“If I fall ten times, I can get up eleven times”

Our colleague Tsegaye Degineh has been awarded the Federal Cross of Merit by the Federal Republic of Germany for his voluntary work. It is the highest recognition given by the Federal Republic for services for the common good. Tsegaye Degineh has been an active volunteer for more than 30 years. His work focuses on judo and ju-jitsu, humanitarian aid for his native country Ethiopia and the integration of people in Germany. At Mercedes-Benz Sales Germany, he is the Diversity Officer and responsible for sustainability.

Congratulations on receiving the Federal Cross of Merit, Dr Degineh. What was your first thought when you heard about the award?

I would never have thought that I would be honoured with such a great award by the German Federal President. I was notified by letter, and after reading it for the first time I made sure that the letter was actually addressed to me. Of course I was overwhelmed. I share this honour with my family, especially my wife Annett, who is always behind me.

Tsegaye Degineh with the Ethiopian Ambassador in Berlin, Mulu Solomon, his family and State Secretary for Sport Aleksander Dzembritzki, who presented the Federal Cross of Merit on behalf of the Federal President (left to right).

You were awarded the Federal Cross of Merit for communicating values through sport, and for the transfer of knowledge between Germany and Ethiopia. Can you describe that in more detail?

I brought judo and ju-jitsu to Ethiopia over 14 years ago, and built up the national association there. For some time now, I have been vice-president of the African Ju-Jitsu Federation and a member of the Ethics Committee in the World Ju-Jitsu Federation. Through sport, I teach children and young people in Ethiopia that you can learn and achieve a lot in life. On the mat, they develop values that they can apply as good citizens in life - even in conflicts: discipline, loyalty, courtesy, humility and courage.

And what about the knowledge transfer?

Before joining Daimler, I was a scientific research assistant at Humboldt University in Berlin. After my doctorate, I wrote a book on project management in my mother tongue, Amharic, so that people in Ethiopia would understand it. My book has been considered a standard reference work there for years now. Whenever I go on holiday to Ethiopia, I volunteer to give seminars on project management or on work culture. For many years I also held such seminars here in Berlin as a volunteer speaker at the Technical University for international students.

Which topic is closest to your heart?

Two issues are particularly important to me: The communication of values through sport and the integration of people in Germany, i.e. international understanding. I started my commitment to this as a student 32 years ago, when I came to Germany. At that time, I supported fellow students from developing countries with an association to help them integrate in Germany and reintegrate in their home countries after graduation.

What were the most important and biggest milestones of your voluntary work for you personally?

After all these years, there are many. Three are particularly important to me: Shortly after I brought judo and ju-jitsu to Ethiopia, the first contestants took part in a world championship. Then in 2019 there was a major success when Yared Negusse became the first Ethiopian to win a major international tournament, and became African champion. That was a very moving moment. Above all, the good mutual cooperation with the two world federations for judo and ju-jitsu is very important. Another important milestone for me was the publication of my book on project management.

And the third?

Something I'm also proud of, even if it has nothing to do with the award of the Federal Cross of Merit: Together with the Ethiopian ambassador, I am committed to winning over politicians and the population for the fight against the coronavirus and the use of renewable energies. During the first coronavirus lockdown, for example, it became apparent that many Ethiopians living in Germany had a great need for information owing to the communication barrier. Using existing networks such as church congregations, associations and the Ethiopian embassy in Berlin, I then regularly passed on the latest information and directives in Amharic, which was very well received. Together with the Ethiopian embassy in Berlin, I also called for a fundraising campaign to support health care in Ethiopia. More than 150,000 euros were collected. The money was sent to Ethiopia along with donated ventilators and medical equipment. Both were lacking in the country. At that time, there were just 150 intensive care beds for 110 million inhabitants.

How do you manage all this in terms of time?

Sometimes it's a bit much, that's true. I mainly use the weekend and my holidays. I spend this time in Ethiopia as often as possible. During the first lockdown I was on short time work, and used the unusual situation to take up the fight against the coronavirus.

What motivates you to volunteer?

In Ethiopia it's quite common to do voluntary work - if you have the opportunity. My father is my role model. He has been involved in various charitable associations and has campaigned for the construction of a school, for example. That had a big impact on me. Voluntary positions are challenging. You have to win people over to your cause, you have to be creative to achieve something - if I can do that, I can make a difference and improve people's lives, for example. That motivates me.

Are you able to use the experience gained through your voluntary roles in your work at Daimler?

Yes, above all in my dealings with the most diverse people. This also helps me in my work as a diversity officer. And if things get difficult at work, you have the option of calling in your superior. You can't do that with voluntary work. Here I have to fight for myself, be a diplomat, develop a different approach. My guiding principles from martial arts, which I pass on to the children and young people, also help me in this: if I fall ten times, I can get up eleven times. In my opinion, it's also very important to build up a good international network with trustworthy and competent people and institutions - this can't be done overnight.

What are your hopes for the future?

In my view, voluntary work is an indispensable pillar of democracy. It's important for the cohesion of society, but also for the economy. I wish that even more people would get involved in volunteering. I also wish that my family will continue to support me, that I will stay healthy and have enough strength and time to continue to work for others.

Additional information
In addition to his humanitarian commitment, Tsegaye Degineh is also committed to sustainability. In the International Ju-Jitsu Federation he is responsible for "Sport4Climate". In Ethiopia, he has planted trees on his own initiative to contribute to reforestation. Read the interview here: Planting trees in Addis Ababa

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