AfricanDevBoss: Rediate Tekeste talks founding the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship

July 19, 2015

Surrounding yourself with the right startup team to start an organization

Rediate Tekeste is a first generation Ethiopian-American who founded the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship (EDF).  The fellowship program connects young Ethiopians in the diaspora with their home country and provides them with the opportunity to be part of the country’s development through practical work experience. Established in 2014, the fellowship is based in Los Angeles, USA and Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. had the opportunity to talk to Radiate Tekeste, founder and Executive Director of EDF, about the program and her experience working in development sector in Ethiopia.


ADJ: Tell us about the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship and how it came about.

RT: EDF was initially my Masters thesis proposal. I wanted to create something that would build a bridge for young Ethiopian professionals to go to Ethiopia and help them create their own meaningful relationship with their country. We, our current Program Director, Meseret Hailu and I, sent out a survey through social media and we received over 350 responses. People were interested in engaging in Ethiopia, they cared about the country, the people, and wanted to learn more about their Ethiopian identity. We used the responses from the survey, academic research about diaspora engagement, and an assessment of other fellowship service-oriented programs and built EDF.

EDF is a six-month fellowship program that sends young Ethiopian diaspora professionals to Ethiopia to serve in a variety of organizations. Our pillars are leadership, service, and creative storytelling and our aim is to help Ethiopian diaspora connect to their Ethiopian identity while helping build human resource capacity in Ethiopia.


ADJ: What was your inspiration for starting the Ethiopian Diaspora Fellowship?

I was born in Ethiopia and grew up in the United States not fully integrated in the Ethiopian community. I went to live in Ethiopia after college, and the experience challenged and helped me develop a better understanding of who I was personally and what I could do professionally. When I returned, I met many young professional Ethiopian diaspora that had the same desire to go to Ethiopia, better understand their identity, and were educated and talented individuals. Many people didn’t have access, contacts, and a way to connect on their own. So, I guess the inspiration was seeing that gap, and realizing we could create something to help close it.


What activities has the fellowship carried out so far?

Our first class of five fellows have worked at five different partner organizations from August to December. They have helped produce TV shows, worked on business plans, communication strategies, in education and a variety of other deliverables.


How do you describe your cooperation with Ethiopian organizations that host the fellows?

Our partner organizations are in one word – amazing. We pitched them a concept in our first year, and they took a chance and partnered with us. They have been supportive of the fellows, and us as an organization. They are doing innovative and groundbreaking work in their respective sectors. We believe in partnering with Ethiopian organizations that not only deliver results, but can also support and understand the value of a good relationship with the young Ethiopian diaspora.  We’re very excited to expand our partnerships with even more organizations.


How do you see the interest of young members of the diaspora in contributing to the development of Ethiopia?

We see an immense interest in the diaspora community. We were very impressed with last years applicants, and since then we’ve received even more interest. People are starting to understand the opportunity and absolute need to engage with their country in a meaningful way. We’re just providing an opportunity that is about their development and the partner organization’s development.


EDF's first five fellows serving in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Diaspora Fellowship’s first five fellows serving in Ethiopia

Do you say that the development situation in Ethiopia is accommodating these interests?

Yes, at least in Addis Ababa where we are based. This organization might not have worked 10 years ago. Through Ethiopia’s development – the access to internet and the infrastructure, makes things much easier now than ever before. There are still some challenges, but that can be expected in any developing country.


What would you say is your biggest achievement so far?

Our biggest achievement in my opinion are two things – one, our fellows. They love Ethiopia, and they understand their identity better now than they did before. In fact, two of them are staying in Ethiopia to work full time for another year. Two, starting an organization and doing what we said we would in less than a year. We have a network of advisors, supporters, and a lot of people that have helped with EDF.


ADJ: Where do you see the fellowship program after five years?

We’re hoping to scale up the number of fellows and possibly expand globally. Right now, we’re focused on learning from our first year and making this year even better.