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Mawi Asgedom ’08 shares his story with students in a keynote address during MOSAIC Week, Kellogg's annual celebration of student diversity.

On hope, passion and leadership

On hope, passion and leadership

Using his own tumultuous youth as inspiration, Mawi Asgedom ’08 embraces enthusiasm and fosters leadership skills in America’s students

By Daniel P. Smith

4/29/2013 - For Selamawi “Mawi” Asgedom ’08, hope could have vanished.

At age three, Asgedom’s family fled a war-torn Ethiopia and survived three years at a refugee camp before winning relocation to the United States after a lengthy interview process.

America’s freedoms, however, failed to prevent additional hardships, as Asgedom faced cultural assimilation, financial struggles and the tragic death of his best friend and older brother, Tewolde. But Asgedom refused to give up.
Watch Mawi Asgedom discuss leadership during Kellogg's MOSAIC week.

“You have to continue believing that there’s something on the other side that can and will bring happiness back. That’s hope,” says Asgedom, an enthusiastic soul who offered the keynote speech during MOSAIC Week, the Kellogg School of Management’s annual celebration of diversity held in April.

As the head of Mawi Learning, a leadership training company based in suburban Chicago, Asgedom brings his message of hope and purpose to the nation’s youth. Since the firm’s founding in 2000, Asgedom has worked with more than 1 million students across the country.

He calls his leadership training a counter to the standardized testing that’s blanketed America’s schools over the last decade.

“A kid’s worth is dependent on more than test scores,” says Asgedom, himself the father of two young children. “With leadership — how we think and act — comes power.”

While schools frequently offer character education and leadership training, Asgedom says few programs inspire action. He has differentiated Mawi Learning as an organization that provides a structured journey and quantifiable results.

“Our aspirations are simple: to be the nation’s best at training youth in leadership principles,” he says.

That’s a challenging endeavor, Asgedom admits, given the fragmented and bureaucratic nature of the nation’s educational system. With more than 14,000 public school districts in the United States, each maintains its own sales cycle and decision makers. To become the go-to resource, Asgedom will have to be innovative — his firm continues to develop a suite of online programs — and resolute.

“This is not an industry where you’re going to show up, flip a company and then leave,” Asgedom says. “You absolutely need to be driven by passion.”

Kellogg marketing professor Julie Hennessy says it’s that sincerity and thoughtfulness that distinguishes Asgedom.

“Rather than having been beaten down by his troubles, Mawi’s been strengthened by them and uses them to provide inspiration to others,” Hennessy says. “We should all be challenged to create that kind of value in the world.”