Barak Ghebrehawariat’s mom used to wake him up with the words “Tesi ata hakay” when he was young – ”wake up, you lazy bum! Words that must’ve caused Barakat to become the opposite of lazy. He’s a business advisor at the non-profit organization Startup Stockholmin Helio Kista. His two native languages are Tigrinya and democracy, according to himself. We’re very curious to find out what’s driving the man with the most stylish moustache and the coolest nickname at Helio. So, we threw away a long message in a bottle, hoping for an answer. Behold, Barakat Ghebrehawariat!
Hi Barakat! Where are you? How are you and what are you doing right now?
Hi! Right now, I’m on a flight from Washington D.C to Bermuda. I’m recovering from a bad cold and have just gotten rid of my fever and am feeling better. Mentally, I’m doing brilliantly! I’m on my way to Bermuda, anything else would be unacceptable.
You have a very cool nickname! You’re called the Democracy Agent, why?
Haha! I love that the Democracy Agent has become a known nickname, win! I’d call it my ”work name”, almost like a lawyer, but much cooler. The simple answer to the question is that I see myself as a democracy-doer.
You’re working hard at Startup Stockholm, recording podcasts and holding lectures far and wide. You’re a member in the National Museum’s advisory council, are running the change bureau Demokratteam AND are sitting in the boards of orten.io and CinemAfrica. (Pause for breath.) On top of all of that, you’re very active on social media and seem amazing, fearless, loving and driven. Now to the magical question. How do you make it work?
I drink a lot of water, exercise and avoid negative people and environments! I won’t hide that I periodically work very hard. The last few weeks, I’ve pretty much worked 9 to 22 every day, including the weekends. I’m a hard worker and a workaholic, working hard comes naturally to me. But above all, I’m having fun! I love what I do and it gives me a huge amount of energy. It’s like getting paid to spend time on my hobby, so I call it my ”jobby”. I also have amazing people around me. Team work makes the dream work!
Tell us what Startup Stockholm do and what your role is?
Startup Sthlm is an organization that helps people make their dreams come true. If you want support and help to transform your idea to a business, you can turn to us. I’m a business advisor or as I call myself, an idea coach and you can book me for free! I’m at Helio Kista four times a month, come by the office!
You also do the talk series Startup Talks and a podcast called Startupmonday that you like! Why do you like the format so much, what guests do you have and what topics do you talk about in the podcast?
Wrong, I don’t like the podcast. I love it! I dig the format because it’s a ”at my place” concept where we visit the entrepreneur in his or her home environment. It gives the conversation a cozy feel and authenticity with good vibes. The studio can feel a little clinical sometimes. Last time we had Faizal Luttamugazzi as a guest, a serial entrepreneur who quit 10 years of employment to focus on what made him happy: Food and people. The result was the successful company Stockholm Food Tours. In that episode we talked about working with your passion and in our virgin pod, we visited Joceline Akgun, entrepreneur and CEO at Creative Headz, to talk about how to run a family business. Next guest is Jakob Grandin, founder of the cultural institution Trädgården. Check out the people I get to talk to! It would be professional misconduct if I didn’t love it.
What is the most memorable lecture you’ve held?
That must be my first one. In a half-empty room and I barely got any words out without stuttering. My ”fee” was free tickets to a tired conference and a mediocre wrap. But I did it. The first is always the best!
What does theoretical anxiety mean?
Theoretical anxiety is an expression that pinpoints a current symptom – the fear of doing something wrong and dealing with criticism when speaking or acting with regards to certain questions in diversity and equality. Both the fear and criticism is clearly visible in hotheaded, temporarily spiteful and furious ”racial debates” on for example Twitter and cultural sites. Theoretical anxiety is described as an intellectual exhaustion regarding a changeable and sometimes messy variety of terms, where ”new” words seem to grow like mushrooms: whiteness, power, race fixation, cisnorms, intersectionality, privileges, transphobia and so on.
You’ve compared the news of being chosen as part of the board in orten.io with being recruited to Real Madrid! Tell us about the work you do!
We work to change and improve today’s white normative, man dominated inner city centered and middle class tech stage. Our goal is to actively work for an increased diversity and equality in the tech world.
If we back up a bit. You usually say that you always work twice as hard and that’s why you did double degrees at University. What did you study?
Wow, I studied a lot at university and have about a billion university points. But, my foundation is a bachelor’s degree in journalism and one in political science and a half-finished master in media- and communication studies. Besides that, I’ve taken a lot of random courses and studied abroad.
Other than your nickname, the Democracy Agent, we’ve heard your mom call you Leflafi, ”babbler” in Tigrinya since you were a kid. She also said that you would change the world with your words. How has this guided you in life?
My dear mother always used to joke and say that my sharp tongue would either make me famous or have me killed. Today, I joke back, saying I’m alive! I always carry my mom’s words with me and her voice definitely guides me in everything I do.
What do you think about sitting in a coworking place like Helio?
I like it a lot! To sit in a coworking place suits me like a hand in a glove. For an extroverted person like myself, it’s a mingle paradise. A big plus is the fact that it’s located in a bustling area like Kista. Let’s not even talk about the fact that you can get sparkly water directly from the tap, that’s Christmas for a sparkly water lover like myself.
Would you teach us the most important sentence in democracy?
”Actions are more important than intentions.” Remember that even if your actions are rooted in the best of intentions, the effect can still end up being discriminative. Impact is everything.
If you got to wake up all of Sweden’s business executives and shout ”Tesi ata hakay” followed by three pieces of concrete advice on how they should work to drive forward your love matters and contribute to a fairer and more multi-cultural country. What would that advice be?
1. Take criticism in, but not personally. Criticism – or feedback as I prefer to call it – is a free ticket to understanding a complex and changeable world. See it as competitive intelligence or a free market survey.
2. Write a plan for equality with binding and measurable goals. Define, when and follow up.
3. Hire and employ people from underrepresented groups. Are you having problems recruiting? Fair enough, no one’s all-knowing. But, in that case, hire someone to hire people!
Thank you Barakat! We’re ending this with your own words of wisdom: let’s communicate more!