Tsehai Conferences is now an annual event, initiated in 2006. It aims to bring Ethiopian and Ethiopianist intellectuals, artists, as well as leaders of civic and political organizations together in an environment conducive to both formal and informal exchanges in an effort to contribute to the international discourse on human rights, peace, economic growth, community development, education and art.
Tsehai Conferences prides itself on being a branch of Tsehai Publisher and Distributors, an independent publishing company committed to representing perspectives that would otherwise go unnoticed. Tsehai is renown for publishing works regarding Africa and, especially, Ethiopia.
In Amharic, Ethiopia’s national language, the word “tsehai” means the sun, to suggest illumination and/or enlightenment. This is precisely Tsehai’s mission. of thought, but, more fundamentally, a place where words and action coincide.
Tsehai, widely known for the books it publishes, conceives of the conference as an important supplement to its contribution to knowledge production. Indeed “it is an opportunity to get out of one’s desk and interact with the public, a page simply is not enough for people to truly understand the humanity behind the dialogue,” as Tsehai Conferences Founder and Convener Elias Wondimu said.
Tsehai Conferences hosts very important conversations regarding Ethiopia, a country that is among the top ten countries with the largest concentration of young people living on less than $1 USD per a day, according to the United Nations Youth Report. Ethiopia also has one of the highest concentrations of undernourished young people in Sub-Saharan Africa, which is notoriously impoverished. With the highest urban unemployment rates worldwide at about 50 percent, questions regarding education, employment, health and social services, participatory democracy, and access to technology are absolutely necessary. Other problems include, lack of political stability and system capable of incorporating divergent perspectives; Ethiopians continue to flee Ethiopia because they are denied the right to pursue their dreams; dependency on foreign aid to feed children has constantly been on the rise. Tsehai serves as a venue to discuss these issues and many more. Tsehai’s most fundamental wager is that unless these conversations take place, the current predicament will not improve, but furthermore is likely to worsen. Like we say at Tsehai, "If not us, who? If not now, when? If not here, where?”
Traditionally Tsehai Conferences is compromised of three components: (1) Panel Discussions (2) Workshop, which features sessions in strategic areas related to the conference's theme and is presented by experts and (3) Film Festival. It also presents awards annually to prominent leaders in the Ethiopian community.
Tsehai Conferences carefully grafts its themes to address new issues while maintaining a degree of continuity. In the past three years, the themes covered have included, respectively: “The State of Ethiopian Affairs and the Diaspora,” “Ethiopia: In the Eve of a New Millennium,” and “Ethiopia's Youth, Ethiopia's Future.” Tsehai’s first conference sought to begin a discussion on the larger daily issues several of the participants experience. Thereon, in the subsequent year, Tsehai proceeded to reflect on a particular moment, or milestone, in Ethiopian history – the millennial mark—and then sought to address a specific issue in light of this milestone, which entailed incorporating Ethiopian and Ethiopianists youth into the conversation about how to address issues Ethiopians face worldwide. As Wondimu framed it, “The conference is a recognition that the youth have arrived.” Simply put, there is growth through both the exchange of thought and the very relationships forged during the conferences.
The conference is widely seen as an intensive, life-changing experience where people will have access to positive, charismatic leaders in many fields and where they forge long-term relationships that will continue to inspire positive change in participants’ lives and society at large.
As Wendy Beltcher, an award-winning writer, academic editor, and professor who teaches African literature at Princeton University, put it, “[Tsehai’s first conference] was a landmark event--a chance for scholars and the public to gather to discuss matters of mutual interest. The level of dialogue and debate was outstanding.”
Helena Shimeles, Executive Director of Young Diplomats and panelist & workshop facilitator said, “Tsehai Conference provided a tremendous opportunity to initiate conversations that were long overdue!” Shimeless felt the experience was inspirational. “The whole experience reinforced my belief that diaspora youth have the passion to be social agents for change,” she explained. “The partnerships established at Tsehai acted as a catalyst to help make our (collective and individual) dreams come true.”
Nahom Minassie Beyene, advisor and former president of Ethiopian Students Association International, said, “The breadth of topics presented during the panels encourages all to expand their views on Ethiopian studies and issues.” The conference was enriching, Beyene added. “We find precious jewels of wisdom when we explore the challenges common to us all as Ethiopians across our varied professions and pursuits.” Nahom was also a conference panelist.
Tsehai collaborates with a variety of organizations, including, George Washington University, Loyola Marymount University, Howard University, George Mason University, Antioch University, Katten Muchin Rosenman, LLP, Ethiopian Review, the Ethiopian Heritage Foundation, the Ethiopian Institute for Nonviolence Education and Peace Studies and the African Academic Press just to name a few.
Tsehai Conferences, traditionally, depends a great deal on supplemental support from several sources. Tsehai seeks sponsors whose mission corresponds with Tsehai’s mission. The ideas discussed and debated at our conference instill the profound value of culture and community. Thereon as a community, ideas evolve to allow people to intervene and change material conditions for the purposes of pursuing a better tomorrow.
Tsehai’s conferences is open to the public. As Tsehai boasts, “Tsehai Conferences is where the conversation begins!”