12th March 2024

How one employee is helping deliver a brand-new network in Ethiopia

Fitsum Gorfe
Site Acquisition Team Leader

In May 2021, the Global Partnership for Ethiopia, comprising of Safaricom Plc, Vodafone Group, Vodacom Group, Sumitomo Corporation and British International Investment, was awarded a license to operate telecom services in Ethiopia.

Almost two years on and the network has launched, with 2G, 3G and 4G mobile services available in 11 regions, and Fitsum Gorfe, Site Acquisition Team Lead at Safaricom Ethiopia, is part of that story.

“So far, my team and I have acquired 1,835 active, on air sites which makes me feel so proud,” says Fitsum.

“I am always amazed to be so deeply involved in most of the sites we’ve constructed. It makes me feel like I have many babies in different places all across the country.”


Getting the network ‘on air’

One of Safaricom Ethiopia’s first employees, Fitsum joined at a critical time during the early phase of the project back in January 2022 as a site acquisition expert.

“I was the 17th employee of the company and the only female in the division of Network Deployment, which was a new environment for me,” Fitsum explains.

“The role I took was very critical at that time. It sets the foundation for all the network deployment tasks. Without what my team does we wouldn’t be able to get sites on air.”

Studying civil engineering at Bahir Dar University, Fitsum tells us how it was her dream to work at a large telecoms organisation.

“I was very excited to join Safaricom,” says Fitsum. “The team spirit here is my favourite. Any new individual joining always receives a warm welcome and Safaricom supports its female employees, especially in technology.”


Career climbing

It was during her final year at university that she was exposed to some telecom projects and caught the technology bug.

Quickly working her way up from Site Acquisition Expert to Site Acquisition Team Leader, her role involves overseeing the day-to-day operation of her team, who validate vendors, look after lease payment processes, and negotiate with owners whenever issues arise.

“Acquiring a constructable site requires an extensive look into how safe or risky a project is. Once you have shortlisted a potential site, the work doesn’t stop there. You must consider every potential factor,” Fitsum explains.

“It’s a very challenging role but I never tire of picking up the phone and talking with landowners to convince them of the benefits of our network. Particularly when I joined.I was so determined and focused to reach the number of sites needed for the first phase of the project, despite all the obstacles we had.”

That drive and determination was recognised when Fitsum won a Vodacom CEO Staff Award last year.

“That was a big achievement for me. I felt so honoured and proud of what I do and really felt that my hard work and dedication paid off,” says Fitsum.

But it isn’t all desk work. Fitsum is also a certified tower climber.

“Being able to climb towers is really important. Working on sites, you never know when you will need it. You may need to check the installations on the tower, so it’s better to be prepared than not,” she explains.

Not one to sit back on her achievements, Fitsum is also a certified Fire Marshall, risk assessment personnel and a first aider. She’s certainly someone you want on your team.

Bringing 5G to more of Ethiopia

Before joining Safaricom Ethiopia, Fitsum surveyed sites in a similar role in the city of Addis Ababa, but she didn’t always work in telecoms. In 2020, she was working in mobile money as an agent for the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and before that she dabbled in make-up and hair styling at her sister’s beauty salon.

“I just did it for fun, not as a career, when I was a high school student,” Fitsum tells us.

As a mother of two young daughters, it’s perhaps a skill that could come in handy.

“They are a spirited pair and certainly keep me on my toes,” says Fitsum with a warm smile.

She goes on to explain the challenges of balancing her work and home life but tells us that she is keen to set a good example to her children.

“I do not think that motherhood and career building are mutually exclusive, but managing both roles involved a huge learning curve,” she says.

“I am well organised and use my time very carefully. I make my daughters see the benefits of having a working mum and am pleased they are inspired to be like me because they find my work interesting and observe the financial independence it brings.”

With support from her mother and other caregivers, Fitsum intends to continue making them proud by excelling and pushing herself in the workplace.

“My aspiration in Safaricom is to build my expertise and capability to take on more leadership roles within the organisation as it grows. I am ambitious to learn from other leaders, experts and team members in the department to build a strong foundation for my future career.”

Looking ahead, Safaricom Ethiopia continues to establish its presence and invest in the country, its people and its future. Already securing investment from The World Bank Group, it has the equity, debt and insurance facilities needed to support the construction and operation of its 4G and 5G mobile networks. Which is certainly going to keep Fitsum and her team busy.

“My team and I are currently working on site acquisitions to ensure our network runs across the entire country,” says Fitsum.

“I’m excited to work on 4G and 5G networks because I’m seeing the impact this technology is having in the country.”

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