As chief of the Millennium Challenge Corporation, Daniel Yohannes, is the highest ranking Ethiopian American in Obama’s government.
An Ethiopian immigrant is making history as the highest Ethiopian-American official in the Obama administration.
Daniel Yohannes was born in the Ethiopian capital. He completed his elementary school at Addis Ababa’s Nativity Boy’s School and later transferred to St. Joseph’s, a prestigious Catholic high school in Addis Ababa.
“In those days people of my generation were idealistic, full of energy, with a lot of love for each other, as well as love and respect for our parents, elders, and teachers,” Yohannes says.
“Growing up in Ethiopia, we had a wonderful awareness of our country as well as the world. We were more advanced in some ways than most teenagers today,” he says.
Go west, young man
In 1970, the 17-year-old Yohannes came to the United States and settled in Los Angeles, California. After completing high school, he pursued his undergraduate studies at Claremont McKenna College and went to graduate School at Pepperdine University, where he obtained his MBA.
Of his time in California, Yohannes says the first few years were difficult. With no car he had to walk two to three hours a day trying to be on time for both classes and work.
With an undergraduate degree in economics and a graduate degree in finance, Yohannes was finally ready to plunge into the world of banking. He worked his way up to vice chairman of the sixth largest bank in the United States, U.S. Bank, which has assets close to $260 billion.
For many this would have been success enough. Not so for Daniel Yohannes. Taking an early retirement from the bank in 2003, he co-founded one of the first “green” banks in the United States, one that specialized in funding companies creating non-polluting technologies in northern California. Observers point out that Yohannes “went green” before the movement became fashionable.
Making a difference globally
The MCC was created in 2004 with a mission to reduce poverty through long-term economic growth. According to Yohannes, the MCC was created based on best practices learned in the last four decades from other U.S. development agencies.
The MCC is very innovative in terms of its approach. “We work with countries that have implemented good social-economic policies and are accountable for their own growth,” says Yohannes.
As chief executive officer of the MCC, Yohannes says he now has an opportunity to make a positive difference globally.
MCC equals good governance
Yohannes says the MCC, which has more than $7 billion available for grants, forms partnerships with some of the world’s poorest countries. But only those that invest in their citizens and are committed to good governance and to economic freedom make the cut.
Nineteen countries have entered poverty-reduction “compacts” with the organization, 12 of which are from Africa: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Senegal and Tanzania. Together, they account for over $5 billion available for projects aimed at promoting growth.
Yohannes tells about some of the successes. Ghana, he points out, is making commercial agriculture more profitable and reduce the cost of transporting food from rural areas to markets. In Lesotho, the MCC is helping the children of HIV-positive mothers live long and healthy lives by renovating health care centers and establishing clinics to distribute anti-retroviral medicines. And in Burkina Faso, 400 classrooms have been built exclusively for girls.
“I’m confident that MCC’s antipoverty partnership worldwide will generate sustainable economic growth and opportunity, and this is fundamental to enhancing our collective security and common humanity for a more prosperous, peaceful world,” Yohannes told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearings.
Supporters say with the vast experience in the private sector that he brings to the MCC, Yohannes is well positioned to help boost African businesses and national economies.