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Lessons from Wageningen

Featuring Michael Hailu, Director CTA (Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU)

In this post we bring some words of wisdom from a seasoned professional, Mr. Michael Hailu,  who was a  guest speaker at EPN’s Wageningen networking event on December 14, 2019. 

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Michael tells the story of an ambitious young man who started his journey in Ethiopia as an intern in an international research institution called ILCA. His professional journey has taken him from Ethiopia to the US, Kenya, Indonesia, and The Netherlands. In the last thirty years, he has served in various positions in international research companies which finally led to his assignment as Director of the Technical Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA).

From his impressive background, we did not want to pass the opportunity to share some of his advice for the EPN community and young professionals in general. Here are ten points he jotted down for us.

1. Always keep learning

Michael points out that learning never stops and you should always seek out courses and certificates that help you professionally. He laughingly warns that this doesn’t mean to grab every certificate out there but to select those that advance us in our career. A good example from his own experience is the Strategic leadership training he took at Stanford University in the US. Michael says this has helped him in his leadership and management positions across a couple of organizations. 

2. Challenge the status quo.

With this point, Michael mentions that unless you are willing to go further than what is set as the bar by others, you may find it hard to stand out from the rest, however good you are.

3.  Look for a win-win situation

This is a very important point, especially as you move up the ladder, Michael says. And he adds, finding win-win solutions may also require more effort, patience and some creative thinking.

4. Surround yourself with positive people

This may have been said by many but Michael points out something that we Ethiopians usually find hard to do: cutting out friends and associates who do not have a positive influence on our lives. He says with a smile, “Of course we might have those that we are stuck with for one reason or the another.” He says it is up to us to expand our horizon and include in our lives those people that we can earn from and those who can be our mentors.

5. Be respectful to your colleagues

As Ethiopian, we might say this is part of our culture, but Michael also stresses that this should be the case whether they are our juniors or seniors. What is more important to note here is that this does not mean we have to agree with every person’s idea but rather to convey our point respectfully. Here he mentions the Indonesian saying that “no one wants to lose face,” where it is always preferred by Indonesian to receive constructive feedback one-to-one and not “lose-face” In front of other people.

6. Strive for a work-life balance

Here Michael stresses that one must choose what kind of life one wishes to have, especially when undertaking an international career. He mentions that although these kinds of jobs offer a lot in professional advancement, they also introduce some challenges related to the repeated move away from loved ones, stress on spouses’ career, children’s schooling, and so on. He says as a young, ambitious person, one may neglect family, focusing on one’s work and later pay sacrifices in his or her family life.

7. Learn how to navigate politics

As professionals, this is often an overlooked issue, especially early on in our career. But as you move up the ladder, this becomes important and you should be aware of it. Michael points out that it helps if you have strong values to help you navigate your way through complex institutional politics without losing your focus and reach your goals.

8.  Time passes much faster than you think

No surprises there, right? No matter how often you hear this, sometimes you find yourself wondering where your time goes and even surprised as you count the days, months, or years that have passed by since you started working. Michael admits that sometimes he also procrastinates on some issues, but he advises to do what you planned without much delay. Time will be passing anyway. You might as well do that thing you planned last year or last month!

9.  A bad decision is better than no decision

Michael borrows this quote to pass on to us that the fear of not making the right decision should not hold us back from making one. In any case, you might think you made a bad decision, only to find out later that it was after all not such a bad one or vice-versa. So, when the time comes, make your decision. You either succeed or learn from your mistakes; both take you a step forward!

10.  Embrace Change

This last one is especially fitting for our time, where everything seems to be changing fast. Michael shares a story of how being appointed to new positions thousands of miles away from his homeland had been difficult each time. Still, those changes had come with rewards and enriching experiences that would not have been achieved otherwise. He also remarks, with the rapid pace of change in climate, technology, and politics, our survival depends on being able to adapt to this dynamic situation.

Finally, we would like to part with Michael’s encouraging words: You have already embraced change by coming to the Netherlands as students, professionals or otherwise, it would not be too difficult to make the next step. Go for it! We would like to hear your story.

Stay tuned for our next networking event! 

Our deep gratitude  goes to

Mr. Michael Hailu,

Yodit Kebede, for organizing the event

Attendees at Wageningen event, for joining us

 Center for Agriculture and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU, for providing the venue

Kisanet Haile, for the speaker notes

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