Empowering Ethiopian Women Entrepreneurs through Trainings on Life Skills, Marketing, Financial Literacy, and Business Development

By Alemfrie Derese, Zewdu Lake, and Girum Assefa

The activities described in this article took place before the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ Temporary Pause of International Exchange Programs Due to COVID-19.

Gender equality is both a moral and economic imperative. Achieving greater gender equality remains a major challenge despite the important gains that have been made in women’s education and employment outcomes in recent history. Forty years after the founding of the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the status of women in Africa and their access to decision-making structures, adequate health care, education, housing, work opportunities and so on, remain far behind that of men. Lack of access to productive resources, education, low decision-making involvement; violence and harmful traditional practices are some of the indicators of the socioeconomic marginalization of women in Ethiopia. (Almaz, 1991; Hirut, 2004; Mukuria et al., 2005). Such challenges are even worse in cities like Bahir Dar and its surrounding rural areas. As a result, women strive with social, economic and socio-cultural challenges to lead their family, to start and run their business and participate in public affairs in the formal and informal sectors. However, the number women who are working in business is increasing gradually and the core issue is how to make these women successful in their business.

Although there are a few institutions that are providing training on entrepreneurship in the city of Bahir Dar, the training is comprehensive and not tailored to the specific needs of women entrepreneurs. In addition, the training is designed to support high level entrepreneurs who have already smashed through the cultural paradigm that often holds women entrepreneurs back. However, in reality most women-led businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises that require personal development and business training. Due to low participation in decision-making processes and other cultural influences, the confidence of many women entrepreneurs is relatively low. This has prohibited women entrepreneurs from successfully negotiating assertively, promoting their products, setting challenging goals, taking calculated risks, and grabbing new opportunities for the growth of their business. In addition, among the business training needed, marketing and financial literacy have become the most prevalent areas that need improvement according to most businesswomen. In order to curb such multiple socio-economic challenges that women entrepreneurs in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia face, we designed a project, “Empower Women,” through the Alumni TIES grant funded by the U.S. Department of State that was developed as a result of our participation at the Alumni TIES seminar in Accra, Ghana on “Strengthening Business and Trade for Women Entrepreneurs in Africa” in June 2019. . This project aims to empower 50 women entrepreneurs operating in the fields of food processing, textiles, leather, and other manufacturing sectors through training and mentorship.

The recruitment of women entrepreneurs was accomplished in partnership with Amhara Women Entrepreneurs’ Association (AWEA) and Amhara Chamber of Commerce, a regional umbrella association of businesspeople. Among the identified list of 55 women entrepreneurs recruited for the training by AWEA and the regional chamber, 45 of them qualified for our program through a preliminary selection process which included one-on-one interviews with the recommended candidates. During the first phase of the project, we conducted trainings on financial literacy where participants learned the basics of bookkeeping, cash management, balancing budgets, and how to prepare financial statements. Additionally, we facilitated sessions on basic marketing skills such as branding, packaging, pricing, promotion, and distribution in order to equip them with the knowledge to effectively increase the profitability of their enterprises. The trainings were split into two rounds across twelve days. On the last day, participants who completed the training in both sessions were invited to an “inspiration session” on how to grow as women facilitated by project team member, Girum Assefa. During the same event, the trainees who successfully completed the trainings received certificates and were assigned mentors.

Participants take part in an entrepreneurship training during the first phase of the project.
Project leader, Alemfrie Derese, learns first-hand about a participant’s business trade.
Participants complete their training on financial literacy and marketing, and showcase their certificates.

With the successful completion of the first phase, we now look toward phase two. For this part, we will focus on one-on-one mentorship, where the project’s participants will receive guidance from established entrepreneurs. We believe mentorship is a powerful capacity building approach to check whether the skills and lessons that they learned during training were fully understood. We hope that as we continue to work with these women that the opportunities for them to grow their businesses will flourish along with their newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Empower Women is funded through an Alumni TIES small grant from the U.S. Department of State.

Alumni Thematic International Exchange Seminars (Alumni TIES) are regionally focused seminars for alumni of U.S. government-sponsored exchange programs.