Reflections on the past and future of ECX


History is a curious thing.  You don’t quite know when something will stand the test of time and become truly the stuff of history, unlike the humdrum comings and goings, the projects, initiatives, and businesses, that are here one day and gone and forgotten the next.  It is not often, and a rather magical thing when it does, that an idea takes root, becomes reality, and then evolves into a dynamic, living, entity that is somehow placed firmly in the ethos of a society, becoming in effect a part of its history.  I often wonder, did the founders of Apple know they were creating a company that would forever be listed in the annals of the history of personal computing?  Did the creators of Kleenex feel their product would literally shape the vocabulary of millions?  Or, closer to home, did Tomoca Café know it would stand out from the crowd of cafes around our city to become the iconic brand it is today?
When we set out to create the first ever commodity exchange in Ethiopia, and indeed the first of its kind in Africa, we had no idea where it would go or what it would become.  Those were heady days back in 2006 and 2007, filled with fever pitch excitement, sleepless nights, hours of meetings and endless cups of coffee around meeting tables as step by step, plan by plan, we went from a simple, perhaps naïve, idea that something had to be done to make our agricultural marketing system more efficient, more transparent, less costly, and less risky.  For this country we felt so strongly about, we applied our best thinking, we sought lessons far and wide, we fought against skeptics, we argued against ourselves, we crafted, fine-tuned, negotiated, tested, re-worked, refined, in an endless cycle of learning and re-learning.   And when the Opening Bell rang for the first time on April 24, 2008, it rang in the aspirations of a nation, bearing our passion, our dreams, and all the love in our hearts.  
Six years ago, it was an implausible idea that a country best known for famine, war, and a crippling bureaucracy, would dare to dream of creating a world-class commodity exchange in which products are stored and traded according to standards, market prices are transmitted in seconds, and payments are settled in hours between tens of thousands of clients and in tens of millions of dollars.  And the world stood by to watch just what we would do.
And not by the brilliance of our ideas, but rather by the sheer determination of our spirits, every day, day after day, year after year, we built a market that is today a symbol of what our beloved country can achieve with will, intelligence, and heart.  Today, ECX is recognized across the country by millions of Ethiopians, farmers, traders, processors, and exporters, as an institution that touches their lives everyday. 
As importantly, beyond our borders, to far-flung corners of the world, ECX is hailed globally as an African icon, representing the new Ethiopia we all dreamed of shaping.   Today,  ECX crops up in speeches by governors of Central Banks in countries like Nigeria and Kenya, it emerges in coverage by CNN of innovations in Africa, it is mentioned in analyses of the African investment opportunity in corporate boardrooms in Wall Street, Tokyo, and London. 
As I have pursued my own dream of creating a new company to implement commodity exchanges across Africa and other emerging economies, I am humbled by the recognition that ECX has gained literally the world over and the respect and admiration for Ethiopia that ECX inspires. Put simply, ECX is no longer just an idea, nor an initiative for a few, nor can it be explained by what it does or what it is.  Rather, ECX has become a symbol of something greater, part of the historical forces shaping not just our nation, but also our continent, as it emerges to take its place in the global arena.
The answers to the above questions are that you can never know when you start something whether it will become history.  Nor can you plan for that to happen.  What you can do is simply to give your best, your heart, and keep on giving it over and over, in the honest hope that what you have to offer means something to someone else and makes this world a better place.
Like all living institutions, ECX today is in transition, facing its second change of leadership, as its chief executive has been forced to resign out of health considerations.   Just as during its first change of leadership, there is no doubt that, at this important junction, its resilience will be put to the test, as it once again goes to the drawing board to re-invent itself anew, as it has always done.  And there is no doubt in my mind that it will emerge stronger, better, responsive to the people and market it serves, and worthy of the hopes, dreams, and love of the Ethiopian people.
Eleni Zaude Gabre-Madhin CEO of eleni LLC and founder and former CEO of the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange