Founder & CEO of Seeds of Africa
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
The Silver Women Interview Series:
The women featured in the
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All behind the scenes photography by Shana Trajanoska.
Describe yourself in 3 words.
Ambitious. Positive. Driven.
Tell us your story.
I was born and raised in Adama, Ethiopia. My career as a fashion model took me all around the world, eventually bringing me to New York City, where I attended Columbia University. In 2014, I graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development.
This experience gave me a diverse worldview and an enlightened perspective on the topic of effective African development. I realized that the trajectory of my life was shaped by one significant variable that most Ethiopians, unfortunately, cannot access: a quality education. I decided to transition from fashion into philanthropy and became the founder and CEO of Seeds of Africa. We are a non-profit organization committed to investing in Ethiopia through education and community development programs. Our headquarters is in New York City, but we operate in my native town of Adama, providing children and their larger networks with the resources they need to alleviate poverty, support themselves, and reinvest in their communities.
Which women inspired you as a young girl?
My mother. She is the reason my career followed the path of education equity and female empowerment. She experienced the challenges that young women in Ethiopia faced in the 1950s—and still face today. Despite the odds, my mother is among the first women in our family to get a formal education and attend university, which gave her access to economic opportunities. She raised me to be a confident, kind, and brave woman without gender-based barriers and limitations. My commitment to educating girls and empowering women in Ethiopia is rooted in my mother’s example.
Which women inspire you now?
The mothers we serve and work with at Seeds of Africa. They are driven, focused, and dedicated to changing their families’ lives through small business entrepreneurship. It is incredible to witness how they beam with hope for an even better future. They remind me of my own mother, working hard to break the cycle of poverty and gender-based inequality for their children. I’m also honored to work with my team of five talented women under the age of 30, who have chosen a life of servitude, social justice, and purpose.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment to date?
Starting and leading Seeds of Africa. Since the 2007 launch, we have developed a free-to-attend school in Ethiopia that offers a holistic curriculum, healthcare, and nutrition for 200 students. We have empowered over 150 of their mothers and guardians to create 50% increases in household incomes through small business literacy and micro-loans. Working closely with the community of Adama to transform the lives of families has been my life’s greatest pleasure. I am proud to say that my efforts have been recognized with an African Diaspora Award for Community Service and The African Youth Excellence Honorary Award. I have been a speaker and panelist at The United Nations, Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Women4Climate. I contribute to HuffPost on Education and Development in Africa, and my essay on girls’ education as a global climate change solution was recently published in the book “Why Women Will Save the Planet.”
What is your perfect day?
I wake up and make myself green juice and coffee before a yoga session.
Then, I take a walk on the way to work and spend the day engaged with making decisions for Seeds of Africa.
When I get home, I revel in trying a new recipe for dinner, before winding down by doing a puzzle.
What do you like the most about yourself?
My commitment to doing good and my drive to make a positive impact.
What are your greatest passions?
Eradicating poverty, empowering women, dismantling stereotypes, and disrupting systems that are exclusionary based on race, gender, and nationality. On a somewhat lighter note, I’m also passionate about food and the culinary arts.
Have you had female mentors?
I’ve been lucky to meet many women who have lovingly supported me, guided my growth personally and professionally, and opened doors for me. I call them my fairy godmothers!
Do you mentor other women?
I always make time to mentor women who can benefit from my experience and skills. I love to see women thrive and I believe that sharing knowledge is the best way to contribute to their success. Lately, I’ve gotten involved with structured mentorship programs. In February, I spoke at the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network Youth Assembly and in March I will begin mentoring We Are Family Foundation’s 2019 Global Teen Leaders.
“I’ve been lucky to meet many women
who have lovingly supported me,
guided my growth personally and professionally,
and opened doors for me.
I call them my fairy godmothers!”
Who is your beauty inspiration?
I enjoy Alicia Keys’ makeup-free movement. As a former model,
I appreciate her insistence on being liberated from society’s expectations.
My true beauty inspiration, however, is my mother.
She is in her 70s, but because she has always emphasized self-care, she radiates inner beauty.
She is ageless.
How long does it take you to get ready in the morning?
Do you enjoy wearing makeup?
I enjoy the process of applying makeup for special occasions but due to my busy daily schedule,
I don’t wear makeup every day. As I get older, I wear less.
THOUGHTS ON AGING
What do you like most about getting older?
I am no longer afraid. I feel so much more confident about my choices and abilities. I have much more acceptance about what I used to think were my flaws.
Do you think older women are valued and celebrated?
No. Our society is obsessed with youth. As women get older, society has a checklist for womanhood to be deemed acceptable: family, marriage, career. We have shifted the norms and definitions for womanhood, but society hasn’t caught up and needs to celebrate women as they are at all ages.
Which women do you admire for aging with grace and integrity?
Iman, the East African supermodel, entrepreneur, and philanthropist has been a pioneer in cosmetics for women of color and is a vision of ageless beauty. I also admire the incomparable Cicely Tyson. She has contributed so much for the culture and for black women, and I love her spirit. She refuses to retire at age 94—and why should she?
She is still so radiant.
FEW OF MY FAVORITES
Gary Clark Jr. – Things Are Changin’. I love the fusion of soul and the blues.
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I relate deeply to the immigrant experience of an African woman.
A Star is Born. It’s a beautiful story about love.
I’m drawn to citrusy scents.
I love the smell of tangerines, oranges, and clementines.
Place in the world:
Lamu, Kenya. It is a beautiful coastal town.
Ethiopian. It is the cuisine of my childhood and will always be my go-to.
Eyerusalem Adugna Jirenga, a 25-year-old photographer from
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, whose work is taking the art world by storm.
I have had the pleasure to work with her for Seeds of Africa and I follow her budding career closely.
What advice do you have for today’s young women?
Be comfortable in your own skin and don’t worry about the unrealistic and often biased beauty standards society puts on you. Never allow anyone to make you feel less than beautiful because of your skin color, hair type, body shape, or anything else. Boldy be yourself and the world will learn to embrace that.
-Atti Worku xoxo
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