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Growing Entrepreneurs, Growing Opportunities for Generations to Come

“I never thought that these kind of days would come for me and my daughter. I never thought weaving would change our lives like this!” – Werkinesh Wade

MEDA launched its first project in Ethiopia in December 2010, Ethiopians Driving Growth through Trade and Entrepreneurship (EDGET), a rice and textile value chain project funded by Global Affairs Canada. The project aimed to increase incomes for 10,000 men and women farmers and textile producers in three regions of Ethiopia: Amhara, Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region, and Addis Ababa. EDGET, which means ‘progress’ in the Amharic language, concentrated on integrating smallholder rice farmers and textile artisans into high value markets through increased market linkages and enhanced productivity.

Ethiopian Fabric Ethiopian textiles

Hand weaving has a long history and tradition for many households in Ethiopia. Traditionally, hand weaving has been a male-dominant sub-sector and one in which human trafficking and child labour is prevalent. Children and youth are trafficked from rural areas, particularly in the South, to the capital, Addis Ababa to work with weaver business owners.[1] Recently, there have been efforts by both the Government of Ethiopia and the international development community to reduce child labour in this specific industry, and improve the livelihoods of textile households. Read more about MEDA’s second initiative in Ethiopia, the E-FACE project, here.

As the EDGET project is in its closing out phase, the team compiled 12 client stories out of the 70 stories collected throughout the life of the project, to produce a collection titled, “Growing Entrepreneurs: Ethiopian Stories of Change.

Werkinish Ethiopia Werkinish Wade, Ethiopia

Werkinesh Wade is one of the clients featured in the collection. Her story tells of opportunity and entrepreneurship. As a result of her economic improvements Werkinesh over the last few years, she is hopeful for her family, especially her daughter.

Werkinesh currently lives in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital city with a population of over three million people. She was born in Chencha, which is in the southern part of Ethiopia and known especially for hand weaving. She lived there for entire childhood, then moved to Addis Ababa to seek opportunities to improve her living conditions and prospects. However, as a woman, she faced many hardships and troubles. She started to make a living through winding and spinning cotton for weavers, who were mostly male.

The EDGET project supported her to transition to an intermediary role, to increase market linkages and market opportunities for different actors in the textile value chain. She won an award from Women in Self Employment (WISE) one of EDGET’s local partners, for her creating a sustainable market linkage for 10 unemployed female weavers. As she can relate to struggling female weavers, she provides counsel and advice on product quality and negotiation skills. She also understands the importance of adding value to hand-woven products. Werkinesh started off renting a sewing machine to add finished detailing to the products she sells in the market and to buyers and traders. Given the benefit of the sewing machine, she was able to purchase her own through EDGET’s innovation funds.

While this project did not work directly with youth, there will be a significant and positive generational impact through the weavers who were supported through EDGET’s work in the textile value chain. The long-term effects are increased incomes for weavers and farmers, so that households can send their children to better schools, ensure improved food security, and sustain income opportunities.

Werkinesh never thought that weaving would produce any change in her life. But now she can confidently say, “I never thought that these days would come for me and my daughter. I never thought that weaving would change our lives like this!” Surely, Werkinesh’s confidence and entrepreneurial spirit will be relayed to her daughter, who will be part of a generation in Ethiopia that are paths to greater social and economic opportunities.

You can read about eleven more entrepreneurs like Werkinesh in “Growing Entrepreneurs: Ethiopian Stories of Change.

[1] US Department of Labor, Ethiopia: 2014 Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor.

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