Yetnebersh Nigussie: The Ethiopian Blind Visionary Fighting The Cause of the Underprivileged

Yetnebersh Nigussie may be blind to everyine around her but make no miistake about her clear vision when it comes to her passion for the disable and human civil rights. Thus Ethiopian lawyer is geared up and ready to continue firing all cylinders for inclusion for the disabled and changing the mindset of the world towards them. Her loss of sight is not slowing her down, either.

Losing her sight to meningitis at the age of five, provided a rather twist of fate, she escaped the customary early marriage as popular among the Amhara region. She attended the Shashemane Catholic School for the Blind, before going to attend the Menelik II Senior Secondary School (an intergrated school) and studied there until 12th grade year. Not allowing her disability to drag her down, Yetnebersh chair many students’ clubs, even the Students’ Council.

A girl with a mission, she had her post-secondary education at Addis Ababa University [AAU], attaining her undergraduate degree in Law and master’s in Social Work. She got more involved in extracurricular activities, charing the AAU Anti-AIDS movement [2004–05] and founded the Addis Ababa University [AAU] Female Students Association [2006] and served as its first President-Elect.

2005, Nigussie co-founded the Ethiopian Centre for Disability and Development (ECDD) intentional about addressing the disparity between disability organisations, specialised service providers and mainstream development programmes. ECDD is orchestrated to promote and facilitate disability inclusion in Ethiopian society, as well as in the legal and policy spheres. ECDD is designed in a way both in structure and programmes, to highlighy the following values: Majority Governance by Persons with Disabilities; Gender Equality, and Positive Bias (affirmative action) in Staff Employment. All the members od the society form the core persona of ECDD. ECDD offers expertise to the government, civil society organisations and companies alike so that their services and workplaces are inclusive and accessible to persons with disabilities.

2011 – 2015, Nigussie was the Executive Director of ECDD. The organisation became one of the main driving forces for inclusion and the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in Ethiopia. It expanded from Addis Ababa to four other regions in the country. Striving further, ECDD started published about accessible official buildings, hotels and restaurants to people with disabilities. She championed a base for the African Disability Forum (the first umbrella grouping of African Disabled People’s organisations) in Addis Ababa.

2013, Nigussie was actively involved in setting up the Ethiopian Charities & Societies Forum [ECSF], an umbrella organisation aimed to take on Ethiopian civil society’s concerns and challenges, and was its first chair. 2013–2014, she was Goodwill Ambassador for the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management organising committee.

Representing the international and disability organisation, Light for the World, as a member of their International Board of Ambassadors, Nigussie was appointed as Senior Inclusion Advisor in 2016 further expanding her advocacy work to regional and international arenas by connecting national and international development issues. Nigussie also served as an alternate representative to the Stakeholder Group of Persons with Disabilities – the focal point for UNDESA, ECOSOC and the General Assembly for all UN Sustainable Development policies (2016-2017)..

Nigussie wants young people to get involved in the development of their community and country and she opened an inclusive educational institution 10 years ago for underprivileged kids in her home country.. She is a skilled negotiator and eloquent speaker, and has received a number of awards for her work.

African Most Influential Women in Business and Politics Award (category of welfare and civil society organisations) in South Africa [2015];
World of Difference Life Time Achievement Award (category education) from the International Alliance for Women in the USA [2011];
Inividual Award for Excellent HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Activities Coordination, from the Addis Ababa City Administration [2005];
Amanitare Award for sexual and reproductive health advocates in South Africa [2003];
AMANITARE award for sexual and reproductive health advocates, Johannesburg, South Africa [2003];
Best HIV/AIDS National Activist, awarded by General Medical Practitioners Association, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia [2005];
World of Difference 100 Award, awarded by International Alliance for Women (TIAW), [2011];
Right Livelihood Award 2017;
Spirit of Helen Keller Award 2018