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  • Creating a green and equal future through social entrepreneurship: The case of Ethiopia

    Lemlem Sinkineh
    Lemlem Sinkineh
    Country Manager of Reach for Change Ethiopia
    As developing economies like Ethiopia face the biggest challenges in the world with youth unemployment, high levels of inequality, and are the ones feeling the impact of the changing climate the most, we asked Lemlem to reflect on how social entrepreneurship is an important tool to tackle them and to share some of the inspiring examples and lessons learned from her work.

    Lemlem Sinkineh was the Country Manager at Reach for Change Ethiopia from 2020 to 2023. After nearly 15 years working in different governmental and non-governmental organizations within community development and HIV programs, Lemlem joined Reach for Change in 2015, impressed by the idea of social entrepreneurship, which gives the organizations an opportunity to be sustainable and to have a long-term impact. Together with our local team, she has led and implemented various capacity and ecosystem development programs for social entrepreneurs.

    How has the social entrepreneurship landscape in Ethiopia changed in the last years?

    In 2015 Reach for Change launched the first and only at that time program for social entrepreneurs in Ethiopia. Back then the term social entrepreneurship needed to be better understood here. But many people had great ideas to impact Ethiopia - some already had small operations. Our role was to help them take that impact from the individual to the societal level. Since then we’ve supported over 230 social entrepreneurs to create sustainable social organizations and businesses, which in turn are also a strong voice for the development of the sector. There are now many intermediary organizations like us, focusing on different types of impact entrepreneurship, and there are many international investors in the field. The government is also paying special attention, and we’re currently contributing to the creation of the National Social Entrepreneurship Strategy and the Start-up Strategy. 


    And what is your definition of a social entrepreneur? 

    It’s a business with a mission. Someone who generates income from for-profit activities but still focuses on their impact. Someone who thinks about how they can contribute to the community. 

    As 60% of the population in Ethiopia is under the age of 25, there just aren’t enough job opportunities for all, and unemployment and underemployment rates are very high. This breeds all other kinds of social problems, of course.  So we saw a need to expand our scope of work and to also support SMEs that create jobs and increase income. As our global Program and Impact Director Shifeh says, we believe that all entrepreneurship can have a positive impact - if it is used deliberately to improve livelihoods and solve pressing social issues.


    How exactly are you tackling youth unemployment through entrepreneurship?

    Recently we’ve been quite engaged in designing and delivering Entrepreneurship Bootcamps - mind-shifting programs we’re doing for university students, out-of-school and unemployed youth, as well as women. The aim is to equip them with basic entrepreneurship know-how and build an entrepreneurial mindset. Of course, not all youth are entrepreneurs themselves.  The goal is not for all of them to start their own businesses. But some are really good at it, they just don’t know where to start. So we help them do that and thus create jobs for themselves and for others. And for the rest, the training they’ve received gives them better chances of finding a job and turns them into valuable employees. 


    You were the pioneers within the Reach for Change network to develop programs for green entrepreneurship. Why is it so important locally and how have you been enhancing the development of green innovations? 

    Everyone in Ethiopia sees for themselves the impact of climate change. Since 80% of the population is involved in agriculture, we depend a lot on nature. And now with the weather changing, we have severe droughts or very heavy rains and floods. 

    Together with IKEA Foundation, we’re piloting an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and Innovation Lab specifically for green ideas. The Bootcamp encourages young people to think from the beginning about green solutions, and the environmental impact their activities will have. And the Innovation Lab provides them with the space, opportunity, and small funding to pilot their innovations. 

    What kind of green innovations are young people coming up with? 

    Many focus on waste management and recycling. There is one who is developing new construction materials based on reused plastic, one woman has an idea to produce sanitary pads that can be recycled, and some create upcycled bags, shoes, and other accessories. And since climate change is a cross-cutting topic for all our programs, like our Incubator and Scaling Readiness program, we have also examples of advanced green entrepreneurs.  They are many focusing on alternative energy systems and energy saving. Duna Energy for example has created a clean and affordable cooking stove that generates electricity and cooks simultaneously.


    Another key topic for you is female empowerment. What issues are women facing on their entrepreneurial journey and how are you supporting them? 

    There are still many gender gaps in Ethiopia, especially in rural communities. It’s hard for women to balance managing the household and a business at the same time. And there are many problems when it comes to access to finance. Women need to become more confident in order to pitch and market their business plans persuasively. We’re trying to help them with these things, especially within our Women's Economic Empowerment programs. We run a pilot with GIZ in rural communities, and now we’re expanding our work. Together with the World Bank, we will provide basic entrepreneurial training workshops for 1500 women. We’ve seen the impact of similar Reach for Change programs in Ghana and we want to implement them in Ethiopia as well. 

    Do you have a favorite example of a female social entrepreneur you’ve supported?

    The women we work with are very strong, they’ve overcome so many challenges and the success rate of their businesses is high. One of my favorite stories is that of Muday Mitiku. On the one hand, she runs a Charity Association which supports vulnerable and orphaned children and women at risk, providing them with housing, food, and education. She has adopted over 20 children herself! But at the same time, she managed to establish a business. She runs a farm, a retail store, and a bread business where she gives vocational training and employs marginalized women - single moms, homeless women, and women living with HIV.

    You can find more inspiring stories of Ethiopian female entrepreneurs in our Voice of Change radio series.


    What advice would you give to a starting entrepreneur in Ethiopia?

    Many young people think that if they establish a business today, they will get rich tomorrow. And of course, it doesn’t work like that. They need to stay strong and have endurance. There will be ups and downs, and their plans might fail. But if they develop that kind of mindset, and if they learn from others in the field, they can be very successful.


    What lessons have you learned during your 7 years in Reach for Change?

    The first lesson is that social entrepreneurship ideas really do work. The organizations we’ve supported are creating the impact we’re looking for, their business is still up and running.

    And the second one is that we can’t change the world alone. We need partnerships within all the different sectors to have a real impact. Because it’s not enough to just capacity-develop entrepreneurs, we need to develop the ecosystem too. We need to improve the legislation, increase the flow of investments and diversify the types of funding. We need to raise awareness about the work and products of the entrepreneurs and about their needs. Only then can we create long-lasting change.


    Curious to find out more about our work and how to partner with us in Ethiopia? Drop us an email at: [email protected]