Yared Dibaba (he/him)

My principle is to create a desire for diversity; it's a matter of the heart. Desire always plays a big role, whether in food, sports, or sexuality. If we don't have the desire, it's difficult to make it work.

📸 © Sebastian Fuchs
Dear Yared, for those who don't know you: Who are you, what do you do, and how did you get to where you are today?

That’s actually not so easy to answer. I was born in Oromia, Ethiopia, and since then I have lived a diverse life in three countries, growing up with five different languages and many religions, cultures, and mentalities. I now live in Northern Germany, and professionally, I am an entertainer, actor, presenter, singer, author, and diversity trainer. I see myself as a global citizen and bridge builder.

What would you change immediately if you could?

I would impart much more knowledge on the topic. There are so many myths and beliefs, and more knowledge on the topic would help alleviate fears and concerns. At the moment, however, the worried are very loud, while those who celebrate diversity should be much louder! I believe that the larger part of us has experienced exclusion and discrimination. Many have consciously or unconsciously experienced the feeling of not belonging. And we should build on that to allow as many people as possible to participate, to create access, and to break down barriers.

Diversity is obviously part of your DNA, and you now use it very constructively and consciously. However, your journey to where you are today was surely partly very challenging. When did you become aware of your own diversity, but especially the resulting strength? Was it a process or was there one key moment?

Both, I’ve had two or three very enlightening moments, but before that, there was definitely a process. You can maybe imagine it like someone constantly throwing new balls at you, and you’re trying to keep them all in the air. At the beginning, it’s hard to categorize: Which ball do I catch, which one do I let fall – but then comes the moment where you realize: Hey, I can actually do this quite well, and if a ball falls down – or even if they all fall down at the same time: No problem, I’ll just throw them back up. Eventually, you develop a certain routine, and the balls almost stay in the air by themselves.

And the specific moments?

I remember a moment when I visited my grandmother after 15 years, so to speak, after coming of age, in my homeland. At that moment, I felt like I was no longer sitting between two chairs and multiple cultures, but rather on two chairs. And I felt fortunate to be able to draw from different cultures. Then I was finally able to accept my new home, the North of Germany, in a completely different way.

So, were you able to overcome your own inner conflict and turn it into a positive momentum?

Yes. Many people who have an international background and move from one community to another experience this inner conflict. It might sound trivial now, but it really affects you and brings many conflicts. The communities don’t support this back-and-forth movement, they are not inclusive. I mean this without any accusation, because it has to be learned, there have to be structures for it. Plus, it wasn’t a self-determined process. I fled here with my parents before a civil war – and I am very grateful that I could live here with my parents in peace and security and build a new life.

Was there a similar moment here in Germany?

Yes, there was. I was repeatedly asked: What are you actually now? Are you an actor, are you a presenter, are you a singer? Are you from Northern Germany, are you Black, are you Oromo?

So, the question about your label.

Yes, exactly, and I didn’t want to fit into it – at least not into a prefabricated one, but rather into a custom-made one. So one day, I just started saying: It is what it is. It’s not just me. We all have different roles and facets, characteristics and identities. With some, we connect, with many, we differ. And that’s exactly what’s exciting.

What does diversity mean to you personally - what is your approach to the term?

For me, I found my approach when I started to theoretically engage with the concept. We all experience diversity, but often we cannot name it until we understand what it means. For me personally, it means being a father, a person with a refugee background, German, and so on. I find it empowering to be with people who are different from me, who bring different perspectives – perspectives that I don’t always have to agree with. It has made me more relaxed and resilient in many ways – being able to say in conflict situations: We are different and approach challenges differently.

Are there still moments that challenge you? Moments where your composure is tested, and you cannot be constructive?

Definitely, there are moments where I feel overwhelmed, reach my limits, and feel desperate. But I have learned to name things specifically, to develop precise language, and to address them. Only then can we solve a problem. And only then do we give the other person the opportunity to help develop a solution.

And only by doing so do we also give the other person the opportunity to co-develop a solution.

Yes, exactly, I often encounter people who are overwhelmed by the topic of diversity simply because they are not informed. Diversity has always been present, everywhere.

As consultants, you look deep into companies - is the shift from lip service to real, substantial cultural change happening?

I believe so. We have more knowledge. People are more aware, they pay attention to expressing themselves differently. And although some still refuse to speak inclusively, that’s fundamentally okay, as long as we all adhere to the rules of human rights and dignity.

Is that why you're consciously taking a low-threshold approach, like using the term "Kuddelmuddel" for diversity? Do you want to create other access points beyond elitist circles?

Yes, “access points” is exactly the right term. Listening and participation are very important. We often exclude through language, consciously and unconsciously. And “Kuddelmuddel” is simply a sympathetic word and brings a smile to many people’s faces immediately when I use it, for example, in my stage program.

Is Northern Germany now a second home for you alongside Oromia? Is it perhaps even equal?

Yes, definitely. In Low German, it’s called “Tuhus”, which means home, and I actually find it even nicer than the word “Heimat”. I have a strong connection to both regions. Of course, Oromia is very present because I was born there and lived there for the first few years. But now I have lived in the North for 45 years, my children were born here, my father is buried here. I also have very deep emotional roots here.

Why do you engage with More Diversity?

Diversity is not just a business case, but also a human case. Diversity is a catalyst for companies, an enabler, it makes many things possible when companies introduce diversity management. On the other hand, a life free from discrimination is also a human right.

Do you have a role model in terms of diversity, or a source of inspiration for you as a person?

Yes, my mother. She is also a diversity trainer, since the 1990s. She didn’t push me in that direction, but we always exchanged a lot about it, and by now we have also done some workshops together as a tandem. She has a very good view of diversity and good instincts and composure. She can categorize things very well. And we work very well together because we are diverse: she is older, a woman, an academic, I am none of these, but instead an entertainer, a showman, so to speak, whereas she is rather withdrawn. This complements each other very well.

You also share a very intense history together.

That’s right. Especially in puberty, many people have the need to break away from their parental home. But we fled together. Staying together as a family was existential for us. The detachment, the rebellion, did happen with me, too, but much more differentiated. The connecting factors weigh stronger.

What role does your refugee experience play in your own nuclear family today?

It always plays a role. I think I consciously and unconsciously pass it on to my children. War is always a present topic for me. I know what war means. This naturally affects everyday life, and my children themselves also have a different perspective on the topics of war and displacement.

So, even there, you value transparency and naming things.

Absolutely. I believe that was the problem for many people after the last major war here in Europe. They didn’t talk about it because they didn’t want to or couldn’t. And that brought a lot of suffering and still has an impact today. This pain needs to be processed.

Where can people find inspiration and information on the topic?

I have the “Kuddelmuddel” podcast, where I talk to various people who deal with diversity. It’s exciting, and I always learn a lot from it. About empowerment, engagement, and the real, genuine examples of my guests. It’s important to me that it’s understandable and that it creates a desire. A desire for diversity. This is a matter of the heart. Desire always plays a big role, in eating, in sports, or in sexuality. If you don’t feel like it, it won’t work.

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