Habtamnesh Mekonnen gets on her bike and swerves around the muddy potholes that the late October rains have left in Ziway. The town south of Addis Ababa is divided in two neighbourhoods (kebeles). She knows the area of kebele 02 well, however the road to work has not become routine yet. Only a few months ago, she left the family home and moved in with her husband. The second major change in the life of the 26-year old who is better known under the name of ‘Mimi’. The first change happened in 2006. While looking for a job, a friend told her about a new rose farm in town. She applied admitting that she “only knew flower farms from television”.

Still, Frank Ammerlaan, the managing director at AQ Roses saw a lot of potential and hired her. Today, the Dutch company counts 1,200 employees. Having worked as supervisor and then assistant farm manager, Mimi has seen the company grow both in staff and hectares. Her personal growth continued at Haramaya University where she finished her accounting degree in a weekend course over three and a half years. At AQ Roses, she now writes the shipment reports and by preparing the payrolls makes sure that everyone gets paid at the end of the month.  

Offer support

She parks her bike near the office and gracefully walks the last metres on her high heels. The company’s products greet her from the walls and small wooden side tables. She shares the office with four of her colleagues or ‘friends’ as she refers to them. Frank’s office is located across the hallway and his door is literally always open. “He is very patient. If you have any questions, you can always ask him and he will show you,” she says. His management style has motivated Mimi to become a manager herself one day. She believes that “as a manager, you can change a lot of things” and she would like to continue being able to touch on other people’s lives, just how Frank did on hers.  

“When I studied, I used to be dependent on what my family could spare,” she explains. This job allowed her to take on the role as breadwinner supporting her single mother and paying for her younger brother’s tuition fees. Now, she enjoys spending money on clothes or decoration and is able to save some of it for the next big change - her own house. With six of her friends, she also set up an ekube, a typical Ethiopian private saving scheme, where a fixed amount is collected by the group and given to a different member each month. But for some of her changes the market is not ready. “I would also spend around 25% of my salary on food, if there were any supermarkets,” she says. At the end of her working day, she stops by in the production hall to pick up a bunch of white Akito roses, a gift from the company that will add to the decoration of her own four walls.