iSE | Social Enterprise World Forum Day Two

It’s day two in Ethiopia for iSE’s CEO Sarah Crawley. Before the Social Enterprise World Forum formally kicks-off tomorrow, Sarah has been touring the country to meet local social entrepreneurs and find more about the growing social economy in this part of Africa. Over to Sarah…

People are beginning to arrive to the conference from all over the world. It’s been heartwarming to see people from so many different backgrounds greet one another with hugs and witness their excitement around the opportunity to immerse themselves in social enterprise for the next three days.

My time in Ethiopia so far has been jam-packed with visits, tours, networking and learning.  Last night I was lucky enough to visit the British Embassy where I met the British Ambassador for Ethiopia with fellow Birmingham-based social entrepreneur Martin Hogg. We discussed Birmingham’s Social Enterprise City status and what that means for the social enterprise sector in the UK.

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Today began with an early start. Well it was supposed to be early – I was waiting for the minibus at the allotted time of 6.30am but we’re running slow here and we finally got away at 7am. I have been very excited about today’s visit to social enterprises located around Lake Cheleleka, Bishoftu – getting us out of Addis Ababa and providing us with the opportunity to get rural. The lake was beautiful and a bird watchers’ paradise!

Social enterprise is a relatively new concept over here but it sits well with individuals, communities and organisations. Trading is already embedded in local economies and there is now an understanding that trade can be used to address social and environmental issues too, moving away from the more commonly known NGO model.

A key theme of our visits so far is the importance placed on supporting women to be economically independent and providing care and education for children. The latter is hardly surprising as over 40% of the population are under the age of 15!

Our first visit of the day was to Jerusalem children and Community Development organisation (JeCCDO), a fascinating organisation providing integrated childcare support through simple but clever social enterprise income generation businesses based on the local market including a guest house, a Tuk Tuk delivery service, a bakery and more.

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Pictured above is a list of items including unwanted furniture, children’s play equipment and metals that JeCCDO target universities, corporates and individuals for –  the social enterprise then sells everything donated. If you look at the end column you’ll see they are making a good profit. Simple but clever!

What I found particularly interesting is how the organisation is working with communities in three states in Ethiopia, supporting them to access assets in the form of land and delivering services that really enhance the lives of families through education, access to cheaper food and information.

We had the opportunity to visit one of these community organisations which has seen immense growth over a relatively short space of time. Using a co-operative approach, the organisation began life with 1400 local residents all paying a fee to cover burial services. Eight years ago it was realised that they could deliver so much more and following land acquisition (a gift from the government) they now purchase grain when market price is low and sell it on to their ‘members’, they run their own school, feed and clothe children and support women to start businesses.

Our final visit was to a very large tourist attraction Kirifu Resort and Spa where profit is reinvested to support local children and provide a marketplace for women to sell their very beautiful crafts. One of these businesses, Damascene Essential Oils works with 350 female farmers to provide raw materials to manufacture high-quality pure essential oils and aromatherapy products.

The visits today really made me think. The social entrepreneurs are absolutely clear about why they are doing what they are doing and they are finding simple solutions to address difficult problems. They don’t use grants, they trade and they are ambitious. There is a lot that we can take back to the UK.

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Here’s one of the volunteers (spot the t shirt) who has been accompanying us on our visits – they have been so helpful and have their own interesting stories to tell too!