Our today's guest is Frehiwot Worku, Secretary General of Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS). She has been serving at ERCS since July 2010/2011. Before she joined the ERCS, she had been working for Ethiopian Airlines for more than 21 years. Having started from a junior position, she had progressed consistently to higher and most responsible positions within the airlines. As a result, she had served at different positions starting from college trainee up to executive vice president position, in various fields ranging from marketing, personnel management and to auditing. She left the airline in 2010 while she was serving as executive vice president corporate services. Out of the 21 years, She served at Vice President positions for 13 years.
Frehiwot was born and grew up here in Addis. She learned in various private schools following her father’s travel around the country. To name a few, she was educated at Betelhem School in Addis and in Harer, and Agazian school. She then joined Shemelis Habte, Gondar Fasiledes, and Teferi Mekonnen Comprehensive Schools for her secondary education. Then she left for USA to pursue her studies for first and second degrees. Completing here post graduate program (Master's degree) in Business Administration from Golden Gate University of San Francisco California, she came back home and started working at the airlines. She is married and a mother of three sons and a daughter.
Frehiwot has demonstrated an extraordinary achievement in leadership through working in challenging and continuously changing environments in the last 27 years. Besides serving as Secretary General at ERCS, currently she has served as the Ethiopian Employer's Federation Vice President and as Board Member of the Private Organization Employees Social Security Administration Authority.
Frehiwot is an accomplished woman leader who balances her family life and office tasks successfully. She can be a good role-model for several women who want to flourish in leadership roles in organizations and their family lives. Realizing her holistic achievements, The Ethiopian Herald made a short stay with her with the intention of letting her share experiences for our readers. Excerpts:
Why did you decide to leave the Ethiopian Airlines and join the Ethiopian Red Cross Society?
It has something to do with my per-existing interest. When I was young, I was thinking to spend my life in helping others. My father was a doctor and I was planning to be a medical person as well with the intention of helping others. I cannot tolerate to see people suffer. When I was at the airlines, I was organizing to help some orphans, people with HIV/ AIDS. When I left the airline, I was planning to establish an NGO and maximize my contribution in helping the helpless. Nevertheless when I was trying to do that, I found myself unfamiliar to several systems in the country. As I told you I studied in USA and joined the airline upon my return. The systems in the airline are international so I have no difficulty adjusting. Trying to work in other systems was not as easy.
Then I made a decision to work in a humanitarian organization and learn the system. Mean while, I heard that the Ethiopian Red Cross Society was looking for someone. Then I joined here about five years ago. I am happy about my decision to join here since all the leadership experiences I had in the airlines would contribute to this humanitarian organization.
What has helped you to be a good achiever in life and leadership roles?
First, I think my commitment to improve my education has helped me a lot. I believe in the value of education. From the beginning till the end I performed very well. My highest scores in the university also enabled me to join the Ethiopian Airlines right after graduation.
Second, my seriousness in handling my duties and responsibilities. Whatever responsibilities or tasks you give me you surely get it done efficiently. I don’t do what I don’t believe in.
Third, knowing and identifying what I need to achieve in life and pursuing them. I am very dedicated and a risk taker for my purpose.
Last, my persistence in scheduling my days and tasks takes considerable share. In my daily To-do List, I carefully identify the most important tasks from the less important ones and prioritize accordingly. For instance, since my office tasks and family life take most of my time, my social life is very limited. But I do not do the office activities on the expense of my family time. I always struggle to keep the balance. I value my family time to cultivate my marriage and the character of my children. When I am effective at home, I am encouraged and motivated to be fruitful at office.
Do you mean that your marriage has contributed to your success in leadership?
Sure, supportive and stable relationship is very relevant for a woman. Life itself is challenging enough for a woman. If she does not have a supportive husband or friend, life becomes super challenging. For me my husband was my friend, my boyfriend and then became my husband. He is very supportive. He knew my every interest in life. He did not want me to carry out different or difficult house responsibility alone as a woman.
We started living together in the USA. For instance, when I used to cook, he did the cleanings. At that time, we had our first son. When I was carrying out certain activities, he was taking care for our son. For any reason, he encouraged me to advance in my learning. He was supporting me to pursue my interest. It is very relevant to have consistent, relevant, stable relationship partner to be successful in what you plan to do.
On the contrary, I sometimes see some men who are highly threatened when their wives become successful. How many men are comfortable to be married to women who have better job and salary than them? I believe such problems exists in relationship due to lack of proper knowledge and basic purpose in marriage
How can we solve this problem?
As a community, we need to learn; we do not live in the past. The past culture has already passed. Our kids are growing in a different environment. In the old days, the husband was expected to tell his wife what to do and she was expected to be sub-servant to him. Perhaps my generation would compromise, but our children do not accept this.
Next, men must notice that investing in the lives of their women would benefit them first. If a woman is competent and strong enough, and she falls in love with someone, that person has to accept that and enjoy that love. If she has better knowledge, and/or salary, doesn’t matter is she loves him. As long as their relationship is based on love and respect, it is so easy and appropriate for them to live together. She does not have any moral right to order him around neither does he. The relationship depends on mutual respect, mutual love. They should decide on their resources together.
Would you tell us the difficult moments you faced in life and your leadership?
I believe life is always accompanied by challenges. There is no success (progress) without challenges. I believe all the difficult situations I faced are educational. When I was a high school junior, the political situation was full of unrest. Because of my political stance, I was persecuted by the Dergue. In order to save my life, I was forced to terminate my education and went to Gonder to be with my boyfriend (now my husband) till that difficult moment would pass.
When I went to Gonder and leaved in rural areas, I learned a big lesson I could not learn at school or from a book. The very challenging life style of rural areas was very new to me since I had been from a middle class family here in Addis. When I was with my parents, everything was available to me very easily. But everything was changed in an instant when I had to leave home. I did not have anything except the clothes I was wearing. Facing it boldly was the only option I had. All these situations made me strong and determined.
And the very unfortunate situation I faced in my leadership was about five years ago. As soon as I joined ERCS, the organization collected significant amount of money to help the drought affected areas. Some people tried to misuse the money; something very shocking to me. I faced a situation that needed administrative measure. As a result, I had to let go those corrupted individuals. Since I was a new comer to the organization, it was a challenging time for me. I could not trust any one so that I used to do all the activities even typing letters and the like on my own. Every body in the organization considered me as a devil that appeared on them magically. Fortunately, this situation did not destroy me; rather it made me stronger and more committed, and sharpened my leadership skills.
What makes a committed, skillful woman leader? Tell us from your experiences.
Though education is basic in developing leaders, there are also several situation to create a leader. I have acquired leadership trainings, but experiences and challenges have sharpened my skills better. That means leaders may emerge from situations. I am also eager to take whatever responsibility comes on my way. When there is a need to do it, I am a person who can carry out responsibility. When I was serving at the airlines it was a transition period, I was taking responsibility to accomplish seemingly difficult things. It is usual that in time of transition period, people are afraid to be in the positions that involve a lot challenges; but I was taking responsibility to fix situations. I do them with full passion and concern. Whatever they give me they can be sure that it would be done. I think my willingness to meet these challenges has reinforced my progress on the leadership ladder.
I believe communities should start recognizing and valuing the wisdom and capacities of women, and engage them to be valuable contributors professionally. At the same token, it is the right time for woman to challenge themselves to take more and more leadership roles to contribute to the improvement of the lives and livelihoods of their society.
What would you advice other women who want to learn from you?
They, especially the young women, ought to carefully identify and know what they want to achieve in life. For instance, I wanted relatively better education and then get employed in a competitive organization. Once they know their purpose in life, they wisely invest their time and energy in the relevant assignments. For example, I do not spend my time for less important social affairs. I used to invest my life in my studies when I was a student and when I work I invest my full energy and time on my work. And they have to have determination in life. Success is always available when we discover our purposes and pursue them with determination.
Moreover, women leaders should be very careful to balance their roles at office with home responsibility. They must be careful not pursue leadership roles at office at the expense of their family duties. Women who lead their homes can effectively lead organizations.
BY WAKUMA KUDAMA
(Photo Gebabo Gebre)