Skip Navigation
Azeb Tadesse of the African Studies Center wins UCLA campus-wide staff awardAzeb Tadesse accepting the 2013 Excel Award. (Photo: Peggy McInerny.)

Azeb Tadesse of the African Studies Center wins UCLA campus-wide staff award

Deputy Director of the African Studies Center Azeb Tadesse, who has been employed at the center since 1999, has won the 2013 Excellence in Leadership (Excel) Award of the UCLA Administrative Management Group.

By Peggy McInerny
Director of Communications

“People at UCLA don’t understand how important the African Studies Center is in Africa, where it enjoys tremendous respect on the ground, as does UCLA as a whole,” said Azeb Tadesse.

International Institute, June 10, 2013 — Deputy Director of the African Studies Center Azeb Tadesse was formally presented the 2013 UCLA Excellence in Leadership (Excel) Award at the annual Staff Honors Reception on June 6th. The reception was held at the Chancellor’s Residence on the UCLA campus.
 
The Excel Award of the UCLA Administrative Management Group (AMC) is granted to only one staff member a year. A staff organization, AMC is devoted to the professional development of managers on the UCLA campus, as well as those who aspire to become managers. According to the its website, “the [Excel] award is designed to recognize those individuals who have had a significant and lasting impact on the people they lead, exemplify management excellence and have made broad contributions to the campus as a whole.” Candidates — who may be nominated by staff, faculty or students — are evaluated according to four criteria: leadership, effectiveness, accountability and dedication.
 
Working with people in a collaborative spirit comes naturally to Tadesse, who frequently visited her father’s office at Ethiopian Airlines as a child and observed how he worked with others. That office was usually abroad, as her family followed her father to a series of postings in countries around the world, beginning when Tadesse was 2 years old. Those moves were always made on a consultative basis, with the family given a voice in the final decision — a practice that seems to have had a significant impact on her approach to management. 
 
“I don’t really ‘manage’ people,” said Tadesse, “I prefer to think of it as interacting with people and working towards a common goal. It’s what I’ve learned by example,” she continued, “I find working this way to be more productive and more conducive to a team atmosphere. If you have the right people, you can trust them to do their jobs. If you find that something isn’t getting done, then you have a conversation and perhaps end up providing someone additional resources. I don’t believe in punitive management,” she stressed, “You don’t have to be authoritarian to get things done.”
 
Tadesse ended up in Los Angeles by a circuitous route. After a long period abroad, her family moved home to Ethiopia in the later years of the Derg government of dictator Mengitsu Haile Mariam. “We didn’t have any idea how different or repressive it was,” she said. After realizing it was unfeasible for them to remain, the family applied for and received political asylum in the United States, moving to Los Angeles in 1985 when Tadesse was a teenager. 
 
Today, she is one of a growing number of people in the world who live between two countries; in her case, the United States and Ethiopia. Calling it the “ultimate globalization experience,” Tadesse finds her transnational existence to be “mind opening.” Not only does she have a deep understanding of the popular cultures of both countries, she has friends living all over the globe.
 
The UCLA African Studies Center, said Tadesse, is both her educational and professional home. “I’m a product of UCLA,” said Tadesse, “and of the African Studies Center specifically.” (She completed a B.A. in history, followed by an M.A. in African Studies, at UCLA.)  The campus affiliation has a family dimension as well: her brother and sister also completed undergraduate and graduate degrees here. 
 
Tadesse’s work at the Center began with a six-month research project under then Center Director and UCLA Political Science Professor Ed Keller. Over the course of her 14 years there — she says it doesn’t seem that long — she has progressed through a number of positions, including research associate, academic program coordinator, assistant director and now, deputy director. Each one of those positions, she remarked, required a different perspective and different training. 
 
She finds the African Studies Center a highly stimulating place to work, a place where she has seen firsthand the role that research can play in foreign policy and how conferences and public talks can effectively broaden people’s understanding of Africa. The Center has been in the front row of the history of how the west engages Africa in modern times, she said. Its associated UCLA faculty are, she added, a fantastic group of people — giving, committed and cooperative. “ Our partners in Africa,” she continued, “know we are going to go above and beyond to meet our commitment on projects and linkages.”
 
Tadesse finds it unfortunate that the African Studies Center is not as well recognized on campus as it is in both Africa and the United States overall. “People at UCLA don’t understand how important the Center is in Africa, where it enjoys tremendous respect on the ground, as does UCLA as a whole,” she said. UCLA alumni— both African and American — can be found all over Africa in ministries and international organizations, she pointed out. “Wherever you travel in Africa, people have heard of UCLA and many in the older generation know who James Coleman is,” she noted.
 
A world-renowned Africanist scholar who more or less singlehandedly created the field of African studies in American academia, James S. Coleman was a UCLA professor of political science who founded the Center in 1959. After teaching at UCLA for 12 years, he worked at the University of East Africa (Uganda) and the University of Nairobi (Kenya), and for the Rockefeller Foundation in East Africa and Zaire, before returning to UCLA. He eventually became the director of the International Studies and Overseas Programs, now known as the International Institute.
 
“I’m very committed to Africa,” said Tadesse. At the African Studies Center, that commitment has translated into a profession. The reputation of the Center and the achievements of its past leaders have allowed her to pick up where her predecessors left off, she noted. Tadesse also credits UCLA with providing its employees the space to creatively make their jobs their own — the job description is just a starting point, she said. Tadesse wears many hats as deputy director and has a large degree of autonomy, conditions that have enabled her to continually grow and take on new projects in the Center’s multidisciplinary environment.
 
At present, she is administering a grant for a partnership with the Kigali Institute of Education (KIE) in Rwanda to build that institution’s capacity to increase its outreach, recruitment, and retention of young women in its Teacher Training College, as well as to develop gender-sensitive instruction. She and African Studies Center Director Françoise Lionnet wrote the successful grant application for the project on less than one month’s notice last year!
 

From left to right: Ron Sugano (International Institute); Ed Keller (UCLA Political Science Department); Azeb Tadesse (African Studies Center); Françoise Lionnet (African Studies Center); and Cindy Fan (Vice Provost–International Studies, Interim) at the Excel Award ceremony. (Photo: Peggy McInerny.)
The partnership involves making resources on gender equity research and gender-sensitive pedagogy developed across the UCLA campus available to KIE, then supporting it to implement these resources within its specific cultural and institutional context. 
 
A two-member KIE delegation recently completed a two-week stay at UCLA in May, during which they worked intensively with colleagues from the UCLA Center for the Study of Women and the UCLA School of Education. “Not only did they greatly enjoy their stay here,” said Tadesse, “they were very impressed with what the different campus units had prepared for them. And they saw immediately how they could incorporate these processes and ideas into their operations, particularly their existing teacher training program.”
 
Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through Higher Education for Development, the UCLA-KIE partnership is one of five international higher education partnerships funded by USAID in Armenia, Paraguay, Rwanda and South Sudan under a broader effort known as the Women’s Leadership Program. 
 
Tadesse and Lionnet specifically designed the Memorandum of Understanding between UCLA and KIE to leverage the current project to build broader collaboration between the two institutions when the current project ends in two-and-half years. Their ideas for future joint activities include increasing the number of Africans pursuing Ph.Ds. at UCLA and distance-learning projects.
 
Despite managing the KIE partnership and the Center’s busy schedule of conferences and public talks, Tadesse already has her eye on future projects. One such project could become a valuable, campus-wide resource: making the Center for African Studies’ website a portal to all UCLA projects in Africa. There are a wide variety of projects in Africa being run by different departments and professional schools on campus, and coordinating that information would be useful for all involved, she said. That’s just the kind of manager she is. 
 

African Studies Center