Rahel Belatchew, an Ethiopian born Swedish architect, has been rocking the architecture world. Recently, she became a finalist in the 1st category of Founder of the Year, an award that recognises entrepreneurship of sustainable businesses, with her human-centric approach and strong design at the heart of her projects. Her work ranges widely from homes and offices to community properties in Sweden and internationally. At the heart of the business lies an endless appetite to innovate and update the profession.

I went back in time hearing this. It is the constant of the fast-moving and competitive world we live to reinvent our professions to adapt to the times and infuse it with relevance. It is a struggle rarely recognised in Ethiopia, thus the lack of a professional class or even professionalism.

It was ages ago when I was studying French. No matter how much we tried, we barely had the upper hand, struggling with grammar, learning the declensions and the verbs that required the dedication of our precious time in studying its tedious rules. Then an enthusiastic and determined young woman joined us as a student. She might have been new to the class but rapidly took to the language, which inspired our command of the language to leapfrog.

Once at some point during our tea break, she told me an incredible story. French was years ago a minor she took in college, while her major was international relations. Years of lack of applying the language in her daily life forced her to forget it and for French to be a strange sound to her ears. Yet, as it was wedged in her academic credentials, it ended up being her worst nightmare.

How was she going to answer if she was approached by someone speaking French?

This story was following an anecdote I recounted to her during our discussion involving one of my friends some years before. Decades ago, an expert on a certain field was flown in from abroad to facilitate training at the government institution I was working in. The long-awaited training did not live up to its expectation. Half a day and it was stalled amidst scuffles between the participants and the facilitator. Being very familiar with the facilitator, the session’s organisers immediately identified the cause. The facilitator was not prepared for the day. As he took time to prepare, the participants were taken to a nearby resort to blow off some steam. He got ready and updated himself on the subject and the training ended up being worthy of the time spent attending it.

The importance of continued improvements to ones field and expertise is what civilisation is built on. Stagnation does not only mean failure to improve but to fall into decline and set back what came before. This is why there is an English proverb, ”according to Cocker,”, which refers to reliability and correctness, indicating expertise and preciseness.

The saying is after the 17th century Edward Cocker, a London engraver who also taught calligraphy and arithmetic. He wrote several popular books on them, and authored "Cocker’s Arithmetick," which went through 112 editions, as its authority of the subject gave rise to the proverb. While there has been controversy that Cocker might not have been the book's original author, the proverb’s invocation of his name is a testament to the importance history attaches to those whose professionalism allowed civilisation to go one step further.

’According to Cocker’ is reminiscent of the continued need to update oneself with a latest edition or advances in technology and science. No profession has ever achieved perfection. Everything has been improved and revolutionised by subsequent generations. It is the wheel that keeps civilisation humming, Rahel relevant and my French adequate.

PUBLISHED ON Sep 18,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1116]

Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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