The Diaspora: wheeling businesses to Ethiopia

Yohannes Assefa, executive director of Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum, (credit: The Reporter)
Yohannes Assefa of Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum (credit: The Reporter)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – After living many years in the U.S., Yohannes Assefa, executive director of Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum, a US-based business-and investment-oriented organization, was back in Ethiopia in 2008 to set up the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange (ECX) together with a group of nine experts from the diaspora living in the U.S. Until he went back to the U.S. in 2012, Yohannes also worked as chief of the party for Ethiopia’s WTO accession project at the Ministry of Trade and funded by the USAID. He was involved indirectly with the AGOA Plus project of that time where USD 18 million was channeled to diaspora investors as credit guarantee for loans from local banks.

He is a business lawyer by training having worked with some Wall Street firms in the U.S. Currently, Yohannes is director for the international financial consulting firm called Stalwart Management Consultancy firm, based in Dubai and operates a small office in Addis Ababa and in some ten overseas countries in Africa in addition to the Middle East and Asia. Apart from that, Yohannes is the executive director of the Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum, with its headquarters in the US, Virginia. He also teaches at George Washington University as an adjunct (Assistant/Associate) professor of international business.

Last week, Yohannes came back to Addis Ababa for the 10th annual meeting of the business forum when Birhanu Fikade of The Reporter caught up with him for a brief interview where the director talked about a special award ceremony in connection with the forum aimed at recognizing achieving Ethiopian diaspora entrepreneurs running businesses in Ethiopia. Excerpts:

The Reporter: Basically what are the things you do in the Ethiopian Diaspora Business Forum? 

Yohannes Assefa:  In our effort to promote entrepreneurship, we engage diaspora business communities both in the US and in Ethiopia. We work to serve as a bridge between the two nations especially around investments. We also work on policy advocacy and on programs to promote business here in Ethiopia. The idea is to share knowledge, experience and create networking opportunities; we connect different levels of investors as we have the mentorship program where the more experienced investors work with the newcomers. In Ethiopia there are lots of steep learning curves and people need lots of things when preparing to invest in Ethiopia. We have done job fairs for employers who are looking to hire diaspora professionals. We have had eight employers from Ethiopia, participating in the job fair. We have done private equity investment pitches. We have invited four private equity investment firms that have invested in Africa and brought in five early- growth diaspora-owned investment companies doing well in Ethiopia and the U.S. We have also held a business plan concept competition sponsored by Ethiopian and the USAID. Over the past ten years, we have engaged in various activities to promote entrepreneurship in the community and we were able to reach out some 10 thousand people across the board.

Read more at: The Reporter