Remarks by Ambassador Patricia M. Haslach at the International Women in Business Luncheon

“TED TALK Style” Remarks by Patricia Haslach
U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia at the International Women in Business Luncheon
Tuesday , May 17, 2016
Radisson Blu Hotel, Addis Ababa

(As prepared for delievery)

Distinguished guests,


Good afternoon!

Thank you for coming today and taking time out of your busy schedules. It great to have a room full of such outstanding business leaders, and friends and colleagues. I am thankful for all the opportunities to engage with women business leaders like you.

Welcome to this luncheon to celebrate and discuss women’s economic empowerment and business opportunities. As you may have heard me say before, many of the most significant and meaningful moments during my Ambassadorship have been working on issues that affect women and girls and I am proud of all that our Embassy team has been able to accomplish, especially when it comes to having important discussions like we will have today.

This month is World Trade Month and it provides a great opportunity to continue the celebration of international women business leaders. I would like to extend my gratitude to all of you in the audience who have also contributed to the empowerment of women and girls and have served as mentors and “Temsalets” yourselves! At the U.S. Embassy, we work on improving the quality of life for women through healthcare, education, business workshops and entrepreneurial training and networking opportunities, to promoting gender equality and safety. I have tried to make this focus a part of all of our embassy outreach activities.

Thanks to the U.S. Foreign Commercial Service for bringing together such a powerful and innovative group of international business women. There are tremendous “human” resources in this room.  We also have with us today the Honorable Eleni Gabre-Madhin, who many of you know from her work with the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange. Thank you Dr. Eleni for joining us today. I am excited to have this opportunity to do my own “TED TALK” on Leadership and Mentoring today.

As the mother of two grown daughters, woman empowerment is a life-time priority for me that I take very seriously. I have always tried to make these skills part of everything that I do as a mother, friend  and a diplomat.  Strong girls, and strong women are critical to success of and in our societies. Leadership and mentoring other women has always been a top priority for me. As I reflect on my career and my successes, I know that I did not make the journey here alone. I was lucky to have the support of my family, friends, teachers and mentors along the way. Growing up in Lake Oswego, Oregon with my parents and four siblings, I had a wonderful childhood and developed a strong connection to my home state. However, I was also curious to see the world. While I was a student at Gonzaga University, I spent a year in Italy and later went to the then-Soviet Union. Those experiences led me to earn a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University and to begin a career in diplomacy.

I was once asked why I chose to make my career in diplomacy. Well, I didn’t actually choose diplomacy. I wanted to combine my love of travel and my goal of visiting every country in the world with a job.  Diplomacy combines those!  My high school French teacher was really the first person to instill that in me – the desire to travel and the desire to learn languages.  I actually started my career with the Foreign Agricultural Service and then I switched over to the Department of State, where I’ve had a wonderfully rich career.  I’m very lucky that I’ve been able to combine what I love to do personally with my job.

Throughout my career, I have worked on development and diplomacy issues in countries undergoing transition, including here in Ethiopia. Despite the great variety that I have experienced during my career, it always strikes me how much we all have in common.  Developing and managing businesses requires many of the same skills that we learn early in our careers from maintaining and running a household. We learn to plan in advance and have a strategy for getting things done. We also learn to build a network that we can rely on, which is the opportunity that we have today at this luncheon. Every job has presented a challenge.  But these skills have served me along the way. (you can elaborate more on the role of women)

My graduate degree focused on Western European affairs, economics, and trade.  But, I’ve only served in Europe once. It has been interesting because throughout my career, various opportunities have presented themselves and I would decide to go for them.  I was delighted to be selected to come to Ethiopia as Ambassador.  I wanted to come here specifically because I had worked on issues related to Ethiopia since the beginning of my career in the 1980s and felt a deep connection to this country.  I wanted to work on issues focus on preventing famine, which disproportionately affects women and girls. As for challenges, I must admit that I have only been able to master a tiny bit of Amharic while being here – “tin-nish beach-a”! 

As Ambassador, I have been proud to be part of the diplomatic community here and I want to share some of the tips that I have used to mentor my staff and other women colleagues along the way.  I would like to highlight five leadership skills that have successfully guided me in my journey:

Be Proactive: I have always tried to see the glass as half-full. I have looked for ways where I could fill a gap or provide a service.  Essentially, I have focused on managing myself—looking inward for opportunities to be creative and not necessarily worrying about outside pressures, which I admit isn’t always easy.  Being proactive means I prioritize what’s important, and on what I can influence or change. When I came to Ethiopia I wanted to build a strong American Chamber of Commerce.  I saw it as a valuable resource to furthering the mission’s economic goals for companies and businesses like yours to share best practices to expand your trade and investment. I am happy to say that we now will be establishing an American Chamber of Commerce in Ethiopia. Many of the women leaders in this room worked hard to make this Am Cham a reality and I want to thank you for your hard work. This is another testimony of what can be accomplished with a group of women at the table. 

Align Yourself with Temsalets-Champions:  As U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia,  I have an outstanding senior management team that works closely with me to achieve our goals. Throughout my career I have aligned myself with others who are creative, innovative, positive, and smart, and I have built up a network and resource of people that I can go to explore ideas or develop strategies.  This overlaps with being proactive because it allows me to work closely with trusted colleagues to brainstorm, problem solve, maximize our resources and negotiate complicated agreements with government agencies on topics such as developing an American Chamber of Commerce; advocating for a U.S. company as the most sustainable solution; or insisting on fair and level playing fields for U.S. companies. I am particularly proud of the work that my team at the U.S. Embassy does in the areas of gender and disabilities.  We have worked hard over the past three years to increase our outreach and develop robust campaigns for the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, Women’s History Month, and the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, to name a few.  Our distinguished Mandela Washington Fellows Initiative, launched by President Obama for future Ethiopian leaders, has included many talented young women and persons with disabilities. (Give an example– Suba?)

Be Passionate About Your Work. Meeting with and visiting programs and projects that directly impact girls and women all over Ethiopia is one of the most satisfying parts of my job!  I go to work every day proud of the work that we all do in these areas and many more, and again, I am honored to look back and see the impact that we are making to change lives for girls and women in health, education, and business opportunities.  (Give some examples: Peace Corp woman-focused programs, fistula, and women’s soccer). We recently nominated a women leader (here in this room) to participate in one of the most prominent U.S.-Africa Business Forums to be held in the fall. This is a significant achievement for Ethiopia to have a woman leader nominated to be one of the 100 chosen to participate at a forum that is traditionally dominated by men. We are slowly making headways to provide opportunities and global business platforms to recognize women leaders.

Listen and Accept Feedback. Mastering these skills can only polish your leadership and mentoring skills. Listening is hard—talking is easy and what diplomats are trained to do.  Listening fine tunes your ability to read nonverbal cues which is paramount in understanding your team and building confidence in your colleagues. Listening is the one of the key steps to creating mutually beneficial agreements. It is also the skill used to repeat and clarify what is being stated whether it is negotiating increased responsibility in your work proposing an innovative idea, or managing team conflict, this skill and the ability to reflect on feedback, builds trust with your team, your supervisor, and key stakeholders like government ministries. It is a tool that I use daily in my interactions with the Government of Ethiopia, other missions, and my team. It is also important to listen to the language that we use. Our language should help create synergies.

Share your Opportunities. I have modeled my entire career on opportunities to share my skills and mentor other young women. Here in Ethiopia, I am proud to have launched the young women diplomat mentorship program working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I also work with the AWEP business group to mentor them on AGOA and other international business opportunities; last year, we hosted a video conference on international business exchange with the New York Fashion Institute of Technology “Talking Trade” in the textile industry, which highlighted many of the excellent women-led textile companies here in Ethiopia. My embassy team continues to promote these companies at trade and investment events around the world. I would like to also emphasize the need to mentor and promote your women colleagues. We often hear the phrase “men’s club” or “glass ceiling.”   To combat these ideas, you need to promote your team and nominate them for awards and recognition—it will reflect positively on you and build trust and loyalty.

I would like to thank you for this opportunity to share my leadership experiences with you. I would also like to recognize my entire team at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa and especially the U.S. Embassy women leaders in this room who work daily to help me achieve our U.S. Embassy economic mission goal of spurring broad-based economic growth and development here in Ethiopia.

In closing, remember we have the ability to unleash endless potential in women using our leadership and mentoring skills to help them navigate potential barriers and obstacles in their careers.