with?
It never worked by itself, but unlike the team in Addis, Team International had an comparably less exhaustive job most of the time. The team in Addis is of course the most important and has the biggest part in making the PEHI what it is today. The group on site was really good, without this team it would have never worked out. The communication and cooperation with the authorities was partly a challenge. But also this was managed successfully by the team in Addis, which still is very impressive for me.
How was the financing organized? How did you recruit donor?
We were not sitting on a particularly large cushion of money. We had to approach the main sponsors who were already involved in the Secretary College and ask if they would be willing to support us for a new project. We knew that they were not fundamentally unwilling, but in case of doubt they could still refuse applications even if they had previously said that they would continue. As a result, we also opened up new fundraising channels and started checking on business cooperation for fundraising purposes, for example.
- Personal professional aspects
What have you been responsible for?
In the beginning as a volunteer I was responsible for market research. When I came back from Addis, I took over the Research Department as Head of Research and then quickly joined the Junior Management Board and Management Board, so I have been involved in the founding of the PEHI from different perspectives. When I was on the Management Board, fundraising was at the top of the agenda.
Which task was the hardest for you (challenges along the “personal” way)?
One has so much responsibility. Especially for the team in Addis as well as for the students. That is a personal challenge that really makes you grow.
- Personal emotional aspects
Did the realization of the project meet your expectations?
I would say that my expectations have been met. At no point we were ever interested in getting thousands of girls into the job. We have always said that we want to do what we do with high quality and if our money or capacity is enough for “only” 20 or 30 women a year, then so be it, but then at least we have given these students a meaningful perspective. That’s why I don’t think the expectations were ever so high that we couldn’t fulfil them.
How has the opening been celebrated? Did you have time for that or has work just continued usually?
Before the official opening there was of course a lot to do. In Addis, anyway, but also in Europe, so it was just stressful before. In fact, I think that the many small steps that we have managed to take until the opening have always been more or less celebrated or at least we have always been very happy, both in Addis and in Europe. That was basically our way of celebrating, for example when we got the permission from the CSA or hired good teachers.
- The Institute 5 years old
PEHI celebrates its 5th anniversary this year. We support 90 women annually. We were able to establish a second training programme alongside the longterm training. The third batch of shortterm and the third batch of longterm students recently graduated. How does that make you feel?
I am so thankful that I was with PROJECT-E, “live” from the first idea to the graduation of the first students. In 2016 I was in Addis again and was present at the enrolment of the second batch. Giving a perspective to the girls and their families and feeling their thankfulness made me get goose bumps. Still now, thinking of this moment really touches my heart.