The Reporter (Addis Ababa)

Ethiopia: Mimi Juggles the Globe

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You are a naturalized US citizen, an African woman born in Ethiopia and spent your early years in Kenya before immigrating to the United States. Tell me about more about your formative years, college life, and early career path and how you got where you are?

I was definitely impacted by my early years in Ethiopia, as was every Ethiopian of my generation that lived through the Red Terror years. Seeing family members and friends imprisoned and killed for political reasons gave me a very early life lesson in the pursuit of freedom, not just political but economic freedom. My parent's and grandparent's properties were expropriated and overnight they and many other families lost everything they had worked hard for. That's a lesson that's hard to forget.

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.

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