Dr. Assefa Bequele remembers being puzzled at a young age about why women did not have equal status in Ethiopian society. As a child growing up in the lake-side town of Bahir Dar, Dr.Assefa's experience was emblematic of many other Ethiopians who witnessed gender inequality in their community. Yet Dr. Assefa's trajectory since childhood as a human rights activist has been anything but typical.|
Today Dr. Assefa is one of Enat Bank's inaugural Board members, where his expertise contributes to the Bank's governance and strategic direction. Prior to joining the Enat Board, Dr. Bequele lived and worked around the world for a long time to advance the rights of women and children.
“The status of women in the third world in general, including in our own country, leaves much to be desired,” said Dr. Assefa Bequele in a recent interview. “Women are disadvantaged or excluded from power, and therefore denied of the fruits of self actualization, and all this is related to access to wealth, finance, land, property and employment..”
Dr. Assefa Bequele, who holds a PhD in Economics, spent a significant portion of his career serving the United Nations, including as a Senior Director for the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. At the ILO, Dr. Assefa was responsible for the establishment of the world's biggest and most influential program on the elimination of child labor. He also led the preparation of an international convention on the worst forms of child labor which, next to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is the most widely ratified convention in the world.In addition to his time in Switzerland, Dr. Assefa served as the Director of the ILO's multidisciplinary technical advisory team based in Bangkok.
After leaving the UN, Dr. Assefa returned to Addis Ababa where he established The African Child Policy Forum (ACPF). ACPF today is the leading independent Pan-African center of policy research, advocacy and dialogue on child rights and wellbeing in Africa. He recently stepped down as the first Executive Director of ACPF and was appointed by ACPF's International Board of Trustees as Distinguished Fellow and advisor to the organization.
When Dr. Assefa was approached about joining the Enat Board, he immediately saw the unique niche Enat could fill in the banking sector. For him, the economist that he is, the links between women'seconomic empowerment and their rights as well as the rights of their children are clear.
“A woman who is educated is in a better position to have access to information about child rearing, said Dr Assefa. “She is more likely to have access to employment and, therefore, in a better position to take care of her children. In the larger sphere of things, power is about access to financial resources. So, you empower women financially, you empower them individually, socially and politically.”
For Dr. Assefa, supporting Enat's creation also allowed him to contribute to changing the gender norms he witnessed as a boy. “Men must be an integral part of the movement for change,” he said. “The issue of equality between men and women should not be viewed as a women's movement only; it should be viewed as a movement that concerns us all – both men and women.”
Dr. Assefa is flourishing in his new role at Enat, appreciating the diversity and commitment of the Board. “Not only is the Board gender-balanced”, he said,“ butit is also refreshingly unique in the banking and financial environment in Ethiopia in what it stands for and its ethos. These Board members are not there for money; they are motivated by conviction, by passion and by ethical values.”
His dream for Enat is for it “to be the best, most efficient, most modern and also the most ethical bank in Ethiopia.”