ADDIS ABABA – From women who make jewelry with bullet cartridges to drones delivering blood, a growing number of companies with a mission to help solve social problems are emerging in Ethiopia as the economy opens.
An estimated 55,000 social enterprises operate in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country and the fastest-growing economy in the region, where about a quarter of 109 million people live below the poverty line, according to the World Bank.
But the number of ventures created for the good has been rising since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed arrived 18 months ago and promised to open the economy to private investment, raising hopes of official recognition of the sector and facilitating access to funds.
Kibret Abebe, one of Ethiopia's best-known social entrepreneurs, said the sector will be boosted as Ethiopia hosts the 12th World Social Enterprise Forum (SEWF) this week, the first developing country to do so.
"The economy is opening up and we are seeing more social enterprises in Ethiopia," said Abeb, the first president of Social Enterprise Ethiopia, which was created last year to promote companies created to do good to reinvest their profits in their work. .
"Expansion has been a nightmare in Ethiopia and it has been difficult to collaborate with the government, but I am optimistic that this will change as we have many social problems to solve."
Ethiopian Education Minister Tilaye Gete said that hosting SEWF, with more than 1,200 delegates from around 50 countries, was a sign of change under Ahmed, who received the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month. .
"This reflects the overall change in leadership and mindset across the country," Gete said in officially opening the three-day conference.
Abebe, an anesthetist, pioneered social enterprise in Ethiopia when he sold his home to set up TEBITA Ambulance over a decade ago, after seeing how many road accident victims struggled to get transportation for medical help.
TEBITA now manages a fleet of 20 ambulances and a college training paramedic, funding their work by charging patients for travel, providing training and providing emergency services to the national football team.
Abebe said TEBITA is one of thousands of social enterprises in Ethiopia aiming to help the most needy, with newcomers focused on agriculture, education, health, housing and IT.
For example, Maisha Technologies PLC is a technology-based social enterprise that is testing advanced drones to deliver blood to health centers in rural areas where half of maternal deaths occur.
HelloSolar aims to provide rural communities without electricity with off-grid power and affordable payment plans.
Abebe said young people – 43% of the population aged 15 and under – were playing a key role in advancing new social enterprises, many with technology solutions and hoping to create jobs for the future.
A 2016 British Council survey – which co-hosts SEWF with local partners – estimated the number of social enterprises in Ethiopia and found that half of them were run by people under 35, while women led more than a quarter of social enterprises.
But these companies reported numerous challenges, including the lack of a separate formal legal policy framework or recognized means of registering as social enterprises in Ethiopia.
The biggest barrier, however, was the financial one – accessing capital or obtaining donations – so finding a revenue stream and strong enough to support growth was critical. – Reuters