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January 25-27

As a child, Elsa Hadera saw first-hand how business could help others: her mother trained up both the family’s housemaid and their cook into better-paying roles in the family-owned jewellery company in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

“Mum used to encourage us to create jobs, especially for those from vulnerable backgrounds,” she says. “I guess we try to follow the same model.”

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For six Ethiopian participants, it also meant space for serious discussions about supporting their fledgling sector back home. Shortly afterwards, Social Enterprise Ethiopia (SEE), a new national body, was born.
Previous efforts to form a network of social entrepreneurs had stagnated, but SEE’s new president, social entrepreneur Kibret Abebe (pictured above speaking at the Boatcamp), says the level of commitment is different this time.
“We understand now that we need to legalise our organisation,” he tells Pioneers Post. “Without this, we can’t push the agenda.”

What we’re offering is not just the Social Enterprise World Forum, not just the forum itself. What we’re offering is a unique experience. It’s the first time that the forum is coming to a developing economy, and then the forum itself, the usual networking, learning, bunch of opportunities are there, but in a different context. Ethiopia has a unique history and so there are so many things in terms of the social enterprise sector to see within the Ethiopian context, which has gone back a long time. Our strapline for this year’s forum is local traditions, fresh perspectives. The reason we use the word traditions is because Ethiopia has a long history of social enterprise engagement, not under the label of social enterprise, but social enterprise is about living and supporting the community, living that way.

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We started to move into social enterprise about four years ago, and it’s not easy to change the mindset of the staff. At first, people were really laughing at me, thinking this man is crazy. So I had to produce a lot of papers for the staff to read to understand the concept, and we had a lot of engagement and dialogue. And we also brought in staff training from London, as well as support from the British Council.

Now other NGOs in the country know about us now and want to learn from us, and social enterprise has cascaded into other communities.

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Wubet Girma, deputy director of the British Council Ethiopia which is hosting the event, said: “Delegates at the SEWF in Addis in 2019 will, for the first time, be able to engage with the unique and vibrant Ethiopian social enterprise ecosystem.”

She added: “The SEWF offers a great opportunity to establish new relationships and create a platform for ongoing collaboration and sharing. We will offer delegates a rich, authentic Ethiopian cultural experience throughout the forum, at side events and study tours, including to world-renowned cultural heritage sites.”

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A wave of economic reforms in Ethiopia since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to office nearly a year ago has sparked hope among social businesses struggling to grow under the east African nation’s heavily regulated economy, industry experts said.

Since April, Abiy’s government has announced shake-ups across industries, including plans to open up the once closely guarded telecommunications and power monopolies.

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The British Council and The Rooftop have agreed a new partnership to feature inspiring social enterprises from around the world. With the Social Enterprise World Forum just four months away, a series of articles will build up to the excitement of the Forum taking place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The 2019 World Forum will be an historic occasion as it is the first time the event will be held in an emerging market economy. More than 1,200 delegates from around the world are expected to attend in order to learn, share and network with each other. Currently the preparations for the event are commencing and several partners including the Ethiopian Government, the Social Enterprise Ethiopia association, and several sponsors including SAP and Johnson & Johnson are working alongside the British Council to make this event a success. The full programme for this year which blends African traditional social enterprise perspectives with future technological trends has been announced on the event website Organisers have reassured delegates that following an attempted coup in the country, it is still business as usual. Nebiyou Worku, Communications and Marketing Manager from the British Council and Marcomms lead for the SEWF 2019 event, commented: “There has been much positive change in Ethiopia in the last 15 months since a new Prime Minister came to power. “We have seen peace with Eritrea, 60,000 freed political prisoners, allowing previously banned opposition groups, a governing Cabinet made up of 50 per cent women, a pledge for free elections in 2020 and a prominent opposition activist appointed as head of the electoral commission. “There is much to celebrate in Ethiopia and despite some negative isolated incidents, the positive forces of change are prevailing in the country. “There are no major concerns that will affect the SEWF 2019 event. But, needless to say, there is a dedicated team that is scanning the situation so as to take appropriate action beforehand should there be the slightest of risks.” Simon Francis, Editor of The Rooftop, said: “Our partnership with the Social Enterprise World Forum 2019 will mean we can shine a spotlight on the amazing social enterprises from around the world. “Social Enterprise may seem a western concept, but the reality is very different. In Ethiopia alone an estimated 55,000 social enterprises exist and we look forward to featuring their stories over the coming months.” Delegates can sign up to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum at

Growing up is hard to do. For businesses that aim do good as well as make profit, it’s a sentiment they are all too familiar with.

There is a vast array of philanthropic grants, investment funds,and incubators offering capital and support to get social enterprises off the ground.

But once established, these businesses often struggle to scale up: too small to get investment from larger commercial banks or strategic investors, yet too big to receive startup capital.

This hinterland is known as “the missing middle” and it is a problem social entrepreneurs around the world face.

“I’m the living example of the missing middle,” Kibret Abebe, founder of Tebita, a private ambulance service in Ethiopia, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Abebe sold his house and car to get enough money to start his social enterprise 11 years ago and received funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) to grow it.

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The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF), the leading international forum for social entrepreneurship and social investment, is set to be hosted in Addis Ababa next year. With growing popularity of social enterprises in the country, the gathering is to be the first time such an event has taken place in the region which was first started in Edinburgh in 2008, rotating in a number of countries around the world. Click here to read the full article