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Israel Is Home From Home For This Ethiopian

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Pnina Tamano Shata

Pnina Tamano-Shata’s earliest childhood memory is receiving a bag of fudge at a refugee camp in Sudan. Since then she has traveled a long way, becoming the first Ethiopian woman to hold a seat in the Israeli parliament and host her own current affairs show on mainstream TV.

Born into a religious Jewish family in the Wuzaba village in northern Ethiopia, Tamano-Shata’s grandfather was a Rabbi (Jewish spiritual leader). He could trace his lineage to the first Jews who arrived in Ethiopia between the first and sixth centuries. A staunchly religious community, they practiced their rituals completely isolated from Jews in the rest of the world.

When Tamano-Shata was three years old, word arrived of a new way to travel to the Jewish homeland, Israel, and thousands set off.

“We were very afraid of the Ethiopian authorities at that time. On the way we were attacked by robbers, women were raped and children disappeared. We ran out of water before we reached the refugee camp in Sudan and a lot of people from our community died,” she recounts.

From 1934 to 1999, four waves of Ethiopian Jews arrived in Israel. They number more than 125,000 today.

“Trucks came to take us to an airplane that was waiting for us at a secret meeting point. I remember the Israeli soldiers. They gave us water and candies and bananas.”

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Tamano-Shata, her father and four siblings were separated from her pregnant mother and two sisters.

“Our truck arrived on the tarmac but my mother’s had broken down along the way. People were dying in the refugee camp and we didn’t know if she had also died or not. It was a very hard year for me until the Mossad (Israeli secret service) located her and brought her to Israel. I always say I am lucky because I found my mother and since then God has been taking care of me.”

But life in Israel was also difficult. The country was struggling to integrate these newcomers from mostly rural, remote regions of Ethiopia into a relatively modern country. Tamano-Shata received her first pair of shoes only after arriving in the Jewish State.

“In the first two decades after we came to Israel, the government’s policy was to help and help and help. It was like we were the poor in need. They invested a lot of money but forgot a really important thing – to ask us what we wanted. Only in the third decade did we find our voice and start saying to the government it’s not a problem of money, you need to work more on integration.”

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As a new immigrant, she was painfully aware of the language barriers, cultural differences and lack of knowledge of how their new country worked that prevented many Ethiopians from advancing. She became an activist at an early age, studying law and then moving to journalism and ultimately politics.

“Because of its history, Israel was created to be the home of the Jewish people no matter where they came from. But I don’t think the government understood the challenges black immigrants faced, which are different to those experienced by Jews who came from Russia and elsewhere. For Ethiopian Jews, a Jewish minority in Ethiopia and a black minority in Israel, there was suspicion on both sides at first.”

Over the years that suspicion has eroded in no small part because of the integration and success of people like Tamano-Shata. In recent years, she has turned her attention to getting more women into government because although 52% of Israelis are female, less than 30% hold high office.

“We see progress at the municipality level but unfortunately the ultra-Orthodox (very religious) parties still motivate for legislation that keeps women from top positions. Also, Israel’s biggest problem is security and that’s another reason why women are kept outside the main issues.”

She has always been a great advocate of social issues, arguing that they are part and parcel of security.

“We need to speak loudly and work hard. But never forget where we came from. Our old generation sacrificed a lot to come home to Jerusalem, to the land of our forefathers.” – Written by Paula Slier and Andre Toporvski Dryzun

Interview

Why We Need ‘Hard Cash In The Economy’

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Busi Mabuza, the Chairperson of the Board of the Industrial Development Corporation, on the BRICS summit and why we need to start talking as an African bloc.

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Focus

The Heroes Among Us

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Heroes exist in history, on celluloid, in pop culture or in these digital times, at the forefront of technology. These are the mighty who shine on the front pages of newspapers, as the paradigms of victory and virtue. But every day in public life, surrounding us are some of the real stars, the nameless, the faceless we don’t recognize or celebrate. In the pages that follow, we look at some of them, exploring the exemplary work they do, from the war zones to your neighborhood streets. They are not flawless, they are not infallible, but they are heroes.

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Entrepreneurs

The Ghanaian Who Brought HR Corporate America To Ghana

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Ghana is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies this year, according to the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the IMF. Its projected growth in 2018 is between 8.3-8.9%.

The Ghanaian workforce is young, with 57% of the population under the age of 25. This means millions of new graduates enter the workforce each year. One woman who understands the struggle that awaits this unsuspecting group in corporate Ghana is Human Resources (HR) entrepreneur, Rita Kusi.

Kusi is the founder and CEO of Keeping “U” Simply Intact (KUSI) Consulting, a marketing, training and recruiting company based in the United States (US) and in Ghana. She is also the Managing Director of threesixtyGh, a social enterprise company with an online presence showcasing innovative ventures in Ghana and the people behind them.

Born in Bolga, Northern Ghana, Kusi’s family gained access to the US through the US Visa Lottery in the early 80s. The family relocated to the US in 1991 where Kusi remained until 2013. And that is also where she amassed a wealth of experience working in several sectors.

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After college, Kusi worked a number of temporary jobs, from telemarketing in Atlanta to door-to-door sales in Maryland. She even tried her hands at customer services and working in cafes.

“I think for me having held all these jobs opened my eyes and I realized especially what I wanted to do in corporate America,” says Kusi.

All these experiences came together when she applied for a new role as HR assistant. When she did not hear back from the company regarding her application, Kusi took the initiative and called the hiring manager.

“So my dad told me to call and get feedback and as I called my CV happened to be in front of the hiring manager and he invited me in for the interview. I knew nothing about HR but I was just really looking for a job and I ended up getting that job and it was the longest I ever stayed at any job so that was a sign,” says Kusi.

She had finally found her calling in HR but it was not until a nostalgic visit back home that she would merge all her US experience together, ushering in a new life as an entrepreneur.

There were no real training programs at the time focused on improving the quality of customer service in Ghana. Kusi seized the opportunity to provide quality HR training programs, which she hoped organizations would pay for. And they did. This was the birth of Kusi Consulting.

From training services, the company has morphed its offerings into recruitment services and Kusi is now diversifying into skills-training as well as business process outsourcing, where the company handles the pay roll function for other corporate clients. Her timing couldn’t be more perfect. Hiring the right people is critical for companies to reduce employee attrition and enhance returns from HR. Companies face challenges in accurately perceiving and assessing an employee’s quality attributes prior to hiring that employee. This problem is more pronounced in African economies, which involves novices who do not have prior work records attesting to their raw skills, learning abilities and motivation. And this is where Kusi comes in.

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She believes a specialist HR function is imperative in every organization to ensure maximum output by each employee. However, she has had some difficulty convincing corporate Ghana.

“It has been challenging operating here especially being a female because it is literally a man’s world and in this country, it’s all about who you know… There is that challenge of how do I make myself look older and more respected?” she says.

But ever resilient, Kusi refuses to back down. She hopes to create her own temp agency where she has skilled staff inhouse which she can outsource on demand to other companies. Her newly-formed team is just as passionate about the business and with that focus, she is rebranding her company to be a leader in HR not only in Ghana but across Africa.

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