Yordanos Eyoel isn’t your average entrepreneur. The fuel for the business model she’s developed for her company, Keseb, comes from matters of the heart.
“I would say a lot of the work that I do is informed by my own lived experience,” Eyoel told AFROTECH following her keynote during the opening day of the TEDWomen 2023 conference, Oct. 11 in Atlanta, GA.
“Experiences, but also growing up during a period of war and Ethiopia being multi-ethnic…even when I didn’t have language, I was hungering for a type of society that is both functional and inclusivity is embedded in the culture and how people interact,” she continued.
Her Biggest Inspirations
What’s more, she broke down the fuel for her passion as an entrepreneurial changemaker into three categories: faith, family, and wanting to make the world a better place.
“My biggest inspiration comes from three sources. My faith, which is what keeps me grounded,” Eyoel said. “My family, particularly my grandfather, who spent his entire life in public service and was one of the architects of the Ethiopian literacy movement that continues to revolutionize adult literacy in the country. Then my mother, who gave up everything to move to the U.S. and sacrificed her own career, her own ambitions, everything. She left everything that she knew to give me a better life, so that’s another inspiration.”
Eyoel continued: “Finally, it’s the inspiration to make the world better. Like, I fundamentally believe that is possible, and I think we each have a responsibility to contribute to that and I’m trying to do it my own way.”
An Unlikely Introduction To Entrepreneurship
Oddly enough, she had no desire to become an entrepreneur, yet, her nonprofit organization, Keseb, was designed in May 2022 to help support, connect, and amplify democracy by “building an ecosystem for cross-country learning, collaboration, and innovation to counter authoritarianism and advance inclusive and resilient democracies.”
“I think there are certainly people who, from childhood, just know that they want to be an entrepreneur. That is their path,” Eyoel recalled. “That certainly was not me. I knew that I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t actually know what that path was going to look like.”
The journey for the CEO began when she spent over a decade of her early career in venture philanthropy, using VC to raise money and distribute it to visionary and innovative social organizations.
“In that capacity, I became an intrapreneur,” she explained. “I was doing innovative things like helping to launch initiatives with my former employees, and in doing that, I was working with entrepreneurs and I knew it was a hard job. I was like, ‘This is not something I want to sign up for.’”
Commitment To Making The World A Better Place
“This is where it comes back to my faith. My purpose,” Eyoel continued. “I felt like, coming out of 2020, I really felt called to address the crisis of democracy in this particular way, and there wasn’t an organization that was doing it in the way I really wanted to. By rallying, bridging what’s happening in the U.S., what’s happening in the international community, and trying to break through American exceptionalism.”
Keseb, which translates to “of the people,” keeps this built-in reminder of her purpose. Currently, Eyoel and the Keseb team are doing work that convenes people across borders to allow them to learn at a transnational level but also creates a space where they can talk about problems faced in countries across the globe. This enables them to come up with solutions and lift up the innovation of entrepreneurial leaders from all walks of life.
“We harvest insight from the groups that we work with, our network, and we also conduct interviews with our own research primarily for philanthropists, civil societies and other practitioners because people don’t have time,” Eyoel explained. “People are so busy doing the work that they don’t have time to go through things like academic research. We’re trying to figure out what needs to be done and we’re trying to bring that insight again from a transnational perspective.”
Looking ahead, Eyoel’s work will remain rooted in family and helping others to live life to the fullest.
“I want everybody to have the potential and the opportunity to live the life that they were created to live,” she shared.