Samrawit Moges Beyene, Founder & Managing Director of Travel Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Words of Wisdom: “Taking a job is not about money, but it is about the knowledge you acquire.” – Samrawit Moges Beyene

Samrawit Moges Beyene, Founder & Managing Director of Travel Ethiopia, Addis Aababa, Ethiopia

Samrawit Moges Beyene, Founder & Managing Director of Travel Ethiopia, Addis Aababa, Ethiopia

Travel Ethiopia started in 1994, and has 35 permanent employees. This is the first company in Ethiopia that has permanent female guides.

Samrawit is involved in diverse business. She is involved in eco-tourism and is the founder of Village Ethiopia in 1998, creating employment opportunity for local Afars . She has a total of 37 employees at Village Ethiopia.

www.village-ethiopia.net   

Samrawit is involved in Flora and Horticulture. Freesia Ethiopia, Freesia flower growing, with a total of 100 employees, 80% being females. She also has the Chancho Flower Plc, growing flowers and vegetables and creating employment opportunities for 44 employees, out theses only 7 are males.

Her other company is Florensses  Ethiopia, operational since 2004; it has 450 permanent employees, where 75 % are women.

Samrawit is one of the founders member of WEG group (Women Entrepreneur Group) established February 2011. She is also an active member of Ethiopian Women in Business (EWiB), which was established mainly for networking to improve the status of Women.

Samrawit is an active member of Rotary Club since 1991 being the first female president  in Ethiopia.

In October 2011 Samrawit Moges Beyene received a TIAW – World of Difference Award in Washington DC.

Samrawit Moges Beyene ~ YouTube promo video (approx. 3 min.): http://youtu.be/XU8MgabLAZQ

www.travelethiopia.com

 

Samrawit Moges Beyene, Founder & Managing Director of Travel Ethiopia, Addis Aababa, Ethiopia

Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

How do you decide amongst all your business initiatives where to spend your time? Which initiative do you spend the most time?

In Tourism

  • After graduated in 1982 from Addis Ababa University, by choice I was to be a lawyer. At that time you could not decided for yourself what you wanted to do since we were in the communist regime.
  • They put me in foreign language literature where I studied journalism. When graduated I was assigned to the Ministry of Tourism. They put me in an institute to teach; I mentioned that I had no teaching experience. They decided to put me into the National Tour Operations, it still exists – it was the sole tour company at that time.
  • That was my first company and my last that I worked for.
  • Because of the excellent bosses I had, the National Tour Operations (NTO) was training school for me.
  • At that time private enterprise was not allowed. I enjoyed NTO, but the frustration was my salary was so little.
  • In 1993, my husband encouraged me to leave the Government tourism and start my own business. The communist regime fell down in 1991 and the current government allowed private ownership.
    • At that time I didn’t have the confidence I could make it.
    • I started from my bedroom.
      In 1994, I got my first office. For me that office was like owning a ten- story building.
      I now had confidence.
    • Since then we have formed http://www.village-ethiopia.net; Freesia Ethiopia, Freesia flower growing. I am mainly operating Travel Ethiopia. The other businesses have Managers that oversee the day-to-day needs of the businesses. We have monthly meetings in the other business, I look at reports – but day to night, I Manage Travel Ethiopia.

Why did you decide to embark on a business in horticulture?

It was my husbands idea

  • When my husband came to Ethiopia as a boy, his parents were given land in southern Ethiopia. They grew coffee and tea. After investing a lot of money, the communist government came into power; everything was nationalized. So Thomas has a passion for land and agriculture. My husband is very creative. He comes with the ideas, and I implement them.

What was the easiest business to start and why?

In Ethiopia there is no business that is easy to start.

What was the most challenging business to start and why?

When we start our business in 1994, we were in our home.  We had a friend who would regularly come to Ethiopia. He was investor in the business, specifically assisted with decorating the offices. He brought his parents to Ethiopia, and during their trip to Harer, where there is Hyena man. This Hyena man feeds meet from his mouth to the Hyena, this is one of the attractions. While they were watching the event, there was a hand grenade thrown and our guide died immediately – that was May 16, 1994. This happened within two weeks of moving our office. This had a huge impact on me, as I was fresh just starting a business.

From a strategic or an economic perspective, which business was the most challenging?

  • We were in the communist regime to 1991. I started the business in 1994. Not only was I green, but the entire country did not have experience in the private sector. Getting financial startup was not easy.
  • It was very difficult to gain knowledge and get advise. We didn’t know how to do any planning or strategy. The only thing that helped me is I was doing what I had been doing for a long time and I am extremely passionate about the tourism industry in Ethiopia.

Gaining knowledge in your field before starting your own business, how much of an impact do you think that it had on your success?

I always tell the young people in the office, taking a job is not about money, but it is about the knowledge. You cannot buy that type of experience and knowledge that I obtained. It helped me immensely in my success in business today.

  • The young people today will leave a company if they are paid a little more somewhere else. Although money is important, it can’t replace the experience you can get with the right company and the right people you are working with.

Where can get someone get knowledge in the Tourism industry?

There are a number of Tourism schools in Ethiopia

  • More women are getting involved in tourism because of the availability of school
  • We encourage people to learn from our business.
  • I encourage people to open their own business.

What is it about tourism industry that motivates you?

When people think about Ethiopia they often think about the famine, the war. We are so much more than that. This country offers a lot to the world so many treasures and attractions.

What do you feel about the West trying to help with famine?

We don’t need aid from the West.

  • I don’t believe in Aid. I don’t want the West to give us wheat and fertilizer. What we need is technologies. This will allow people to work. If we keep feeding people all the time, we won’t have a productive society.
  • What I believe is through tourism we will be able to reduce poverty. More over we are very involved in the community. When you are involved in the community you are empowering women.
  • Empowering women is another area development countries are doing to get to a more positive stage.
    • In the Afar region, (http://www.village-ethiopia.net), many men marry three to five wives. We have seven women working for us in that area.  We invested in one of Afar women who had never seen an European meal. We gave her proper training and now she is the chef of our lodge.  She exemplary and paid well for the area. The community sees that she was able to build her own house. That she is a cook.  People hear the tourist complement her. Her success has motivated so many other women. When you see that kind of change especially in that area it is wonderful. As a result our voices are also heard. We are able to go to the elders to discuss important issues i.e. early marriage. Although not abolished, it is minimized. Another example, negative traditional practices like circumcise (FGM), it has been minimized.

What are some of the biggest challenges you still have with your businesses?

1. Most women in Ethiopia have a problem because when we finish work we tend to go home because we have responsibilities to family. We don’t go out to bars; we don’t network.

  • Many tour operators are better at networking then myself. That is why we created the network group.
  • We have recently realized how important networking actually is.

2. Gaining financing

  • A woman to get finance in Ethiopia is not easy. Your husband has to approve
  • You have to have collateral.
  • I give a lot of credit to Nigest Haile, of CAWEE who made it possible for women to get together to network. Also her involvement in the creation ENAT Bank, which will benefit for many women. The founders are women.

I am very excited to see a very bright future for women in Ethiopia.

Can you provide some advise for women when they travel?

  1. Learn about the culture of country you visit. Example: how do you dress when going to a church? Don’t wear shorts. In Ethiopia the priests would prefer if women covered their heads. It is not mandatory, but is respectful.
  2. Taking pictures. Ask the approval of the person you are taking the picture of prior to taking it.
  3. As a professional travelling it is always good to have pre and post tour arrangements. You should always take the opportunity to explore the country you are in.

You tend to hire a lot of women in your business, why is that?

  • In the tourism industry, a mistake is a big mistake. Women are careful with detailed things. Although we have men that are cooks and drivers, we have several women in the office working with customers because they are very detailed oriented. It is the work itself is why I hire women.
  • I also like to work with women, because when you are hiring a woman you are changing and making a difference in society.
  • When it comes to flora business, it is mostly delicate work, picking the flowers etc. Women are good with such work.

What other characteristic do you think women possess that helps your business to be successful?

  1. Detail oriented
  2. Meticulous
  3. They are responsible – many of my employees who received green cards to go to the United States did not leave according to their schedule because they wanted to make sure they replaced themselves before they left. Often women will work beyond their working hours.

Do you think there is any challenges managing women?

In my generation, when women got married, had kids it was her responsibility to look after the kids. I was under the impression with the new generation there had been some positive changes. When young women are getting married, I don’t see any family planning. When they got married and have children they tend to forget themselves and their responsibilities. Many women are able to balance their lives. As much as the younger generation wants to protect their rights, I don’t see the balancing being implemented. It worries me, because we need to move forward, both mothers and fathers need to be responsible. Women need to involve the husbands. Most wives don’t like their men working in the kitchen. They feel it is degrading.   It they keep the man out of the kitchen the man doesn’t participate and continues to believe this is the work of the woman. I really think this needs to change. It really surprises me, and worries me with the young generation.

I don’t think men are against participating in the family. If they can do it when they go to the West, why can’t they do it here in Ethiopia?

Do have any team initiative to promote collaboration amongst the team?

  1. We have retreats
  2. There is not hierarchy. They address me with my first name. More like a friendship relationship.
  3. I accept constructive criticism. We have a weekly meeting where we discuss improvement, but also rewarding people.
  4. We pay for education.
  5. If they have any personal problems, we are always there. We have an employee who has HIV, and although they are not working anymore we still pay their salary for the last eight years.

How do you create employee loyalty?

  • We empower our employees to communicate with the clients, which builds their confidence and provides ownership.
  • We send our employees to attend trade shows abroad
  • I demonstrate that I trust our employees
  • We give commission – so financial motivation

You have mentioned that your husband is a big support of yours. Can you tell us how your partnership has attributed to your success?

  • My husband has been in Ethiopia since 1950. He knows the culture and he has the European mentality. That combination has created something positive.
  • He introduced me to Rotary club. My husband encouraged me to join because I was afraid to talk to people. I didn’t like going to that club. Until 1989 women were not allowed. It took 6 months for them to endorse my membership, where men’s memberships were being endorsed within a month. Eventually I was the first female President of the Rotary club. My husband gave me the self-confidence to pursue it.
  •  I always say that my husband is the force behind me.

Marketing yourself

  • Ethiopia has changed a lot. In the past you couldn’t talk about yourself or it was seen as bragging. Now I understand you need to talk about yourself to shine so you can attract others.
  • My children need to have someone to look to others.
  • I want Ethiopian women to understand, talking about ourselves is not bragging the more we talk about ourselves, the more we share our experience, the more we create positive minded people.
  • I remember when I worked for the National Tour Operations, initially I would not look clients into the eyes. I would look down, now I realize this was a cultural difference.

One thing most significant to you that helped you achieve your success?

Being persistent. Don’t take no for an answer. Very important in this country.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?

During the communist regime, women could not take taxis in the evening and could not be seen with foreigners. Being in the tourism industry, I couldn’t avoid being in such circumstances. People thought I was a prostitute. This was very degrading. People looked at you as if you did something wrong. I married a white man, which also made it difficult.

It makes you feel dependent on others.

Leadership Lessons Learned

  1. Always willing to learn and have room for improvement.
  2. A leader needs to accept constrictive criticism.
  3. They need to believe in their colleagues.
  4. Delegation is key.

If there is one thing you would do differently in pursuit of your success, what would it be?

There are a lot of Ethiopian elders that are not being utilized. I would love to use this resource and take care of many people that have no one else.

Given the chance what would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I would love to work on the biography of my husband. I think this is an important book for my children, for me and for Ethiopia. He has been this country since 1950. He was here during the Empire time, communist time and now with this government. He speaks nine languages. Knows Ethiopia more then any Ethiopian, including me. It would be a great asset for the country. That will be my project.

Reflective Realizations from Samrawit Moges Beyene

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yrs. old daughter?

Don’t follow your mind when you meet a perspective husband, follow your heart. I did and I am very happy where I am today. Use the opportunity to educate yourself as much as possible.

Q. What do you wish you were told when you were 10 yrs old?

I wish I had someone to guide me like my daughter is receiving now.

Is there anything you would like to change?

I hope Ethiopia would stop being considered one of the poorest countries in the world, to being a top destination for tourism. To see Ethiopians in a better economic standard. If we are to use tourism, we will get there.

Words of Wisdom by Samrawit Moges Beyene

Circumstances have made us strong. Caring water, wood, delivering our own babies in some cases. African women get their strengths through a difficult life. One day the African women will reach where they inspire to be.

Now I understand you need to talk about yourself to shine so you can attract others.

 

 


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