Before you can tackle any problem successfully, you need to go to the root. Most of the problems in our society, especially the African society, as elaborate as they may seem, are caused by improper management at the grassroots. Atti Worku is an individual who is passionate about tackling issues at the grassroots levels. She is the founder and CEO of Seeds of Africa, a non-profit organization committed to investing in Ethiopia through education and community development programs. With their headquarters in New York City, Seeds of Africa operates mostly in Adama, Ethopia. She was born and raised in Adama, Ethiopia, before travelling the world as a fashion model. Her modelling career brought her to New York CIty, where she represented world-renowned fashion and beauty brands and later attended Columbia University. Atti graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Sustainable Development in 2014.
When asked why she founded Seeds of Africa, Atti explained that the exposure she got while studying in the United States made her realize that her life was shaped by one major variable that most Ethiopians unfortunately cannot access; a quality education. In her own words, “I was also frustrated by a Western worldview that viewed Africans living in poverty as passive and helpless. I decided to make a career transition from fashion to philanthropy”. She further explained that at Seeds of Africa, they believe that the poor know the solutions to their problems; they just need better resources to actualize solutions. “Our direction is determined by listening to the people we serve, and improving the local community’s self-reliance and participatory decision-making in poverty alleviation strategies,” Atti says. She describes it as her greatest accomplishment – Starting and leading Seeds of Africa, an organization that puts people and their integrity at the core of its values.
Seeds of Africa provides children and their larger networks with the resources they need to alleviate poverty, support themselves, and reinvest in their community. Since Seeds’ 2007 launch, they have developed a free-to-attend school in Ethiopia with a holistic curriculum, healthcare and nutrition for 250 students from pre-K to eighth grade, and they have empowered over 150 of their mothers and guardians to build small businesses and increase their household incomes through small business literacy and micro-loans.
Although they are making remarkable impact in Ethopia, Atti admits that their vision, for now, is to expand Seeds of Africa’s impact in other Ethiopian communities. She has no plans to expand to other countries of the world yet. “We want to facilitate the establishment of early childhood education centers that replicate Seeds’ multidimensional and innovative model across Ethiopia’s biggest cities while empowering local communities with income opportunities. Early childhood care and education is crucial to the long-term development and well-being of children, communities and countries. Children with adequate health, nutrition and care before the age of 5 can break the intergenerational cycle of poverty and inequality when they are well-equipped to develop to their full potential. We believe in our model’s effectiveness and look forward to scaling our impact”, Atti remarks.
Atti’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. She has been recognized and honoured with the African Diaspora Award for Community Service, and The African Youth Excellence Honorary Award. A fantastic public speaker, Atti has been a speaker and panelist at The United Nations, The Skoll World Forum, Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and Women4Climate. She contributes to Skoll.org on Racial Justice and Philanthropy and her essay on girls education as a global climate change solution was recently published in the book Why Women Will Save the Planet. Atti is recognized as one of the Most Influential People of African Descent, class of 2019.
Despite all this, Atti, like everyone else, sometimes has moments where she feels inadequate. She acknowledges that imposter syndrome is very real, especially for Black women. “The world tries to convince us we are not good enough, and sometimes it’s difficult not to internalize that,” Atti notes. However, Atti always remembers to draw strength from the women in her life who inspire her when she needs to remember how strong, powerful and resilient she is. “I think of my mother. I think of the women we work with at Seeds who have become entrepreneurs and breadwinners on their own terms. And suddenly, I am motivated to continue my work in their names”, Atti adds.
On work-life balance, Atti doesn’t sugarcoat things. “Life as a social entrepreneur isn’t all that balanced too but I don’t mind because I love what I do,” she admits. Atti goes on to describe herself as a woman passionate about eradicating poverty, empowering women, dismantling stereotypes and disrupting systems that are exclusionary based on race, gender and nationality. “Through Seeds, I am able to use my platform as an advocate and activist, and I’m proud to lend my voice to the global fight for equality and equity. I’m also passionate about food and the culinary arts, and I spend a lot of leisure time cooking and experimenting with new recipes, which I post to my Instagram Stories. Recently, I’ve started playing tennis, which was always a childhood dream of mine,” she states rather excitedly.
Atti’s perfect day usually starts with her making herself green juice and coffee before a yoga session. Then, she spends the day engaged with making decisions for Seeds of Africa. When she gets home, she revels in trying a new recipe for dinner, before winding down for the day by doing a puzzle. On a stressful day, she wakes up and focuses on fundraising for Seeds of Africa until the day ends, then she starts all over again the next day.
Atti’s advice for female social entrepreneurs is to be fearless and determined, and never let doubt seep in. For Atti, her ten-year journey in building Seeds to be a high-impact community-centered development organization has been incredibly rewarding, and equally challenging. She had to tackle stereotypes about her capabilities as a leader, and fight for a seat at the table in the global development field, becoming a voice for under resourced African women whose agency and abilities have historically been overlooked. “Stand by your work and ability to solve complex development issues for your community. You ARE an expert. When faced with challenges like being denied the tools you need to have a scalable impact, make a way and do it anyway. There will always be people who see your vision, so find your tribe early and let them support you.”