Participants in the Ethiopia Industrial Park Development Corporation women’s leadership retreat.

The faces of the women I’m speaking with light up when they tell me about the leadership retreat they attended. They recount stories of morning yoga and team building exercises where they had to hold each other tight to succeed in the challenge. The retreat was a first for them — two days of yoga, team building, problem solving and learning leadership skills on the shores of Lake Bishoftu, 50 kilometers outside of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“We wanted to work with women outside of the office,” said the visionary (and participant) of the event, Chief Executive Officer of the Industrial Park Development Corporation (IPDC) in Ethiopia, Lelise Neme. “We also wanted to empower them to be leaders.”

CEO Neme has significantly increased the number of women directors at IPDC since her arrival. She identified the new director of IPDC’s energy department during the retreat.

That woman, Saba Fesseha, is now a close collaborator with U.S. Forest Service Advisors on the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-supported Clean Energy Program. Just this month (November 2019) the Ethiopian Government and partners began rolling out an Energy Efficient Strategy for Ethiopia’s manufacturing sector. Director Fesseha worked with USAID and the U.S. Forest Service to inform the strategy.

The U.S. Forest Service, through the USAID Clean Energy Program and in partnership with IPDC, designed the women-only leadership retreat and leveraged funding for it through the GIZ-eTex Program.

Buoyed by its resounding success, the USAID Clean Energy Program and IPDC are continuing a women’s leadership program with six of the women from the retreat.

“It is good to know each other. We work in the same building, the same company, now I know my colleagues.

It created team spirit.

When I see women from the training, I feel easy.”

Likyelesh Abay, Investment and Marketing Promotion Manager at IPDC

One of the six women is Likyelesh Abay, an investment and marketing promotion manager at IPDC.“I didn’t know my body could move like that,” said Ms. Abay, with a big smile. She loved the yoga and still uses the meditation breathing she learned during the retreat to get her through stressful situations at work. She’s helping to lure investors to Ethiopia’s 12 industrial parks; nearly half are full.

Since the retreat, Ms. Abay has hired a young woman to help her market Ethiopia’s industrial parks. “She is like a daughter to me. I share my experience. It’s really nice,” said Ms. Abay.

I asked the women who are continuing the leadership program why they think it is important for women to be in leadership positions.

“Women think about more than revenue. They also think about the communities, the workers and the investors. Women see the whole picture and from different perspectives,” said Engidu Tsegaye.

Ms. Tsegaye became a manger of customer service and linkages for IPDC based in the Bole Lemi Industrial Park five months ago, after the retreat. She is an example of how the GIZ/USFS/USAID/IPDC supported leadership program has helped women climb the leadership ladder.

When I asked if she would like to continue her upward trajectory, she said, “yes, why not?”

Another participant in the leadership program is Netsanet Taye, above. Netsanet is an electrical engineer. She’s passionate about clean energy and eager to pass on tools that will help manufacturing companies “green” their operations. “I make sure that when the investor arrives, telecoms is set up and they have the infrastructure for production,” said Ms. Taye.

Ms. Taye and the rest of the IPDC women are helping Ethiopia realize its goal of drawing foreign investors to its industrial parks. Through those parks, Ethiopia wants to increase its global competitiveness, create jobs and increase the volume and value of its manufactured goods. The USAID Clean Energy Program is supporting Ethiopia to make its industrial parks more sustainable through “green” manufacturing guidelines that safeguard its environment and people. The women of IPDC are helping to lead the way.

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