You’re recognized as a leader for using your platform to continually seek justice and equality, and you’ve been doing this through Seeds of Africa since 2007. Can you tell us about some of the obstacles you’ve had to overcome along the way in order to drive meaningful change?
“I am passionate about eradicating poverty, empowering women, dismantling stereotypes and disrupting systems that are exclusionary based on race, gender and nationality, because my experience as a Black, African woman nonprofit leader has been filled with many fundraising obstacles. I founded Seeds of Africa with a commitment to invest in Ethiopia through education and community development programs and immediately began my quest for funding to support the organization’s programs. Over a decade later, I’ve faced moments where I felt discouraged as I watched my white peers raise significantly more money than Seeds for work that is less impactful because it lacks contextual understanding of poverty and its discontents in Africa. Unfortunately, racial biases hinder the success of Black-led organizations in the U.S., putting leaders of color at a disadvantage when raising money for nonprofit organizations.
“Despite the challenges we face, I am a part of a growing community of Black women willing and ready to take on entrepreneurial leadership opportunities. Right now, we have an abundance of talented leaders and thinkers who are being denied the tools they need to succeed and have a scalable impact.”
What’s something you’d like people to know about you or your work that they probably don’t?
“My work is deeply personal. I was born and raised in Adama, Ethiopia, before traveling the world as a fashion model. My modeling career brought me to New York City, where I represented world-renowned fashion and beauty brands, and later attended Columbia University. Growing up in Ethiopia, and then later attending college in the United States, 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 major variable that most Ethiopians unfortunately cannot access: a quality education.
When faced with challenges like being denied the tools you need to have a scalable impact, make a way and do it anyway. The world desperately needs changemakers who are unwavering.
- Atti Worku
“I was also frustrated by a Western worldview that viewed Africans living in poverty as passive and helpless. I decided to make a career transition from fashion to philanthropy. My greatest accomplishment has been starting and leading Seeds of Africa. We are committed to educating the next generation of Ethiopia’s leaders while enabling their mothers to become entrepreneurs, and we have changed the lives of more than 2,000 people to date. Working closely with the community of Adama to transform the lives of families has been my life’s greatest pleasure.”
This has been a trying year, to put it plainly. How have you been finding or seeking joy?
“Honestly, this year has been an extremely difficult one for Seeds, as it has been for most small and medium nonprofit organizations. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have taken on the critical task of minimizing the impact of the pandemic on those most vulnerable communities in Ethiopia. Although it’s been a monumental challenge, I find joy and motivation in seeing how gritty and innovative the Seeds team is, from New York to Adama. Everyone at Seeds has displayed incredible resilience to meet this moment with all our strength, and I’m inspired by what people are capable of when they truly do it out of love for humanity. We’re hosting our annual benefit virtually on October 15 where we’ll get to celebrate what we’ve accomplished while raising funds that are critical for the survival and sustenance of those we serve.”
What advice do you have for others fighting to advocate for change in 2020?
“My ten-year journey in building Seeds to be a high-impact community-centered development organization has been incredibly rewarding and equally challenging. I have had to fight for a seat at the table in the global development field, becoming a voice for under-resourced African women whose agency and abilities have historically been overlooked. My advice? Be fearless and determined, and never let doubt seep in. Stand by your work and ability to solve complex development issues for your community. When faced with challenges like being denied the tools you need to have a scalable impact, make a way and do it anyway. The world desperately needs changemakers who are unwavering.”