Ellenore’s Note!

Board Members “Are Critical” to the Success of Any Organization

    I have done a lot of reflecting over the years on what ways of giving back are most impactful and motivating for me.  I believe since I have had a measure of success thanks to the support of many, I have an obligation to pay it forward.
     When Leyla was young, I started to think about ways I wanted to give back besides writing checks to worthy organizations.  I felt I had more to contribute so I joined a board when a friend of mine invited me. I didn’t really know what to expect but wanted to learn.  I joined an amazing group who taught me a lot about the role of a not for profit board as a fiduciary; making sure the organization is sustainable and serving its mission.  I really enjoyed the strategic planning as well as supporting the fund development.  I was also asked to support the audit committee which gave me another perspective. 
     Later, when I formed my own NGO, Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund, I thought a lot about what I enjoyed most about being a board member and what frustrated me.  I realized no one really asked me what I wanted to get out of volunteering my time as a board member.  I ended up being matched to responsibilities more based on my background and experience rather than my interests.  I also observed an inherent tension between board members who wanted to provide professional experience and staff who wanted the board to do more to help raise much needed funding. 
     I used these learnings from my personal experience and from talking to other board members when I developed the board of OHBD.  I started by approaching a very diverse set of talented professionals I thought would each add a unique perspective.  I asked them each to identify what they wanted to get out of joining the board and what they felt they could contribute, joyfully.  We certainly appreciate financial support from our board members.  But we try to give them lots of other opportunities to contribute beyond raising funds.  In fact, we work to design our projects, starting with Ready Set Go Books project, to be self-sustaining through generating their own funds over time, by book sales and licensing fees.
     It’s been three years since my first invitations to join the board of a yet to be formed organization were made. Board members are critical to the success of any organization.  They bring in new ideas, they draw in their network, they share their experience and in doing so help the organization continue to grow and develop to meet its mission. We are now looking to replace some members who have served for three years or had to resign for other commitments.  We will again ask what these new board members would like to get out of the service as well as what they can contribute joyfully.  We feel it is crucial to attract a broad cross section of experience from entrepreneur, technologist, educator, NGO leadership, collaborators, and innovators to develop a well-balanced board where everyone has an opportunity to share their gifts as well as learn.  Our mission is to empower kids in Ethiopia to reinvent their future through delivering our bold goals on literacy, art, technology and leadership for K-12 education.   
     We believe “The people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” (Steve Jobs) Does this describe you or the someone you know? Reach out if interested in learning more. 
                                                                                                      ~ Ellenore  

Digitization: preparing Ethiopian kids for 21st century
~ by Dr. Worku Mulat
     I firmly believe digital platform training is the future and thus academic institutions are expected to constantly shift their programs from brick and mortar infrastructure to digitization. Ethiopia will immensely benefit from this approach since its school infrastructures are woefully inadequate to provide access to education for its fast growing and young population. Universities in Ethiopia should start Girls Can Code initiative adapting the practice of University of Gondar.  Innovation Center of OHBD can play a catalyzing role through partnership with universities in Ethiopia as well as the American Corners. 
     Digitization of Ethiopia will play a pivotal role in democratizing skill-focused training for underserved kids and their communities. Ethiopian girls will immensely benefit from such projects and that is why we are very much interested in the Girls Can Code project supported by University of Gondar. 
     The course content summary we are developing, will over time, arm trainees with the skillsets they need to be co-creators of their future. The new knowledge created through this endeavor must prepare students to be employable in the 21st century job markets. We need to discuss with American Corners and other stakeholders the scope of the training they want and what resources they are able to commit to implement the project.
     During my current trip back to Ethiopia, I will visit Jimma, Hawassa, Gondar and Wollo Universities. We already completed a successful test training with Wollo and Jimma Universities and will use this experience in how we partner with additional institutions of higher learning with a focus on high school kids. 
     Similarly, we conducted a successful training test in Bahir Dar American Corner. Accordingly, the remaining four American Corners (Jimma, Dire Dawa, and two in Addis Ababa) have shown keen interest to participate.  We are actively recruiting students from schools and communities in their respective areas. All the American Corners are well equipped with the latest videoconferencing systems and laptops. These resources are a hybrid of the physical and digital world and can be used effectively to deliver training content from experts residing inside and outside Ethiopia.
     I will also plan to visit Lebawi and Dangla.  OHBD already established a good collaboration with Lebawi and has sponsored accommodation and transport service for one of their graduates who is attending a US university and was awarded a tech internship at Microsoft.
     A great innovation lab focused on science has been established in Dangla, outside of Bahir Dar. The teacher leading this effort received a considerable recognition from the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia. OHBD is interested to learn from Dangla lab and expand it to other regions of Ethiopia.
     By serendipity, my trip coincides with the rainy season where monsoon winds bring a lot of rain to the region. It is good timing for planting innovative ideas that can grow to bear fruit of local solution to the challenges of job opportunities in Ethiopia. 
Dangla Meskerem Primary School Science Lab
Supporting Innovation in Rural Schools
~ by Sue Wilkes, ED Project Ethiopia
     Building upon a successful partnership launched last year, OHBD is investing in another effort led by Project Ethiopia to provide innovation and opportunity for rural students. This year, OHBD is proud to help support the construction of a new science lab and classroom at Dangla Meskerem Primary School located in the town of Dangla where Project Ethiopia is based.
     Dangla Meskerem Primary serves children in grades K – 8th for a total of 1,104 students (2018 – 2019 school year).  It is also home to a unique and innovative science program led by veteran instructor, Ato Tewabe Yigzaw, who has worked at the school for the past twelve years.
     During his tenure at Dangla Meskerem, Ato Tewabe has created a science program and science lab unlike any other in the area. Lacking adequate funds to purchase teaching materials and lab equipment, Ato Tewabe has created over 350 teaching aids and hands-on experiments using found and discarded objects. This includes extraordinary items such as a battery-powered microscope using plastic bottles and a marble lens, and an electroscope to detect the presence of electric charges using a plastic bottle, aluminum foil, plastic tube, and animal fur.
     The current science building is an aging facility constructed with eucalyptus branches and mud/straw plaster without a single electrical outlet. The building does not have adequate and proper storage for the many materials and teaching aids Ato Tewabe has created over the years.
     The new facility will include proper storage for the items used in the lab, access to electricity, and larger instructional space for students. There will also be training space for an estimated 300 teachers each year from other schools wishing to implement a similar model in their schools.
     In addition to daily science instruction, Ato Tewabe offers his time and expertise to teachers in the Dangla woreda and other regions so they, too, can utilize recycled and found materials in their science labs/classrooms.  And in recognition for his innovative and inspirational approach to science instruction, Ato Tewabe was the recipient this past June of an award from Prime Minister Abiy! We are excited to be providing collaborative funding to Project Ethiopia and their efforts to support the science program and instructional team at Dangla Meskerem Primary.
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Pilot OHBD Writer’s Workshop with Ethiopian Writers Association ~ by Tim Basco, Director of Creative Writing at Waldorf University

     As a follow up to conversations Laura Bond and Jane Kurtz started with Ethiopian writers in Addis, I was asked if I would be willing to pilot a OHBD writer’s workshop during my visit.  On June 21, 2019 at The Hub Hotel in the Bole Airport area, eight creative writers from the Ethiopian Writers Association including three are members of the Executive Committee (President Abere Adamu, Enderias Terefe, and Behulum Alebel) attended the first OHBD writers’ workshop I led.  The meeting also included my wife, Cathleen Bascom (author of a novel that will be published in 2020), and Temesgen Sahle (an author/friend of a biography about a well-known evangelist in the Kale Heywot Church).
     I was impressed with how much the participants have published.  I believe these eight writers have collectively published at least 7 poetry books and 15 novels or collections of short stories.  Also, two of them produced multiple playscripts (Abere Adamu and Tigist Mamo).  These writers’ commitment to creative writing is evident. There are more than 2500 members of this growing association. They are chapters in numerous regions, including Samara, Bahir Dar, Dessie.  They also produce a bi-yearly magazine about writing, literature and publishing and host monthly readings at the National Theater in Addis Ababa.
     My presentation on writing memoir went well.  Although there is not a lot of autobiography currently being published in Ethiopia; the group was interested to learn more about a genre that is less explored.  We had a particularly good discussion after I asked them why memoir was not being written. Several voiced a wish for more people to write about their lives. I discovered Ethiopians do not tend to write in a journal, so they do not practice autobiographical writing. One writer shared a difficult personal story her family would not want her to share.  In her view, Ethiopian honor gets in the way of writing such stories.
     The group seemed to agree it is currently difficult to publish full memoirs, but they would like to see the genre emerge more.  We look forward to continuing to find ways to collaborate and support this great group and encourage more writing and publishing of Ethiopian stories.

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