Ethiopia sees rise in businesses doing good as economy opens up

Abiy Ahmed

From ex-prostitutes making jewellery out of bullet casing to drones delivering blood, rising numbers of businesses with a mission to help address social problems are emerging in aEthiopia as the economy opens up.

An estimated 55,000 social enterprises operate in Ethiopia, the second-most populous country in Africa and 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 set up to do good is on the rise since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came in 18 months ago and vowed to open the economy to private investment, raising hopes of official recognition for the sector and easier access to funds.

Kibret Abebe, one of Ethiopia’s best-known social entrepreneurs, said the sector would be boosted as Ethiopia hosts the 12th annual Social Enterprise World 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 Abebe, first president of Social Enterprise Ethiopia, which was set up last year to advance firms set up to do good that re-invest their profits into their work.

“Scaling up has been a nightmare in Ethiopia and it’s been hard to collaborate with the government but I’m optimistic this will change as we have a lot of social problems to fix.”

Ethiopia’s Education Minister Tilaye Gete said hosting SEWF, attended by more than 1,200 delegates from 50 or so countries, was a sign of change under Ahmed, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month.