My most impressionable years were spent in Kenya, where for the first time I met people that were not Ethiopians. I still have more friends in Kenya than I do in my country of birth. I was fortunate enough to have had parents who valued education and particularly to have had a mother and grandmother who were progressive, loving, and had the same expectations of me as they did for my brothers. In fact my brothers would argue that our parents expected more from me than them. The first successful entrepreneur I knew well and looked up to was my grandmother. She could not read or write but she was one of the smartest women I have ever known. I often wonder how far she would have gone if she had been allowed to go to school by her parents, who chose only to send the boys to school.
I got to where I am today partly because I did not always listen to the advice I got. For example, earlier in my career I was always interested in working on Capitol Hill but a lot of people including some of my own family members told me that there was no way a member of Congress would hire someone who was not an American citizen. I pursued this dream anyway and was ultimately hired as legislative staffer on Capitol Hill. I have found it invaluable to question things and not necessarily take "no" for an answer.
You have been very smart with your career decisions, hence a stellar/outstanding career, how did you know you were on the right path as far as your career is concerned? What is your ultimate role? President of Ethiopia, World Bank?
I don't believe there is such a thing as a perfect position or a dead-end job. At every step, you learn. Life is a journey of learning. I have no desire to run for political office but I care deeply about development in Africa and around the world, and that has driven my professional decisions I see tremendous opportunity to improve people's lives and I want to be a part of that. I just returned from a trip to South Africa and Tanzania, where I was fortunate to be part of President Obama's dialogue with business leaders from across the continent. Africa remains a place of great challenges as well as great opportunities.
As an African woman in a high profile position, can you describe the current landscape for women in general and African women in particular as far as career opportunities available to them?
When I was on the Board of the African Development Bank, I was the only woman and I served with 17 men. While some things have changed for women, many things have not. When I returned to Washington in 2010, President Obama also nominated me to be on the Board of the African Development Foundation, where I was once again the only woman on that Board. Today there are still very few women serving on the boards of Fortune 100, Fortune 500 companies. What that means is that we are not making the best use of 50 percent of our talent. One of my favorite quotes is from Christine Lagarde who said if Lehman Brothers behaved more like Lehman Sisters, things might have turned out differently for the bank. We have a way to go on this issue.
You previously served as the United States Executive Director at the African Development Bank and in that role you were the most senior US Treasury official in Africa. What are some of the highlights of the time you spent at the African Development Bank? What were some of the challenges?
The highlights were the projects we approved that created thousands of jobs and improved lives in Africa. We approved a modern highway construction project in Senegal and multiple power projects and port projects. I have tremendous respect for my friend Donald Kaberuka who has been a great leader of the institution.