OHBD’s Leadership Focus Creates Our Newest Leaders

It was a big month for Open Hearts Big Dreams. We had our best GiveBIG effort ever – thank you to all who matched, gave, or shared! None of this work is possible without the funding we receive through these types of efforts!

We hosted our first locally-focused workshop event organized and led by our team in Addis, Dr. Worku Mulat, Yoseph Ayalew, and Netsanet Kassahun. We were honored to have a special guest star and living long-distance running legend, Deratu Tulu, who read one of our books, Music of the City and is featured in another, Cheetahs of Ethiopia. We also launched and completed orientation for our first US Embassy American Corners Computer Science and Leadership Boot Camp led by Ezra Negussie, Yonas Alemu, and others.  My daughter and I shared our thoughts with both audiences virtually through interviews and videos. We were reminded of our beginnings, our roots, and our vision for our work. I founded this organization because I wanted to do my part to make the world more equal through collaborating with others who shared this goal and to connect my amazing daughter to her wonderful birth country and original culture. I wanted to share the answers to some frequent questions as well as some of the best advice I received over the years – both of which were part of our orientation efforts and are applied across our organization.

FAQ 1: Why the name “Open Hearts Big Dreams”?

  1. “Open Hearts” allow us to be open to new possibilities and connections
  2. “Big Dreams” allow us to look beyond what we can do now to what should be, or what we can imagine.
  3. Together Open Hearts (Collaboration) plus Big Dreams (Vision/Innovation) = Positive Impact

FAQ 2: Why do you have inclusive future technical and business/entrepreneurship leadership focus?

Leaders are those that step forward to solve challenges for themselves, their communities, their country, and the world. Technical and academic skills are tools, but leadership is a mindset that is required to use those tools to their greatest impact. The world needs all types of leaders, so we must be intentional to include a balance of genders and welcome those who are differently abled. When everyone is represented and given the opportunity to participate, the results are significantly better for everyone.

I shared five key pieces of advice for anyone starting or on a leadership journey:

  1. Own and Step into Your Power

You are a leader. Each one of you. The only time you do not have power is when you give it away. Let’s pause on that for a minute. No one can take your power away; only you can give it up. The power you have in every situation is to choose your response.  If you hit an obstacle, will you give up or find another way? If life knocks you down, will you get up and try again or stay down. We want you to own and use your power and your voice to create opportunities for yourself and your communities with the learning and connections you make. One of my favorite books is Man’s Search for Meaning written by a psychologist in a Nazi concentration camp who realized he still maintained his power even in those inhuman circumstances. If he could, we all can.

  1. Embrace Failure as a Critical Input to Success

Failure is not the opposite of success. In fact, failure is a key input required for success. Embrace that you will fail or not achieve your objective but, in the process, you will learn something that will set you up for future success. I have chosen to rebrand failure as learning. So, in the end you will have two possible outcomes: you succeed, or you learn. The only time you truly fail is if you give up or chose not to learn from the failure.

I have a talk titled “Failing My Way to Success”, which has many personal examples of success that was preceded by failure. I started early by failing to achieve my original goal of becoming a medical doctor but then regrouping and finding a way to become a lawyer, business person, and now entrepreneur.

  1. Exercise Persistent Optimism which leads to Innovation

Optimism is the belief that something is possible even when you haven’t yet found the path to achieve it. Persistent optimism means when you hit a roadblock or challenge, you say, “This is not the way but, I know there is another one. I just need to find it.”  And you continue to say this until you succeed. Optimism is a key element to innovation. Believing the solution is out there and that you just need to find is what successful innovators do. Working at Amazon gave me so many examples of this. This whole organization is another example. We believe ordinary people can work together to find solutions to long-standing challenges, like the too-low literacy rate and lack of opportunities for young people. We know we don’t have all the answers or solutions but are confident if we persistent we will find or create them.

  1. Understand the Why, and the Works Backwards

This one is so important. What are you trying to accomplish or solve? Sometimes asking “why” a few times helps here. You want to start with the vision of a perfect solution. This is applying the knowledge, not just gaining it for its own worth. Our ReadySetGo Books are a great example. We want to solve the challenge of the too-low literacy challenge and to create a love of reading and books in kids. We then worked backwards from there. Creating books was not the objective – it was an input. And we measure success against the big goals of literacy and a reading culture, because that is our why.

  1. Remember together is ALWAYS better – Life is a Team Sport

Research shows that team intelligence (if well led) is higher than the most intelligent person on the team. We benefit from other perspectives; ideas built on each other are many times better.  When you are part of any team, you have the chance to learn from and provide benefit to all the talented people who are on the journey with you. We expect our leaders across Open Hearts Big Dreams, including those in our CS Boot Camp, to show what is possible so we can continue to grow this effort, inspire others, and create and empower more and more leaders.

There is an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” We want to challenge all our leaders and supporters to go both far and fast with the benefit of applying these pieces of advice and the connections they make. Solutions and progress on these important challenges can’t wait. We need the leaders of the future today.