By Prof. Alemayehu G. Mariam
On December 15, 2018, we crossed the one-half million dollar mark in our fundraising effort for the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF).
It is a moment of great pride accomplishment for all of us who have toiled day and night over the past several months to make EDTF a reality.
On behalf of H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the EDTF Advisory Council and in the name of the people of Ethiopia, I would like to thank each and every one of the 2,819 donors who made 3,027 contributions to help us cross the magical threshold of one-half million dollars.
Each one of our honored donors and contributors is listed on our website at ethiopiatrustfund.org
The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
I say a multi-million dollar trust fund begins with the first one-half million.
I firmly believe our one-half million dollar Fund will soon become a one million dollar Trust Fund.
In time, it will become a 10 million and even 100 million dollar Trust Fund.
I have absolute faith in the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund becoming a template for African self-help efforts within 5 years.
We began collecting donations for EDTF on October 22, 2018 and hit the one-half million dollar mark in 54 days.
That is about $9,300 a day.
We believe that is a great achievement for an organization that came into existence on August 9, 2018 when H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed named members of the EDTF Advisory Council.
The Council immediately set to work.
Over the past four months, we established a nonprofit for EDTF.
We negotiated rates with payment processors such as Paypal, Swipe, GoFundMe and others.
We worked with the UN Development Program to secure funding for a secretariat to administer and operate the Fund.
We began coordination to incorporate EDTF in Ethiopia and establish a Board of Directors.
We established a high-quality interactive website.
We assembled a small but highly dedicated force of volunteer IT professionals and social media experts.
We made links with youth organizations who will soon launch EDTF Goodwill Youth Ambassadors.
We began full community engagement by holding a press conference and community town hall meeting in Washington, D.C.
We are planning to meet our global mandate by creating chapters and support groups throughout the world.
We are just taking our baby steps. We have a long way to go.
But we do have our critics, oftentimes individuals who do their lips instead of their dollars do the talking to them.
Our critics believe we have already failed because we should have collected at least $4 million and maybe several times that in 54 days.
They tell us “we are doing it all wrong”.
They say we should hire professional fundraisers who could raise millions for us in a few weeks.
Of course, if we had tens of thousands of dollars to hire professional fundraisers, we would not need a grassroots fundraising effort.
It is not unlike the advice French Queen Marie Antoinette allegedly gave to her starving subjects, “Why don’t they eat cake?”
“Why don’t we hire professional fundraisers?”
Can anyone seriously ask someone asking $1 a day to afford a professional fundraiser?
We are criticized for running a 100 percent volunteer operation. “Volunteers are unreliable.”
We are even told we should use some of the donations to establish offices and hire professionals to do the day to day work for us.
If we had the money to hire professionals employees and staff for hundreds of thousands of dollars, we would just as soon use that money to begin projects.
We are criticized for paying our own costs and expenses in promoting the Fund, including travel and accommodations. “That is just not professional.”
Until we get sponsors to help pay for our costs and expenses, we will have to shoulder that financial burden.
We need resources for many activities including media advertising, web technical support, event planning and coordination and management of volunteers.
We hope our critics will help us raise funds for these vital needs.
The fact of the matter is that we are a grassroots effort, NOT a professional multi-billion dollar fund raising organization like the United Way, the Salvation Army or Food for the Poor raising billions every year.
It is true we are a shoestring operation.
Our efforts rise or fall with the kindness of our Diaspora Ethiopian brothers and sisters who are willing to open their wallets and give us $1 a day.
Truth be told, we don’t mind criticism especially if it is constructive and from people who have donated.
But we shall not compromise on the principles and mission of the Fund.
There will be no compromise on the fact that 100 percent of contributions and donations will go to support EDTF projects.
No donations will be used for administrative or management purposes.
There will be maximum accountability for all donations collected and the finances of the EDTF will be subject to independent audits, including audits by the Ethiopian American Certified Public Accountants, who have pledged to perform the task.
There will be maximum transparency in all aspects of EDTF.
As we move forward with our efforts, some people ask me to look backwards and tell them if I am disappointed by the “low contribution and participation rates” in the fundraising.
I prefer to see the glass half full than half empty.
The noted anthropologist Margaret Mead wrote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
No, I am not disappointed by the “low contribution and participation rates”.
In my view, the 2,819 donors who made 3027 contributions to help us cross the one-half million dollar mark are the small group of thoughtful and committed Diaspora Ethiopians that can change Ethiopia one-man, one-woman at a time.
I thank each and every one of them from the bottom of my heart.
I am the eternal optimist I have always been.
I am the same guy who in 2011 set down ten specific things Ethiopians can do to help themselves.
One of them was to strive and create a utopia in Ethiopia.:
Ethiopians must be able to dream of a future free of ethnic strife, famine and oppression; and strive to work together for a little utopia in Ethiopia where might is NOT right but the rule of law shields the defenseless poor and voiceless against the slings and arrows of the criminally rich and powerful. It is true that Utopians aspire for the perfect society, but Ethiopians should aspire and work collectively for a society in which human rights are respected, the voice of the people are heard and accepted (not stolen), those to whom power is entrusted perform their duties with transparency and are held accountable to the law and people.
I am confident Diaspora Ethiopians will participate in large numbers and support EDTF when they truly understand its objectives and mission.
There are many challenges ahead of us, but we shall overcome them.
We know we have our work cut out for us.
We must reach out and educate and create awareness in the Diaspora. As more and more people learn about the objectives and mission of EDTF, they will participate more.
We must clearly communicate our message to different segments of the Diaspora Ethiopian community.
We know that is not an easy task because we have to tailor our message so that it is relevant to our diverse communities including the youth, professional, religious, women’s and civic communities.
We cannot do our outreach and community engagement alone.
We need the support of all segments of the Diaspora Ethiopian communities.
We especially need the collaboration of the social and conventional media.
We also need to get support from groups and organizations who could collaborate with us.
We believe the churches, masjids and civil society organizations can be effective partners to raise finds and enhance community engagement.
As people see the first set of projects being implemented, they will open their wallets to support EDTF.
As people witness we mean what we say and say what we mean by our declaration that EDTF will be the price of our dignity not to ever become the beggar nation of the world, they will line up to help.
But we need support and constructive criticism.
We do not need advice about what we shoudla, coulda and woulda have done about this or that.
As the old Ethiopian saying goes, “The sky is near for those who sit on their butts and point at it.”
We need Diaspora Ethiopians who are willing to put their shoulders to the wheel and noses to the grindstone and make EDTF a reality.
The difference between those who have contributed and support EDTF and those who have had a chance and did not is the difference between the optimist and pessimist.
“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”
At the height of the space race, President John F. Kennedy saw the opportunity in the difficulty when he said,
We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.
In the same vein, I say the 2819 Diaspora Ethiopians and others who have given $1 a day in our race to help our long-suffering Ethiopian brothers and sisters choose to support the EDTF now not because they believe it is easy to pull 110 million Ethiopians out of the mire of poverty, but because they believe we can harness one dollar a day and use our energies and skills to show the world that we can help ourselves and will no longer be called the beggar nation of the world.
We support EDTF because we accept a great challenge put to us by our young leader who every day makes things happen we never expected in our wildest imaginations.
My confidence in the success of EDTF
I do not believe in failure.
If I did, I would not have advocated for human rights in Ethiopia for 13 long years cranking out weekly commentaries and making speeches and giving interviews that paralyzed and incapacitated the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
For 13 long years, TPLF leaders and their cyber dogs laughed at me. “What a fool! He is wasting his time with his bootless cries about human rights every week. We will remain in power for 100 years!”
I don’t think they are laughing at me now.
In 2013, I asked a prophetic question of the TPLF:
How long before truth and right crushed to earth rise up again in Ethiopia?
Not long, because truth and right will not remain forever on the scaffold nor wrong and falsehood nest forever on the throne!
Today the truth is catching up with the liars, thieves, cutthroats and torturers.
Al Mariam’s seemingly endless prophecies to come true? Al Mariam [has been] hazarding predictions of state collapse [TPLF] on every small and big occasion… Al Mariam’s disciples swear by his every jive as yet another revelation of the end of the ‘thugs’ ruling Ethiopia on a ‘slave plantation’’ model no less…
I ask my readers a simple question: Has TPLF thug rule ended in Ethiopia today?
I mention this instance not to prove my “prophetic powers”. I have none.
I mention it to prove that if we never give up, we will win in the end.
If I had defeated myself by quitting the struggle against TPLF thug rule, perhaps the outcome may be different.
If we stick to PM Abiy’s $1 a day plan to help Ethiopia, in a short time we will be able to help our brothers and sisters in Ethiopia and never ask for penny from anyone else. EVER!
So, I put out another prediction.
In 5 years, the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund will be the template for a diaspora trust fund all over Africa.
I suspect there will be some who will laugh at me today and say I am delusional.
I do not mind if people laughing at me, but I ask that they look through the nearly one thousand weekly commentaries I have written over the past 13 years and point out a single prediction I made that did not come to pass.
So, my fellow Diaspora Ethiopians:
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you believe Ethiopia should no longer be called the “beggar nation of the world” because its children scattered throughout the world are ready, willing and able to take full responsibility for their own.
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you believe you have a personal individual responsibility for your suffering brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you believe Ethiopians need a hand up, not a hand out.
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you believe Ethiopia’s best days are yet to come.
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you believe Diaspora Ethiopians united can never be defeated.
I ask you to support the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund only and only if you are not afraid of failure and are not a prisoner of defeatist thinking that because so many Diasporan efforts in the past have ended in failure, so will EDTF.
I believe EDTF is about the winners’ circle.
Our PM Abiy has said in Ethiopia there are no losers or winners.
PM Abiy says our Ethiopia house divided between winner and losers cannot stand.
We can be a nation of winners and or losers, but not both.
I believe Ethiopia is a nation of winners.
Ethiopians in the diaspora must believe we are also all winners.
If winners take up the cause of the EDTF, we can’t lose. We can’t fail.
That is my faith in EDTF.
To those we are seared by memories of Diaspora Ethiopian failures, I say to them do not fear failure.
If you must fear anything, it should be not trying. “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.”
I have no fears whatsoever the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund will fail.
I have faith it will succeed beyond our wildest imaginations.
If you really want to know how rock-solid my faith is in the success of EDTF, I invite you to listen to snippets of my remarks before the Ethiopian Society of Certified Public Accountants and Financial Professionals on December 2, 2018 in Springfield, VA. (In Amharic HERE; In English HERE. Full Amharic radio interview on SBS, HERE.)
Again, many thanks to the 2819 donors who helped us pass the one-half million dollar mark!
Please donate at ethiopiatrustfund.org and join the EDTF Winners Circle!