THE POINT | ETHIOPIAN POINT OF VIEW

Why I Have Resigned My Chairmanship of Friends of Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund, Inc

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Alemayehu G. Mariam
January 1, 2021

On December 20, 2020, I served notice to the Board of Friends of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund, Inc. (FEDTF) that effective December 31, 2020, I shall resign as Chairman. I tendered my resignation with a heavy heart but great pride in what EDTF has accomplished during my tenure and with a clear conscience.

I am fully cognizant of the fact that the documented facts herein may cause great consternation and dismay among EDTF donors and supporters. I suspect there will be some who will exhale and say, “I told you so.” There may be others who will say, “So what!”. There may also be some whose hopes and dreams for EDTF will be dashed. My responsibility to EDTF donors and supporters is to speak and document the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

I do not believe I exaggerate when I say that I have been the public face of EDTF since its inception. I have crisscrossed North America many times over the past couple of years to introduce and mobilize support for EDTF. I have appeared on television and radio shows to promote EDTF. I have interacted with numerous individuals responding to questions and soliciting support for EDTF and to solicit funds for EDTF. I have used social media to cultivate support and to raise tens of thousands of dollars for EDTF. I have blogged about EDTF many times and overall served as EDTF’s dedicated point man.

Let there be no mistake. I mention these facts not to pat myself on the back but to let EDTF donors and supporters who have held so much trust in me personally and as chair of EDTF/AC and FEDTF the facts surrounding my resignation. I believe they are entitled to a clear explanation of my reasons and facts which occasioned my resignation. I have always prided myself for integrity, accountability and transparency. I believe I have demonstrated that not only during my chairmanship of EDTF but also over the past 15 years in my human rights advocacy in Ethiopia. Ultimately, the EDTF enterprise is a global diaspora Ethiopian effort and I have a moral and fiduciary duty to EDTF’s donors.

First, a few clarifications. Most donors and supporters are familiar with the acronym “EDTF” or the phrase “Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund”. But there are three components in the EDTF family. The first is the founding body of all things EDTF, namely the “EDTF Advisory Council” (hereinafter referred to “EDTF/AC“)  created by H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed in August 2018. The second is the “Friends of  EDTF, Inc.”, a nonprofit incorporated  in the State of Delaware, as amended, (hereinafter referred to as “FEDTF“) created by the EDTF Advisory Council with an IRS 501 c 3 exemption. The third is the Board of Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund incorporated in Ethiopia (hereinafter referred to as “EDTF Board Ethiopia“)  under the auspices of the EDTF/AC. I urge the reader to keep these distinctions in mind to avoid confusion in my discussion below. EDTF refers to the Fund itself.

Why I agreed to serve on the EDTF Advisory Council

I accepted PM Abiy’s appointment to chair the Advisory Council in August 2018 for several reasons:

1) I fully believed in PM Abiy’s message to diaspora Ethiopians that USD 1 could actually make a difference in the lives of 85 percent of Ethiopians who earn less than USD1 a day. As I explained in my July 2019 commentary, “For those who think $1 is nothing and cannot make a difference, I would like for them to ponder this: The vast majority of Ethiopians live on less than $1 a day. Factory workers in Ethiopia make $26 a month! A fresh university graduate in engineering makes $100 a month. There is the power of 1. Power of $1.”

2) I believed the Fund could be a focal point for diaspora Ethiopians to transcend the politics of ethnicity and identity, and by working together in the global EDTF enterprise transition to the politics of reconciliation and reconstruction.

3) I believed the Fund could eventually evolve into an intergenerational fund which could outlast its founders and even serve as a template for other types of trust funds that may come up in the future.

4) I believed the Fund, beyond its implementation in Ethiopia, could even spur African diasporic engagement with the continent in a unique and dynamic way. In December 2018 buoyed in hopeful confidence, I wrote, “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.”

5) I believed the time was right for diaspora Ethiopians to “make history together”, later to become an informal Fund slogan, “Making history together.”

Brief Background on EDTF

The Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF) is unquestionably the brainchild of H.E. Prime Minster Dr. Abiy Ahmed. On August 9, 2018, PM Abiy established a 15-member Advisory Council, later expanded to 17, to establish an Ethiopian diaspora trust fund. In the appointment instrument, the Council was charged with the responsibility of “undertaking a comprehensive plan for the Fund including mechanisms for high accountability and transparency, project selection criteria for funding and identification of practical means to generate wide public support…”

The Advisory Council declared its mission is “to finance projects that meet critical needs selected based on their potential to make the highest positive impact on groups and communities in Ethiopia in such areas as health, education, water and sanitation facilities, habilitation and rehabilitation of persons with disability, agricultural development, technology, small scale entrepreneurship and other income and employment generating projects.”

Since its inception, the Advisory Council has made extraordinary strides in achieving its objectives. A brief timeline of the Advisory Council’s significant achievements is worthy of historical recording.

August 2018. PM Abiy Ahmed issued a call to the global Ethiopian diaspora community to donate $1 a day to support critical projects in Ethiopia.

September 2018. EDTF published its Terms of Reference (TOR) which provides the rationale, principles, project approval principles, etc. of EDTF.

October 2018. The Advisory Council working around the clock managed to incorporate EDTF as a nonprofit “Friends of EDTF, Inc.” by successfully navigating federal regulatory requirements, make arrangement with banks and global payment processors and launching a robust website.

December 2018. The Advisory Council implemented its plan for a global support base by recruiting dozens of volunteers and establishing global chapters.

March 2019. The Advisory Council established a Secretariat in Ethiopia with the generous support of the U.N. Development Programme to begin preparatory work for project implementation.

May 2019. The EDTF/AC set up a Board of Directors for EDTF (BD/EDTF) in Ethiopia and fully registered EDTF under the Ethiopian societies and charities law.

July 2019. EDTF issued its first request for proposals (RFP) with a mid-September submission deadline.

August 2019. FEDTF received tax exemption in the U.S. and became a 501 (c) (3) organization: Tax ID: 83-2100439.

December 2019. Twenty-two projects were shortlisted by 78 experts organized in 26 project review teams with a panel of three experts in each team and presented 68 projects to the BD/EDTF by the Secretariat for consideration and approval.

February 2020. The BD/EDTF issued a press release announcing: “Following thorough review processes, which included technical, organizational capacity and budget review 22 projects were considered “Fundable”. Out of those so considered, 5 were selected for award on 6th February 2020 at the UNECA Conference Hall while the remaining 17 projects were to be further reviewed by the Secretariat and the Board to ensure that they fulfilled certain requirements brought out by the on-site organizational capacity assessment and budget review commissioned by EDTF before final Grant Agreements were to be signed.”

May 2020. EDTF created a new EDTF Emergency COVID-19 Account and donated USD1.1 million worth of PPE and related medical items which were delivered in all regions of Ethiopia and the two principals cities for COVID-19 mitigation in Ethiopia.

December 2020. EDTF created an Emergency Medical Relief Fund and donated USD500 thousand to help meet urgent health and medical needs by providing critical life-saving medical supplies.

Basic facts on EDTF

EDTF was established on the express promise to donors that 100 percent of all donations will be dedicated to project implementation. No donations will be used for administrative or any other another purposes.

EDTF is 100 percent supported by volunteers. Only the Secretariat in Ethiopia is paid with support from the United Nations Development Programme.

EDTF is 100 percent inclusive of all Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia willing to donate $1 a day.

EDTF conducts its business with maximum transparency and accountability. EDTF prides itself in being an open book to its donors and anyone else interested. All donors are listed on the EDTF website unless they expressly request anonymity. EDTF makes  weekly reports of donations received and posts audited financial statements and tax filings, and other policy and legal documents.

Reasons for my resignation

I. Abolition of the EDTF Advisory Council

On December 17, 2020, a virtual meeting of the FEDTF Board was held. There were two items on the agenda: 1) responding to a request by the Ethiopian Ministry of Health for emergency medical assistance in conflict areas in Northern Ethiopia and final adoption of the Amended Bylaws of the FEDTF (hereinafter “Amended Bylaws”). The Amended Bylaws were adopted on a 7-3 vote. I voted against the Amended Bylaws on several grounds, some of which are discussed below,  and refused to sign it as chairman. 

Article IV, section 1 of the Amended Bylaws provides: “The Board of Directors (the “Board”) comprising not less than 9 persons nor more than 18 persons shall be the supreme decision-making body of FEDTF.” In the 9-page Amended Bylaws, there is not a single reference to the EDTF Advisory Council.

Article IV, section 1 of the Original EDTF Bylaws (hereinafter “Original Bylaws”) provides, “The Advisory Council (AC), comprising of 17 members, shall be the supreme decision-making body of the FEDTF.” In the Original Bylaws, the “Advisory Council” is mentioned 19 times in a variety of contexts.

The EDTF Terms of Reference (TOR) or operational guidelines mention the “Advisory Council” 15 times. Sec. III (a) of the TOR sets forth 11 powers of the Advisory Council.

Before a final vote was taken on the Amended Bylaws on December 17, 2020, the matter was discussed. I objected stating that deletion of all references to the Advisory Council could engender an existential question for EDTF and FEDTF with far reaching ramifications. The very FEDTF which abolished the EDTF/AC in its Amended Bylaws is itself a creature of the EDTF/AC. FEDTF got its IRS 501 c 3 certification based on the Original Bylaws which was set by the EDTF/AC as the “supreme decision-making body.” Tax filings were made consistent with the declared role of  the EDTF/AC. Keeping the EDTF Advisory Council in no way affects EDTF’s tax exempt status because the IRS approved EDTF’s tax exempt status fully cognizant of the role of the EDTF/AC in the Original Bylaws. I argued at the very least the Advisory Council should be retained in advisory capacity.

For me, the abolition of the founding Advisory Council in the Amended Bylaws is a clear indication that an entirely new organization has been established by the stroke of the pen in the Amended Bylaws. The EDTF/AC created FEDTF and not the other way around. It is my firm belief that if the founding EDTF/AC body is to be abolished, it should be done with advance notice and comment period for donors. Moreover, if the EDTF/AC is to be abolished, it should be done formally, or at least as matter of courtesy and respect, by notifying the Office of PM Abiy Ahmed which established the Trust Fund effort in the first place.

In my view, FEDTF without the EDTF/AC is a completely new organization with which I wish to have no association.

II. Use of Trust Funds for Reasons Other than Project Implementation- Breach of Trust

The Amended Bylaws under Article I, section 2, the Amended Bylaws provide, “any assets and income received by FEDTF on or after January 1, 2021 may also be used to fund fundraising and administrative costs, including staff expenditures, that are reasonably determined to further FEDTF’s objectives within the Board’s discretion…” Article VI, Sec. 1 provides: “The Secretariat is established, subject to the direction of the Board of Directors, to organize and perform the daily operations of FEDTF. The Secretariat shall carryout its operations through a team of managers comprising an Executive Director and such other managers as may be determined by the Board (the “Management Team”).

In my view, these provision goes against the very essence of EDTF. EDTF has always assured donors that 100 percent of all donations and contributions will be used for project implementation. EDTF took pride in the fact that no donations and will be used for administrative or other purposes. Indeed, a separate “operational fund” was created for this purpose enabling willing donors to make contributions. Indeed, through a modest operational fund, we have been able to cover the basic cost of operation.

I acknowledge the fact that EDTF has reached a point where it cannot conduct its affairs solely on the generosity of volunteers. I have no objection to EDTF having a professional staff like most similarly situated nonprofit organization. Such is not the nature of my objection.

My objections revolve around two fundamental issues. First, I consider the 26 thousand donors as the ultimate sovereigns of EDTF. If a fundamental policy change of this magnitude is to be adopted, donors must be notified in advance, given an opportunity to comment and even to decide whether or not a portion of their particular contributions should go to support other things, including a Secretariat. I believe it to be an egregious breach of trust to promise donors their contributions will go to project implementation and deliver to them a fait accompli, a done deal over which they have no say. In my view, that is not only a breach of trust with EDTF donors but also a flagrant disregard of the principles of accountability and transparency EDTF has proclaimed and championed since its inception.

Second, there is no indication in Article VI of the Amended Bylaws what percentage of donations will be used for the operation of the Secretariat. Informed opinion suggests, “typical nonprofits spend from 15 to 40 percent of revenue on administrative costs.” If EDTF is to perform as a “typical nonprofit”, it would have to spend 15 to 40 percent of its donations on administrative costs. Such diversion of donations should be regarded as a matter of extraordinary importance to donors. In my view, donors should be given an opportunity to be heard on this issue. To be sure, I believe EDTF donors are entitled to know exactly what percentage of their current or future donations will be used for administrative purposes and how that diversion of donations could affect current and future EDTF project implementation.

Third, repurposing donations that have been pledged for a very specific purpose manifestly violates U.S. criminal laws. In August 2020, former Trump advisor Steve Bannon was indicted for violating his declared purpose that “100% of the funds raised … will be used in the execution of our mission and purposes…” Bannon was charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering for using it for other purposes. EDTF in all of its public statements, press releases and other means has always represented “100 percent of all donations will go to project implementation.”  Today, EDTF donations may be used for a Secretariat. I cannot imagine what they can be used for tomorrow. It is the proverbial slippery slope. Regardless, I cannot agree with any actions that could potentially create exposure to criminal prosecution.

Fifth, informed opinion suggests:

Board directors need to take special care in handling matters of grants and donations when the board is in the process of making changes to the mission, bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. Timing can be of the utmost importance.

The charitable trust doctrine states that charitable organizations must use donations for the express purpose that they were received at the time of the donationIf a charitable organization accepts a donation and then substantially changes its mission, they should contact the donor with an explanation. It’s proper for the organization to offer to return the funds if the donor objects to the new mission or requests the nonprofit to return the donation. (Italics added.)

I have informed my colleagues on the EDTF/AC and FEDTF Board that there is a right way to make changes. Doing it right requires  1) notifying donors in advance of the FEDTF Board’s decision to use future Trust Funds for administrative and related purposes along with the relevant details; and 2) informing donors of their choice to allow their future donations to be used for administrative and related purposes, among other things.

I cannot be part of an organization which, in my view, straddles dangerously on the edge of potentially violating U.S. criminal laws and must therefore resign.

III. Unfair Treatment/ Denial of Due Process to EDTF Short-listed Project Applicants

In July 2019, EDTF issued its request for proposals under the theme “Ethiopian Diaspora – Partnership to Improve Social and Economic Wellbeing of Ethiopians in Need”. A submission deadline of September 16, 2020 was established. Meticulously detailed guidelines for proposal preparation and submission were made public. An update with timelines was subsequently issued. Project proposals were reviewed by volunteer Ethiopian experts in a variety of fields recruited from Ethiopia and the global Ethiopian Diaspora community. These experts were organized in 26 Project Review Teams (PRTs), each team consisting of panels of 3 members. The PRTs reviewed and ranked each proposal according to criteria set for proposal submissions. After the PRTs performed a full review of 242 proposals, 68 were found to meet the established criteria, out of which the Secretariat presented 22 projects to the Board of Directors for their consideration and approval.

On December 31, 2019, EDTF Board in Ethiopia announced its 22 shortlisted projects which “will undergo a final implementation capacity assessment and budget review.”

The 22 shortlisted projects in no particular order are the following (F= Funded).  

(F) Korah Great Hope Charity Organization (KGHCO) on Water and Sanitation Hygiene promotion at Woreda 01 of Kolfe Keraniyo Sub-City.

(F) Hiwot Integrated Development Organization (HIDO) on Education, Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Services for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC).

Organization for Women in Self Employment (WISE) on Women Employment Enhancing the employability and competitiveness of underprivileged young and adult women in Addis Ababa.

Federation of Ethiopian National Associations of Persons with Disabilities – FENAPD on Women & Youth & Rehabilitation Improving the livelihood of women and youth with disability, Addis Ababa, Oromia, SNNPR, Amhara, and Tigray.

Beza Posterity Development Organization on Child Protection Collaborative and Indigenous Action to Prevent Child Marriage and FGM (CIAPCm) in Afar Region.

(F) Pro Development Network on Water Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion of Safe Water Supply, Hygiene and Sanitation for Hard- to -Reach Communities Using renewable energy in Afar and Tigray Region.

Organization for Rehabilitation and Development in Amhara (ORDA) on Water and Sanitation Yilmana Densa WASH Project.

(F) — Help for Persons with Disabilities-Organization (HPD-O) on Education Build the fulfilling capacity of special needs education units in selected primary schools for the provision of specialized services for neglected children with disabilities to be effectively and meaningfully integrated with regular school system.

Network of Charitable Association of HIV Positive for Health and Development NAPHAD) on Sanitation Come on Clean (COC); Action Against Open Defecation and Waste Dumping.

Ethiopian Red Cross Society on Water and Sanitation for Internally Displaced People Integrated WASH and Livelihood Recovery Project for Conflict Displaced Population in Central Gondar Zone.

Shayashone Trading PLC on Food, Income and Nutrition Security / Youth Employment, Promoting Hermetic Storage Technologies (PICS Bags) for Household food-income- Nutrition Security and Job Opportunity for youth in Amhara, SNNPR and Oromia regions.

Boro-Shinasha Development Association (Boro-SDA) on Agriculture Youthful Agribusiness Development Project in Benishangul Gumuz Region in Benishangul Gumuz Region.

Dire Dawa Agriculture, Water Mine and Energy Bureau on Irrigation and Water Supply Hasenliso irrigation development and potable water supply project.

Mathiwos Wondu – YeEthiopia Cancer Society on Health, Cervical Cancer. Strengthening access for Cervical Cancer Screening in Gambella, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz Regions of Ethiopia in Gambella, Afar, Benshangule Gumuz

Haramaya University on Solid Waste Management/Income Generation Waste-to-Wealth: Eco-friendly Approaches for Sustainable Solid Waste Management in Harar City, Ethiopia in Harar.

Siiqqee Women’s Development Association (SWDA) on Agri-Business Development for Internally Displaced People Reestablishment of livelihoods for Internal Displaced people in Oromia Regional State, Oromia Regional State.

Oromo Self Reliance Association (OSRA) on Health and Education Clean water supply, improved sanitation facilities and hygiene promotion for rural communities and schools located in four woredas of Oromia Region.

Bole Bible Baptist church Child Care and Community Development (BBBC) on Education Enlightenment Through Education (ETE) Project in Oromia

(F) Gurmuu Development Association (Gurmuu) on Education Enhancing educational provision in four primary schools through improving children learning environment in Oromia Regional State.

Hadiya Development Association (HAD) on Education Daneto Secondary School Upgrading Project, Soro Woreda, Hadiya Zone, SNNPRS.

Tigrai Development Association (TDA) on Education Help the Child for Lifelong Learning (HCLL Project).

Association Develop Horn (AD-Horn) – Rehabilitation of Disabled People Empowering the Differently Able and Work Towards the Hidden Reality II: Support peoples with hearing impairment(deaf) and autistic children in Jijiga city administration, Ethiopia Somali Regional State.

On February 21, 2020, EDTF Board in Ethiopia announced “Out of those so considered, 5 were selected for award on 6th February 2020 at the UNECA Conference Hall while the remaining 17 projects were to be further reviewed by the Secretariat and the Board to ensure that they fulfilled certain requirements brought out by the on-site organizational capacity assessment and budget review commissioned by EDTF before final Grant Agreements were to be signed.”

In May 2020, the EDTF Board Ethiopia signed project award and financing agreements with Implementing Partners and the “Board approved five projects for immediate financing.” Moreover, “The Board had also approved in principle 16 other projects for funding on condition that they take necessary actions and fill the gaps that were identified by the External Consultants during onsite, organizational capacity assessment and budget reviews.” (Emphasis added.)

In August 2020, after 5 months of urging by myslef ad a few EDTF/AC members, including ing viting on the issue and the continued opposition of others, the first installment payment was made to the Implementers of the five projects.

The question is what happened to the 17 other shortlisted projects that had met all requirements incluidng the independent onsite  organizational capacity assessment and budget review team?

The answer is nothing!

It remains a heartache for me to see the 17 organizations that met all requirements including some minor adjustments that the organizational capacity review team requested still continued to ignored and disregarded by EDTF Ethiopia Board and EDTF/AC and FEDTF. A number of heads of these organizations communicated with me personally asking why they are not being funded or updated on their status. I could not respond because I believed the reasons were internal to EDTF Board Ethiopia.

In her resignation email, the EDTF Board Ethiopia Vice Chair wrote, “I do not agree with the way in which project eligibility and selection process is proceeding. I think the process as laid out by the criteria which we had set out and approved and was publicly disclosed to potential Implementing Organizations and our diaspora donors should be followed. I do not agree with changing the process in the middle of the selection process in which countless Ethiopian Diaspora and non-Diaspora Review Teams that were approved by the Board participated and in addition was reviewed by a subsequent professional Technical Review Team selected by UNDP and approved by the Board.” (Italics added.)

The fact of the matter is that the 17 shortlisted projects have met all the requirements and are eligible of funding including capacity and budget review. In my view, they never got a chance! They were victims of bait and switch. In my view, those who submitted proposals that are part of the 17 shortlisted projects  have a legal and moral right to be funded or be given convincing reasons why they should not be. Under no circumstances should they have been ignored, disrespected and disregarded after they had gone through so much effort and expense to prepare and submit their proposals. I believe those who submitted the 17 shortlisted projects have been denied due process and fair treatment by EDTF Board Ethiopia and EDTF/AC & FEDTF. It would be the height of hypocrisy for me to proclaim I fight for human rights when the rights of those who have fulfilled all requirements are denied due process and fairness under my watch. To those who submitted the 17 shortlisted projects and were ignored, I and, and I believe a few of my EDTF/AC colleagues, join me in offering our deepest apologies. All I can say is I did the best I can to get them a fair shake, but my best was not good enough. I am sorry, truly sorry.

I cannot be part of an organization that flagrantly disregards due process and fairness.

IV. Conflict of Interest on EDTF Board Ethiopia

Following the February 21, 2020 announcement, I am informed and believe there was disagreement on EDTF Board Ethiopia over which projects to fund. That disagreement apparently led to the resignation of the Board chair and an attempt by certain Board members to replace the chair who had tendered his resignation.

In the meantime, evidence surfaced that certain EDTF Board Ethiopia members may have been involved in a conflict-of-interest situation in the submission of project proposals. I am informed and believe EDTF Board Ethiopia sought guidance from the Agency for Charities and Societies (ACSO)) and the office of the Prime Minister.

On April 14, 2020, ACSO issued its final determination on conflict-of-interest allegations in a directive written in English finding: “… It is the Agency’s considered opinion that the two directors:1) acknowledge their failure to declare conflict of interest; and 2) undertake to abide by the provisions of the Bylaws of EDTF, FDRE’s Civil Society Organization Proclamation No. 1113/2019- as well as decisions of the Board including the terms of the Code of Conduct and Board Procedures agreed in the discharge of their duties as Directors.”

In a Directive to Take Remedial Action, dated April 20, 2020, ACSO made findings of fact on a variety of governance issues on the EDTF Board Ethiopia and made specific remedial recommendations.

The issue of conflict-of-interest is of the utmost importance for me. I have taken great pride in the fact that EDTF practices maximum accountability and transparency. I declared it in October 2018. I repeated in July 2019, “EDTF conducts its business with maximum transparency and accountability. EDTF prides itself in being an open book to its donors and anyone interested.” I repeated it again in January 2020. In between, I have declared EDTF’s commitment to accountability and transparency dozens of times in my speeches, interviews, public statements and communications. Suffice it to say I have made every effort within my power to make accountability and transparency synonymous with EDTF. Allegations of conflict-of-interest eviscerate the very lifeline of a nonprofit organization. There is nothing more devastating to a nonprofit organization than allegations of conflict of interest and breach of fiduciary duty. Therefore, I cannot continue service in an organization operating under the cloud of allegations of conflict-of-interest.

V. Sitting on Millions of Dollars and Not Funding Projects

My understanding has always been that donors made contributions to EDTF so that EDTF/AC, FEDTF and EDTF Board Ethiopia could fund projects on the basis of accountability and transparency and exacting criteria open to donor scrutiny. I do not believe for a moment that donors made contributions so that EDTF leadership at any level could hoard it and ask for more donations. I believe it is best to properly use donations for projects, demonstrate the money is put to good use and ask donors to contribute more. To date, EDTF has collected over USD7 million. A total of USD $1 million was transferred to the Ethiopia Covid-19 mitigation fund and USD500 thousand to the Emergency Relief Fund; USD1.3 million has been committed to the five approved projects; USD4.7 million remains uncommitted. The full breakdown is available on the EDTF homepage. Had the 17 shortlisted projects, or any number of them subject to operational and budget review, had been funded, EDTF’s achievements today would have been stellar.

Donations to EDTF over the past year are trickling in to preceding years. Without a doubt, the hardest question I get from donors is, “Why should we donate more when you have not used the donations we have already given you?”

Truth be told, I have no reasonable answer for these questions!

I cannot continue to serve in an organization that manifestly is not willing to fund projects that have been deemed worthy of funding by panels of expert reviewers.

VI. Loss of UNDP Support for Inaction

It is with great consternation that I should mention the UN Development Programme which provided funding to support an EDTF Secretariat in Ethiopia. In April 2019, the UNDP declined to renew the employment contracts of the EDTF Secretariat staff citing “the crises in EDTF management”, although after several months hiatus it provided funding at a lower level until December 31, 2020. During our announcement of the 22 shortlisted projects in February 6, 2020, a top UNDP representative told us of the possibility of UNDP partnering with EDTF in the coming year.  I am fully confident that if we had done what we needed to do with EDTF in funding projects, implementing them, etc. the UNDP would have seriously considered continuing support of our Secretariat. Regardless, I have nothing to say to UNDP except to offer my profound thanks and apologies.

The fact of the matter is that for effective and successful implementation of EDTF projects, a Secretariat or similar body is necessary in Ethiopia to continuously monitor and verify project implementation. Without UNDP support, I know of no other ready means to fund such a vital body in Ethiopia. I do not believe the  presumed Secretariat to be established under the Amended Bylaws in the U.S. will be in a position to monitor project implementation in Ethiopia. This matter requires urgent attention.

EDTF in its defining moment

There was once a man in highest office in Ethiopia who derisively remarked, “Diasporans can start things but do not finish.” If one were to give credence to that man’s augury, prediction, one could conclude the ghost of that man casts a long shadow on the EDTF enterprise. Only the living can cast shadows.

Every organization, large or small, will have the chance to define the moment or be defined by it. I do not aim to understate the troubling pattern of events in the operation and management of EDTF in Ethiopia and stateside. On February 10, 2020, the Executive Director of the EDTF Secretariat resigned his position citing reasons pointing to his inability to work with the Board. On February 29, 2020, the Chairman of the EDTF Board of Directors in Ethiopia resigned pointing to his inability “to transform the group into a truly viable working team.” On March 6, 2020, the Vice Chair resigned pointing to specific critical “board governance issues” and warning these issues will “undermine the EDTF, which I cannot stand by and watch.” The EDTF/AC, FEDTF chair and treasurer have also resigned from FEDTF. This pattern should suggest to donors there are extraordinary challenges in EDTF’s immediate and long-term prospects.

I appeal to EDTF donors and supporters not to fall in a fatalism of “I told so. I knew it. What I feared has occurred…” We must all join hands to support the EDTF enterprise so that it can operate with maximum accountability and transparency and with ultimate loyalty to donors.

The foundation of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund is TRUST.

The foundation of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund is TRUST. Trust of donors in the integrity of the leadership who direct it. Trust in the process of grantmaking and administration. Trust in the fact that donations will be safe from conflict of interest. Trust, trust, trust…

At this moment, my trust in the operation and management of the EDTF enterprise is at the lowest point. With a heavy heart, I must resign my chairmanship of FEDTF. Inc.

My resignation may surprise some and shock others. Still others may not give it much thought. Some may ask why they were not informed of things in real time and other similar questions. I shall defer addressing those issues for a later time.

Be that as it may, I am glad and proud to be able to serve and contribute even in a small way to the EDTF enterprise. I have done my best to lead and sustain the EDTF enterprise. It is my greatest honor and privilege to have been able to contribute in a small way to improving the lives of my brothers and sisters in Ethiopia.

EDTF was founded on the twin principles of accountability and transparency. I am proud to say that under my watch that objective has been achieved. EDTF’s audited financial statements bear that out. Related accountability and transparency is a question raised by some about whether EDTF was at any time under the influence or pressure of the Ethiopian government in its operations or allocations. The answer is a resounding NO! Under my chairmanship of ADTF/AC and FEDTF, there has been no direct or indirect action by any element of the Ethiopian government to influence, shape or affect any aspect of EDTF activities or operation. I would not have it any other way!

Like charity, accountability and transparency begin at home. That is the principal reason I have issued this statement. I am sure there will remain many questions in the minds of donors. In due course, those questions will be answered.

Special thanks and appreciation… With malice towards none and charity towards all…

I resign my chairmanship with charity towards all and malice towards none.

I should like to thank all members of the EDTF family for their extraordinary contributions and support.

First and foremost, I thank the 26 thousand donors globally who contributed $1 a day to help us collect over USD$7 million to date. Without them, there is no EDTF!

Second, I thank EDTF AC members for their extraordinary service in setting up EDTF and making it a successful enterprise. It is a privilege and an honor to work with so many professionals who made significant financial and technical contributions and dedicated their Sundays to EDTF for so long.

Third, I thank all volunteers who served as the backbone of EDTF since its inception. EDTF volunteers gave their time, money and resources freely because they believe in the EDTF cause.

Fourth, I thank all EDTF global chapter members who remain the driving engines of our local engagement campaigns.

Fifth, I thank the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) for their generous support in establishing the EDTF Secretariat in Ethiopia. I deeply appreciate UNDP’s confidence in our mission and objectives.

Sixth, I thank EDTF Ethiopia Board Chair Eyesuswork Zafu and Vice Chair Dr. Mehret Mandefro for their extraordinary leadership and all other Board members for their extraordinary service. It has been an honor and privilege working with them.

Seventh, I thank Dr. Bisrat Aklilu, EDTF Treasurer for his meticulous attention to EDTF financial details and extraordinary service to EDTF. Dr. Bisrat came to EDTF with a wealth of experience. In 2013, just before his retirement from the UN, he “had a portfolio of over 100 UN Trust Funds with $6 billion funding and was the first UN Office to introduce full public transparency through real-time financial and narrative reporting.” I am proud to say Dr. Bisrat was the wind under the wings of EDTF.

Eight, I thank the EDTF Secretariat in Ethiopia. To me, they were the “dream team”, consummate professionals.

Ninth, I thank the professionals and experts who spent many hours evaluating hundreds of EDTF proposals and made recommendations on funding.

Last but not least, I thank H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. But for PM Abiy Ahmed there would not have been EDTF, EDTF Advisory Council, Friends of EDTF or any other EDTF related entity. PM Abiy has always urged diaspora Ethiopians to leave their footprints and fingerprints in Ethiopia.  It is said that good leaders share a vision and inspire others to help them turn their vision into reality. PM Abiy Ahmed is a leader of extraordinary vision and ability and I thank him profoundly for inspiring us to launch EDTF. What we make of EDTF is the responsibility of diaspora Ethiopians, and diaspora Ethiopians only.

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

2 Comments

  1. The first impression after reading this rather abrupt, squabbling and undemocratic resignation letter is that it’s a complete letdown of the global Ethiopian Diaspora community, which is made up of so many brilliant, professional, capable, patriotic people who could have taken EDTF to the next level. It’s also a major letdown of PM Abiy Ahmed’s vision and confidence in the organization.  So, all considered,  it’s fundamentally disappointing to those of us who are supporters of EDTF to see it devolving into this type of pettiness and public airing of dirty laundry over a simple policy disagreement about the direction of the organization. It’s also dismaying that as a former chair that you chose to thank only a handful of people while ignoring the majority of the founding board members who are all 100% volunteers and each of them in their own right accomplished and respected members of the Diaspora.  In every organization of this kind in the U.S. it is very common to have policy differences. The main role of the chair is to be open to new ideas and to accommodate everyone as well as facilitate a discussion and debate then resolve the agenda item through a vote according to the bylaws of the organization.  Once the majority of the board members have voted for or against an issue then the matter is settled. Everyone gets behind the decision and moves on to the next step. If the losing side resigns ever time it comes short of a vote then there would not be any organization left. So furthermore, this is also a failure of leadership, lack of democratic culture and not having the right temperament for the position. EDTF  is no longer only about raising money and donating all of it. Over the last couple of years it’s responsibilities have expanded and grown to include reviewing several grant applications per year, conducting interviews, and making a selection of winners based on a set of criteria, which means it requires hiring a dedicated professional assistance that’s not free. That’s why the reasoning and demeanor behind this resignation makes no sense and shows that there is more to the story than the eye meets. You may not agree with it, but there is nothing wrong for EDTF board members to discuss the possibility of hiring a regular staff like any other major non-profit by setting aside a budget to cover overhead costs of some percentage as needed including 10%, 15% or 20% and more  depending on the demand of the workload and the objective to sustain the organization..

    Now the question is could this have been handled in a different, more democratic and dignified manner?  As an observer and from the perspective of a donor curious to know what the other side of the story is? Has the board approved your resignation? Did they have the opportunity to review and approve your public statement? If not, why not? Instead of you personally why did you not allow the board  to make the announcement of your departure as it is usually done in other similar entities? Why was there no publicly announced transition period? Or was your decision made on the heat of the moment? If that’s the case, then why? And what’s the plan moving forward for EDTF? Given the amount of money that was collected from the unsuspecting public, these are very important questions that the answers have not yet been properly articulated. The public deserves the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Hope EDTF will explain it’s side of the story in due course sooner than later.  Hope the independent  Diaspora media including the Voice of America will get to the bottom of it. If not for anything other than for the sake the people who gave their hard earned money, and to restore confidence in the Ethiopian Diaspora.  Still EDTF under a new leadership has unlimited potential to fulfill its long-term mission of constructively mobilizing Ethiopians around the world to invest in the future of their beloved Ethiopia.

    Thank you and God bless Ethiopia.

  2. First of all, I want to reveal that I withdrew my support to EDTF when the Addis Ababa youth were rounded up and taken to a military camp for helping the people from Burayu that were killed and evicted. I was so mad at PM Abiy for his inaction when such human rights violations were perpetrated on Addis Ababa youth instead of punishing the killer Qeros.
    Prof. Alemayehu is an outstanding man who devotes a lot of his time in defence of Ethiopia. The reasons he outlined for resignation is legitimate. To my knowledge, byelaws are changed by the members, not by the board. If he doesn’t want to be part of the fiasco, I don’t blame him.
    Add to that, the dysfunctionality in awarding the grants in Ethiopia. Why are they hoarding the money? I wouldn’t like to be a part of such enterprise.

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