Haddis Tadesse, Country Representative, Ethiopia


Raised in Ethiopia and educated in the United States, Haddis Tadesse worked for several years in government positions, ultimately serving as a senior policy advisor to Seattle mayor Greg Nickels. In 2007, Haddis started at the foundation as special assistant to the director of agriculture, moved to the advocacy team, and now serves as the foundation’s representative to the Ethiopia and the African Union, helping the foundation strengthen its relationships with health and development partners operating in Ethiopia. Haddis talks about the shared sense of urgency between local politics and the foundation’s work, the importance of understanding the mission, and the Gates name in Africa.

Working in politics is similar to working at the foundation. Time matters. In the political cycle, we had four years to fulfill our promises to the voters. An even stronger sense of urgency pervades the foundation. You have to be driven both to work hard and to work efficiently in these time cycles.

Working across time zones is challenging. Because I’m in Africa, I’m not part of day-to-day discussions in Seattle, but we use every technology available to us to stay in contact. Proximity to the problems we’re trying to address, however, is worth the occasional disconnect with headquarters. Being on the ground helps us see the reality of the situation in Africa. The opportunity to work so close to our beneficiaries is wonderful.

In America, everyone knows of Bill and Melinda and the foundation. In Ethiopia, many people have heard of Bill and Melinda, but fewer know about the foundation, so we have to explain the work we do. People say, “Oh, they do work here? What are you doing in Ethiopia?”

The foundation is a place where your passion for the work and your drive to accomplish major change at a relatively fast pace means you have to perform at your highest level on a regular basis.

The problems we face are challenging and have persisted for generations. The foundation recognizes that it will take a global community with innovative ideas and focus to fix them.

The Gates Foundation has assembled some of the best minds from around the world; you can’t help but learn from that.

The interview process was grueling. I had three to four different conversations over the phone before in person interviews. I spent six-seven hours with six different people who gave me a window into the seriousness and intensity of the foundation.

If you want to work here, you need to have more than just a passing interest in what we do. You’re competing with people from around the world who have been doing this work for many years. A deep understanding of the foundation’s mission is required.

I’m American of Ethiopian descent, which gives me a unique perspective on my work. It’s not just a job for me; it’s a chance to help people of my origin to improve their lives. I don’t know if anything else could be as satisfying.

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