Global Assist Network's Summit Ethiopia Conference opened on March 9 with multiple representatives from 25 humanitarian organizations in attendance. Additionally, there were several representatives from Ethiopian organizations who traveled from Ethiopia to participate. By the end of the conference, everyone attending commented that this was one of the best conferences they had ever attended, and were very glad they had come.
Kevin Montgomery, director of Global Assist Network, and Gary Hay, senior pastor at Hope Community Church where the Summit was held, welcomed attendees to this first working, networking conference. Getahun Tesema, director of Bright Hope Organization in Ethiopia spoke about the needs in his country that can be addressed by humanitarian, compassion work.
Demeke Tekle-Wold and Marta Gabre-Tsadick followed Tesema. Marta was the first woman senator in the Ethiopian government. In 1974 she was identified as a supporter of Emperor Haile Selassie, and because of her sure execution, she and her husband Demeke Tekle-Wold took their four children and fled to Kenya. She and her husband started Project Mercy in 1977. Project Mercy sits on 53 acres in the village of Yetebon, Ethiopia. This compound includes a school, hospital, and an orphanage. In addition to this, Project Mercy is active in community development and self-help programs.
During the extended lunch break, each organization was able to introduce themselves and their work in Ethiopia.
In the afternoon, Terri Hasdorff, director of the Center for Faith-Based & Community Initiatives for USAID, provided information on what the Faith-Based program is and how it related to Christian humanitaria organizations. Prior to her presidential appointment to USAID, Ms. Hasdorff established the first Office of Faith-Based & Community Initiatives for the Governor of Alabama and served as its Executive Director. She also has extensive experience on Capital Hill, having worked as legislative assistant to Congressman Robert Aderholt, the Deputy Director of the House Republican Conference under Congressman J.C. Watts, and as a Senior Advisor to Congressman Mark Souder. In that position Ms. Hasdorff worked on the Charitable Choice Legislation.
Following Ms. Hasdorff, Rachelle Hood, Chief Diversity Officer of Denny's, Inc. and president of The Ephraim Project, spoke. Because she was the chief architect of Denny's cultural and structural transformation, Ms. Hood has been featured on CBS 60 Minutes, in a CNBC documentary, and a nationally televised PBS special, "Why is it so Difficult to Talk About Race?" Ms. Hood traces her roots back to Gondor, Ethiopia, and has a very great heart for the people in that area. She spoke about clean water initiatives during the afternoon.
Dale Fagerland, who has worked for more than 25 years in cross-cultural arenas, ended the afternoon by speaking on "Working in a Diverse Religious Context."
“Mr Fargerland’s presentation challenged our thinking on working in and around diverse religious groups, and the importance of understanding as completely as possible the perspectives and beliefs of others in order to safely and effectively achieve our development goals,” Montgomery relates.
Following each speaker, attendees participated in discussion regarding how each of these areas affected their particular organization.
Community pastors and conference attendees honored the President and other special guests at a dinner on Friday evening. More than 250 attended this event. The President spoke at the event, telling the crowd that he is a politician and not a preacher, and while he himself is from the Orthodox church, he reminded everyone of Pope John Paul II’s words that "Christians are Christians." His Excellency said “Wherever they are, whatever name they use, and whatever discipline they practice, as long as they believe in Christ they are Christians. Therefore, we are one.”
On Saturday, March 10, the President decided that morning that he would like to attend all sessions of the conference and listen to the speakers and the attendees interaction. We were surprised and honored to have him with us in this format.
The conference resumed with Ms. Hasdorff speaking about USAID grants, and what attendees needed to understand about the process of applying. Both of Ms. Hasdorff’s topics and speeches were excellent and very apropos for this conference. “We were delighted that she could fit this conference into her busy schedule,” Montgomery states. “She provided information that many of us did not partially and/or fully understand.”
Following Ms. Hasdorff, Kevin Montgomery talked about Global Assist Network, and the vision of GAN for providing an avenue for Christian NGOs to begin collaborating to accomplish more for the Kingdom. Montgomery stated, “You have two questions to answer: first, are you building the kingdom, and second, whose kingdom are you building? Is it your organization’s kingdom, your personal kingdom, or God’s Kingdom? If we are all working to build the Kingdom of God, then we can and should collaborate with each other and leverage our resources for the good of the Kingdom.”
Following Montgomery, Rachelle Hood spoke again. This time her topic was concerning ways to share Christ’s message of hope through compassion work. Again, Ms. Hood’s speech was exciting and very appropriate for the audience. “She was a great asset to the conference,” Montgomery relates. “We look forward to working with Ms. Hood and her Ephraim Project in the future."
During the lunch break, some of the organizations had opportunities for private audiences with the President of Ethiopia.
Following lunch, His Excellency and Getahun Tasema sat with the attendees for a direct and open question and answer forum. The President did a wonderful job answering the various questions. Attendees were not limited to what questions they could ask the President, and the President did not shy away from any and all questions presented. The President addressed many issues, including the situation with Somalia, AIDs testing, education, empowerment, poverty, his country’s need for reforestation to counteract desertification brought about by climate change, and many other topics.
Following this, closing remarks were made and the formal conference time ended. However, organizations that had not been able to meet privately with the President earlier were able to meet with him following the conference conclusion.
Global Assist Network will be holding a conference for NGOs in Addis Ababa in April 2008. Although NGO leaders from the USA and Europe will be attending, the conference is primarily for the Ethiopian NGOs to come together. The goals of this conference is to begin collaboration among the Ethiopian NGOs and for First World NGOs to have an opportunity to see and hear the visions and hearts of the Ethiopian national NGOs who are working to better their communities and help the poor and needy people of their nation have a brighter future.