Feature / News / The Diaspora

Challenges lead an Ethiopian immigrant to opportunity and growth

By DELOITTE WRITER   JULY 15, 2015

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Seble “Lily” Wolde, San Jose Senior Consultant, Deloitte & Touche LLP Deloitte.com

“Coming to a new country as a young woman was extremely challenging on many levels: the cultural adjustment, language, financial support, leaving behind my family and friends and totally starting all over. Like many other immigrants, I had dreamt of coming to America for better opportunities in education and in my career. But the reality of facing it all alone without any parental support and achieving my dream was monumental. Having achieved my career and personal goals, I am at the point of being able to give back to my community. My faith has given me strength and every day I get up and am grateful.” — Seble “Lily” Wolde

In 1997, Lily Wolde won the lottery. A native of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Lily (her given name is Seble) entered a lottery to receive a U.S. Diversity Visa. The odds were long. Millions enter, but only about 50,000 actually get the Visa. After that, Lily’s story has little to do with luck.

Lily landed in D.C. in the late ‘90s. She took a position in accounts payable at a Hilton Garden Inn, making $12 per hour. On that small income, Lily supported herself, sent money to her family in Ethiopia, and saved for school. She began attending community college, paying $56 per credit hour to earn an Information Technology degree. One day, researching education options, she discovered that she’d pay only $7 per credit hour in California. “I thought, oh my god, this is cheap, and I need to move!”

Once again, Lily was brave to move across to the state of California, where she knew no one, but had a dream to pursue. “I was ready to work hard to achieve my goals no matter what I would face in the process.” She took an accounts payable job, established residency, attended San Jose State University, and ultimately graduated with a degree in accounting. While studying for her CPA, Lily took internal auditor positions with various companies on a contract basis. The work gave her an opportunity to work across the table from external auditors with KPMG, PwC, Deloitte, and Ernst & Young. Their command of audit work and approach impressed her. “I wanted to work for the Big 4.”

The auditors from Deloitte, in particular, impressed her. They had rigorous processes and asked challenging questions. “I always thought, why didn’t I look at it that way? How come I didn’t figure it out in the first place? How do these people know this and I don’t?” As with every challenge she’d ever faced, Lily’s response was to work harder and focus more intently. She steadily developed as a professional. She found an area of specialty in technology risk management. She made connections and grew her network within Deloitte.

Eventually, the work paid off. Lily was contacted by a Deloitte recruiter and interviewed for a position working on an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project implementation. She was not selected for that role; however, four months later, the same recruiter called her again. She interviewed for another opportunity in the Advisory practice and was offered the position that afternoon. “It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it.”

“The challenges I have faced to establish myself in the US has helped me to face challenges in my career as an opportunity for growth and betterment of myself.”

Today, Lily works with clients in a variety of industries — “financial, technology, retail, my clients are all over.” She helps them identify and mitigate risk associated with access to their main financial systems. It’s complex work suited to Lily’s background of IT and Accounting. Deloitte, too, suits her. “The one thing at Deloitte is that they care for their people. They always check on me first, not about the work I am doing.”

Often, Lily thinks about Ethiopia. She says that she misses it, that one day using the Deloitte Global Deployment Program (GDP) she’d like to work closer to home. Kenya, Dubai and South Africa may be options, but recently Deloitte opened an office in Addis Ababa. She’s visited the office, but they don’t do Advisory work. Yet. “In Ethiopia, the technology risk management work is not that great. But one day, Ethiopia will be there with its technology and I will have an opportunity to work out of our international offshore office.”

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This article is reprinted with the permission of Deloitte & Touche LLP, where it was originally published. 

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