Female-run enterprises are steadily growing in Ethiopia, contributing to household incomes, job creation, and the growth of the local economy. While the number of women leading a business is increasing, gender inequalities are still very pronounced in the country. Women consistently have lower levels of education than men, with over 75 percent of women — compared to 50 percent of men — having no education at all. Women also have little representation in decision-making positions and struggle to access the capital and resources they need to grow their businesses.
To bridge these gaps, the Ethiopia CIC is tailoring its suite of services to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs. The new CEO of the center, Tehut Tesfaye, is leading the efforts, bringing to the ECIC an academic background in business management, years of consulting experience with local startups, as well as her own experience as a business woman.
Q.) What's it like to be a woman entrepreneur in Ethiopia?
Ethiopia presents great opportunities for women, as the nation is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. However, there are also some cultural barriers for women in business. For example, women have less access to finance and limited networking avenues compared to men. Much is being done to bridge these gaps. In Addis, there are several support groups for women in business. Many local universities have specific academic programs for emerging entrepreneurs. And then, of course, there is the Ethiopia CIC.
Q.) Since you mentioned the Ethiopia CIC, how is the center supporting women-led businesses?
We focused very much on women's entrepreneurship. We have a gender specialist who focuses exclusively on how to best serve women in business. One of the first things we did is to develop a "Gender Mainstreaming Manual" to ensure that specific gender-related objectives are met in each policy framework, program, or activity promoted by the center. We also organize regular women's special interest group meetings to better understand the needs and challenges of women entrepreneurs in the country and design appropriate programs to support them.
Q.) Can you tell us more about the scope of these women's interest group meetings?
The Ethiopia CIC uses these meetings as a tool to identify, analyze, and address challenges faced by women entrepreneurs in their business activities. The meetings are a platform that brings together all the relevant stakeholders — women, of course, but also policy makers, NGOs, financial institutions, associations, and government organizations. This gives us the chance to look at many issues from different perspectives, while also offering women the opportunity to network and be exposed to new ideas.
Q.) What do you want to accomplish as the new CEO of the center in the next year?
I would like to strengthen the services we provide to entrepreneurs, especially women. We are introducing new business advisory programs, and I also plan to expand partnerships with other service provides so that entrepreneurs have better access to training, mentoring, and business development support.
Q.) You have accomplished a lot in your career. What is the moment you are the most proud of?
Definitely when the bell rang to mark the start of the trade of coffee beans and sesame seeds at the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange. I was the manager for that project and after so much hard work I felt incredibly excited. There’s nothing that makes me more proud than seeing other entrepreneurs succeed as a result of my advice.
Q.) Speaking of advice, what are the three most important suggestions that you can give to women who want to start a business?
First of all, be prepared to work hard. Secondly, start a business around something that you are really passionate about. And finally, always listen and surround yourselves with experienced advisors. Hard work, passion, and knowledge are absolutely critical to maintain motivation and develop the confidence you need to overcome the challenges of a new business.