Meeting the social entrepreneurs driving impact in Addis Ababa

From left: Leah Dejenu, Bethlehem Berhane, Aileen Campbell, Kasonde Kashulwe and Eden Amdebirhan.

While in Addis Ababa for the Social Enterprise World Forum, the Challenges team took the opportunity to visit three of the social enterprises taking part in our RISE project. Following on from our successful showcase of The Challenges Group the day before, we also invited Aileen Campbell, the Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government, to accompany us on our tour of social enterprises in the Ethiopian capital.

The Readying Investable Social Enterprises (RISE) project aims to enable 20 social enterprises to become investment ready, while also providing 20 young professionals with the opportunity to participate in a business analysis mentorship programme. The six-month project is the latest in a long list of Challenges initiatives designed to up-skill young people while supporting sustainable business growth in emerging economies.

Negotiating the roads and traffic of Addis — from fleets of badly dented taxis to herds of goats — was no simple task, but at each stop we were treated to a heartfelt welcome, with each of the social entrepreneurs taking the time to talk through their enterprises and their resulting social mission and impact. The former was impressive; the latter inspiring.

Danait Kebede, Blayne Tesfaye with Aileen Campbell.

Our first stop was TruLuv Granola in the Sarbet part of the city, where we met the dynamic entrepreneur Blayne Tesfaye and RISE intern Danait Kebede. Owner and founder Blayne explained her business’s foundation and aims — to work with and support women, by way of recruitment and training as well as through its supply chain.

Founded in 2016, TruLuv produces healthy snacks made with natural, nutritious and locally sourced ingredients. With a healthy bottom line and future prospects, TruLuv is now looking for investment to scale up, hence its inclusion in our RISE programme. Specifically, explained Blayne, TruLuv is “seeking to grow its manufacturing operation and provide additional employment opportunities for women, including leadership and management training and opportunities”. There is, she added, also a plan to provide on-site childcare services to allow parents, mothers in particular, to stay close to their children while continuing to further their careers.

As we sampled the food and explored the aromatic production facility, Blayne highlighted her commitment to environmentally friendly packaging options, as part of a focus on sustainability. For example, its loose granola is packaged in the plastic honey jars it receives its honey in, reducing its own cost base while reusing plastic that would otherwise go to a landfill.

Of the RISE programme itself, Blayne said: “Participating in the RISE programme has been invaluable for TruLuv. From the tailored coaching, to the in-depth business analysis, we’ve been able to build a path towards a more sustainable and successful future.”

“On top of this,” Blayne added, “getting to know the Challenges team and having the honour to host the Scottish Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell was a wonderful experience and helped us to feel like we’re truly a part of a global movement of doing business with impact.”

After an all-too brief tasting and discussion, it was time to leave this green haven in the heart of Addis and once again brave the chaotic traffic as we headed to the Atlas area of town to meet Bethlehem Berhane, the inspiring owner of the craft jewellery business Entoto Beth Artisan, which she founded in 2012.

In the seven years since launching, Betty has grown her business to become one of the most stylish craft shops you could ever hope to walk in to, while also recently securing an outlet in Addis airport.

Entoto Beth Artisan was founded as a jewellery business following Betty’s visit to the Entoto hills where she met hundreds of HIV-positive women seeking refuge in a church. Drawing on her own childhood experience of poverty, she was inspired to set up her social enterprise with the aim of providing counselling, technical training and fair wage employment to the HIV-positive women living in the Entoto hills, many of whom had endured ostracization from their families and communities.

Since then, EBA has grown to be one of Ethiopia’s most successful jewellery businesses serving both local and international markets. Today, EBA functions as a vehicle to create hope, courage, dignity and self-sufficiency for 200 HIV-positive women. Betty explained that her investment plan is rooted in her aim to scale up her business, including the construction of a larger workshop, so Entoto can support all of the 2500 women with HIV/Aids living in the Entoto hills.

Aileen Campbell with Hirut Johanis.

With World Forum commitments drawing us back to the UN Conference Centre, we returned to the Kazanchis part of town where we met the formidable businesswomen Hirut Yohanis Darare, who set up her dairy processing company in 2008. Created to improve the lives of farmers, specifically women diary farmers, the business expanded in 2013 after taking over a dairy processing plant in Amhara region, which employs 22 people and buys milk from more than 400 smallholder farmers via Hirut’s three collection centres, plus two dairy co-operatives which contribute to the livelihoods of more than 2,000 people. Dairy products are sold directly to restaurants and supermarkets in the Addis Ababa area, explained Hirut, who also owns Tsega and Family, a dairy outlet, in the capital city.

As we sat in her vibrant — and thankfully shaded — streetside café, sipping buna coffee and munching sweet popcorn, Hirut took us through the impressive journey of how she had grown her business from selling a handful of tomatoes to buying her first cow to becoming a thriving social enterprise that is providing income for thousands of women involved in Tsega’s value chain. Hers was an inspiring narrative of how an individual with drive and determination can literally grow a business from nothing; that it works to support women at every stage of the production made it all the more impressive.

“Since starting the enterprise my first priority was helping women and providing healthy dairy products to people,” she said. “Before the company grew to its current size, I trained over 450 women on how they can raise the quality of their diary and eventually the price of their milk by adding value.”

Asked what drove her, Hirut said: “For me the social aspect was not intended to be profited from, but doing good for the society will help you gain profit without even looking for it. I believe if the society or environment around us is not working hand to hand with the enterprise we can’t change a single household let alone the whole country, so I helped to provide clean water and electricity to the communities around the enterprise. It’s really heart-warming to be called a mother by over 500 families!”

Hirut also praised the work being done as part of RISE to make Tsega investment ready, but that more could and should be done to support social enterprises to securing investment in order to scale up. “The benefits of the RISE programme can be viewed from two angles: from the young professional and from the owner’s angle. Challenges assigned a trained young professional to my enterprise to help analyse strengths, opportunities and gaps, and to create and collate the documentation to make my enterprise more professional, better organized and ready for investment. The other angle is from the owner’s angle: through monthly trainings that were given by experienced consultants to enable us to better run and help our enterprises.”

Of the SEWF and our visit, she said: “The forum has really raised the profile of social enterprises in Ethiopia, and it was great to meet the people behind this project and have them visit my social enterprise and see the work being done. It gave me the urge to fix the enterprise gaps and go bigger!”

As we returned to the conference centre, where social enterprise veterans and industry insiders were sharing their experiences, ambitions and lessons on best practice, it was for us — a small team from Challenges and the Scottish Government — a reminder it is the people on the ground who are the ones facing down enormous social challenges and who are the ones building impact and driving change.

Scottish Cabinet Secretary Aileen Campbell, who had taken part in a Challenges showcase the day before, praised the entrepreneurs. She said: “It was truly inspiring to meet Blayne, Hirut and Betty. The social enterprises set up by all three women in Addis Ababa have achieved great positive change. Their contribution to the community exemplifies the role that social enterprise can play in tackling inequalities around the world. It was a great to hear about their work and the crucial role the Challenges team plays in supporting them to become sustainable.”

RISE is a Challenges programme being delivered in collaboration with R&D Outsourcing and Entrepreneurship Centre, and funded by the British Council.

Representatives from The Challenges Group attended the Social Enterprise World Forum thanks to the support of Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP.

The Challenges Group

Enterprising solutions to global challenges

The Challenges Group

Written by

The Challenges Group

Enterprising solutions to global challenges

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade