by Meron Ahadu*
I got back yesterday to my hometown Los Angeles after spending an amazing 4 days and having a blast with thousands of my people at the 30th anniversary of Ethiopian Sport Federation cultural Festival. This year’s theme was “Celebrating Ethiopian women” and what a celebration it was.
I have to set the record straight right from the beginning. For almost 10 years I have been a very vocal critic of Ethiopian Sport Federation (ESFNA). I was relentless in my attack of ESFNA. The reasons for my criticisms were the organization’s lack of accountability and transparency, the organization’s complete disregard and insensitivity to the needs of the community that supports it. Their dependence on millionaires to finance their yearly soccer tournament etc. etc. the list goes on.
In 2010, I completely gave up on ESFNA after a small minority within the organization overturned the majority Board members vote to honor Judge Birtukan Mideksa at the 2010 July Festival. I decided the organization was corrupt to the core, would never reform and the Ethiopian community in North America needed an alternative that would be responsive to the community’s voice. Initially, when I was approaching people with this concept of an alternative competitor to ESFNA, it seemed very far and not achievable to a lot of people. Ten people bought the idea and Ethiopian Heritage Society (EHSNA) was born. The principle behind EHSNA was simple it would be everything that ESFNA was not, it would be accountable, transparent and responsive to the community. The growth and viability of EHSNA is another story and I will maybe address that at some future date.
Getting back to ESFNA’s 30th anniversary, I can honestly say it was one of the best few days I have had in a very long time. I have seen tremendous improvement in almost everything I used to criticize about ESFNA. I can sincerely say that ESFNA is on the path of positive organizational transformation. The organizational culture of ESFNA of years past that used to have an antagonistic relationship with the community it was serving has turned around 360 degree in a positive way. It was very apparent at the 30th year anniversary ESFNA had worked hard to change its image and had walked miles to build bridges with the community.
The organization that I am a member of, Center for Rights of Ethiopian Women (CREW) has been communicating and collaborating with ESFNA the last 6 months. The courtesy and support that all the Board members have given our organization has been and continues to be overwhelming.
The positive cultural transformation has not only been directed towards our organization but to the community at large. ESFNA seems to have understood that the people will support them if they are responsive to their needs and treat them with respect and dignity. Thousands of people showed up day after day at Byrd Stadium starting June 30 until July 6 the closing date. It was a time of joy and happiness, the young and the elderly waving their homeland green, yellow, red flag. Thousands of people being happy just being together in one place. Thousands of people by their presence at the Byrd Stadium affirming their solidarity with ESFNA. Thousands of people with their presence at Byrd Stadium stating loudly and clearly… ”we cannot be bought.” How proud I am of my people.
The community has shown its commitment, in turn, ESFNA has also shown it is taking steps towards positive organizational transformation. What is next? How can ESFNA move to the next level and continue on the positive path. Much needs to be done, as much as there was a lot of positive things at the 30th anniversary there was also a lot of room for improvement. One thing that ESFNA Board members have to understand is that ESFNA has reached a level where professionals with strong marketing and financial backgrounds need to be recruited to manage the day to day affairs of ESFNA. The organization has to have a permanent office. Another suggestion would be to create an Advisory Board comprised of individuals from community based organizations; this will allow the Federation to have a direct link with the community. Having surveys and getting feedback is a good way to get an assessment of the strengths and weaknesses and I would encourage ESFNA to utilize this tool to make improvements in the coming years.
I congratulate the leadership and Board members of ESFNA for prevailing and putting together a memorable 30th anniversary festivity and truly bringing Ethiopians together.