Executive Director: Tsegaye Bekele
Tsegaye was born in the Sidama region of Ethiopia. His parents were two of the founders of the Aleta Wondo town, starting local coffee farms and small businesses, bringing the town its first electricity. Their legacy is one of great compassion for the people and Tsegaye returns to continue on his family’s path. After graduating from agricultural engineering school in Germany, he could not return to Ethiopia as his family’s lands were confiscated. He then studied Social Science at University of Maryland’s Berlin campus. In 1976, he settled in Marin, building a plumbing business with over 30 employees to service the Greater Bay Area, and owns Absolute Leak. He has two children and 2 grandchildren. Tsegaye speaks fluent English, German, Amharic and street Sidamo. He has donated his family property in Aleto Wondo to Common River and utilizes his connections and lasting good will to benefit his hometown.
Program Director: Donna Sillan, MPH
Donna is an experienced international public health consultant, working in 40 countries over the past 31 years for large NGOs. Her specialty is community-based nutrition and she wrote a manual on the “Positive Deviance” approach, which has been translated into 7 languages. Her development career began resettling Southeast Asian refugees for IRC (International Rescue Committee) in San Jose, California and then moved to Thailand to work in Vietnamese, Khmer and Laotian refugee camps for two years. Upon return from Asia in the early 1980′s, she resettled Ethiopian refugees in California. After completing her Masters Degree in Public Health, she moved to Indonesia where she managed an urban USAID Child Survival program for Save the Children for 9 years in the slums of Jakarta. She became an independent consultant in 1997 and conducts trainings in public health, nutrition, as well as, designing and evaluating maternal and child health programs throughout the developing world.
In 2007, Donna decided to settle in one village and formed her own non-profit organization with Tsegaye Bekele in Ethiopia. As co-founder of Common River, she distilled the best practices that resonated with her from her vast NGO experience and has based Common River’s development principals on them. To help fund their non-profit, she formed Aleta Wondo Coffee Company, with Willem Boot and Tsegaye Bekele, a LLC which exports Aleta Wondo’s local farmer’s beans to America. She has one son in college and an adopted daughter from Vietnam in high school. She is the godmother of 2 Ethiopian adopted children who live in Mill Valley and Abraham, her “son” in Aleta Wondo, along with 135 other school children. Although she is a firm promoter of small families, she has to qualify what is a “small family,” as she strongly advocates for the adoption of family planning.
Visit her website at:www.donnasillan.com
Finance Officer: Willem J. Boot
Willem is president of Boot Coffee Consulting & Training in Mill Valley, California, specializing in strategic consulting for coffee companies, green coffee producers and international coffee organizations. As an international consultant, Boot has been working in Africa, Latin America and Europe. He was the head judge in various international coffee events in Nicaragua, Bolivia, Honduras and Panama. As a consultant he has been working on various coffee-projects for USAID, the Inter American Development Bank and private coffee companies. Each year, Willem donates a month of his time to assist subsistent coffee communities with educational projects and quality upgrading. In the past years he volunteered for projects in Ethiopia, Mexico, Rwanda, Tanzania, Zambia and Kenya.
Visit his website at: www.bootcoffee.com
Director: Michael Johnson
Michael began as a corporate motivational speaker in 1997 shortly after making history at the 1996 Olympics becoming the first man to ever win gold at 200 meters and 400 meters. So impressive was his performance under so much pressure that he was soon being sought by some of the largest companies in the world to share his formula for success. After winning the 400 meters and 4×400 relay at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, he retired, finishing his career with 20 international gold medals without a single silver or bronze. Since his retirement, Michael has excelled as a keynote speaker having worked with such companies as Microsoft, UBS, Sony and Proctor & Gamble to name a few. Michael Johnson’s appeal is global, taking him to such places as Australia Europe, South Africa, and China to motivate and inspire employees of some of the world’s leading organizations. Visit his website at:www.michaeljohnsonperformance.com
Director: Manna Girma
Manna Girma is a retired school teacher who taught for 23 years in Washington, DC. She lives between the US and her homeland of Ethiopia where she visits her parents at the palace of Haile Selassie. She has a BA in Political Science and a MS in education from State Univ. of New York at Albany. She began her career working at ACDI- Agricultural Cooperative Development International and started teaching in 1989.