It’s All About Who You Know

On my first Saturday in Addis, Amy and I ventured out for a little exploration of the city via minibus.  The journey, not quite as harrowing as I had imagined, led us to a charming little store, tucked away in between a couple of churches and a Swiss Café.

As I wandered through Salem’s Design Store, each scarf, basket, piece of jewelry that I picked up seemed to have its own unique story.

Intrigued, I excitedly began peppering Salem, the lovely owner, with questions.  She graciously sat down to coffee with us and we talked about various local cooperatives form which she sources her quality products.

Salem’s husband, Abraham, led a career in development and they have traveled the world, but both have retained a strong sense of loyalty to Ethiopia.

Abraham is originally from Adwa, a town farther north, where I was traveling to that very weekend and from where, according to Salem, “all the smart people come from.”  He also has refocused attention to his hometown and recently secured land to start a dairy farm.

The dairy farm just happens to be next to the only existing vineyard in Adwa, a vineyard that Biniyam consulted for and suggested that I visit!

Salem and Amy went off to discuss designing new linens for the guest house, which left me in the courtyard thinking about how this project has been brought to life by a series of connections.

From learning all there is to know about grapes and wine in Ethiopia to cozy accommodations to finding a link to Nicaragua, a SPARC network is emerging.

Biniyam and Tom at the Merti Vineyard

Grapes in Ethiopia

Biniyam came to SPARC, almost serendipitously.  You see, David R. was a prospective GBS student.  He had interests in social enterprise and previous work experience in Ethiopia, so was referred to Peter by the admissions office.  Peter introduced me to David, who then connected me to Ayele, an Ethiopian-American who researched building a winery in Ethiopia.  Ayele, helped connect me to many people, including Biniyam.

Biniyam, who has his finger on the pulse of this fledgling industry, has in turn, helped connect us to the local agricultural offices, farmers, all existing grape-growers, the wineries, and potential investors.

As it turns out, when the original research team visited DZARC, where Biniyam works, he just happened to be out of the office that day.  Missed connections are for another day.

Our Ethiopian Home

I also can’t say enough good things about the Cherokee Guest House, which also came about through a connection.  JT, who works for the Cherokee Investment Fund, was introduced to Peter during the feasibility study.  Peter then connected him to me.  I just happened to e-mail JT the week before I left for Ethiopia and he mentioned the guest house.  Amy, who is currently the house manager, then made the introduction to Salem, among many others.

Also, just a week before, David K. had introduced me to the Acumen Fund staff in East Africa, which includes Amon, who previously worked for Cherokee in Ethiopia.  Then, when having coffee with Daniel Gad of Omega Farms, who was in contact with the Emory team, I learned he also has close ties to Cherokee.

Nicaragua in Ethiopia

Lovely San Juan del Sur

In July, I held a fundraiser in DC.  Stephen Satterfield of ISAW was kind enough to invite some of his contacts.  Among them, Lisa and Spencer were the first to arrive.  Spencer’s wife used to be the ambassador to Nicaragua, where I serve on the board of Comunidad Connect, an NGO.  Lisa and Spencer then put me in touch with their friends, Stanley and Gloria, who are currently living and working in Addis and also previously lived in Nicaragua.  Stanley is the country director for the World Council of Credit Unions and is now helping me connect with other NGOs in Addis.

Besides being grateful for Stanley offering to make introductions for me, it’s nice finding people who share a love for Nicaragua, when we’re halfway across the world.

While on the one hand, I feel like my world is getting smaller, on the other – I’m excited that we’re building a strong and useful base of supporters.

Networking is one of those topics that I thought was part of business school fluff and just an excuse to throw a cocktail party, but any progress that I have been able to make is due to the meaningful connections made along the way.

Perhaps I should have taken those GBS Casino Nights a bit more seriously?

– Sandhya

P.S.  To honor my newfound appreciation for ‘networking,’ we’ll be hosting an Ethiopian wine tasting at the Cherokee house soon! 


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