SEWF 2019 opens: "Now is the right time for Ethiopia"

“This is the right time for Ethiopia to host the Social Enterprise World Forum.”

These were the words of Dr Tilaye Gete, Ethiopia’s minister for education, as he greeted 1,200 delegates from 70 countries and territories at the opening of the 12th Social Enterprise World Forum on Wednesday 23 October 2019.

To cheers and applause of the packed main conference hall of the United Nations Conference Centre in Addis Ababa, he reminded the audience that Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed Ali, had just been awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his success in ceasing the long-running conflict between his country and Eritrea. 

“We are pleased to have you here to celebrate that with us,” he said.

Our ambition for the Social Enterprise World Forum is to be a catalyst

Several speakers took to the stage following a breathtaking performance of dance, gymnastics and acrobatics by a circus troupe in the exhibition area, where local social enterprises are selling leather products, jewellery and coffee during the three days of the main event.

The forum's master of ceremonies, Munit Mesfin, welcomed the delegates to the “historic, beautiful and dramatically transforming nation of Ethiopia”.

Against the backdrop of the many positive changes that were happening throughout Ethiopia right now, Dr Tilaye highlighted his hope that social enterprise would also contribute to the country’s development.

“Our ambition for the Social Enterprise World Forum is to be a create an environment in which social enterprise flourishes,” he said.

He added that the movement had the “country-wide commitment of the government of Ethiopia”.

Dr Hirut Kassaw, the minister for culture and tourism echoed his message. Social entrepreneurship was “one of the most important initiatives” for Ethiopia, he said. 

Kibret Abebe, president of Social Enterprise Ethiopia and founder of Tebita Ambulance, agreed that it was an “exciting time” for the country. He added: “We want the government to understand that social business is the best strategy to lift Ethiopia out of poverty...and to create a fair, inclusive economy for all.”

Clare Reddington, British Council trustee and a social entrepreneur from the UK, said that this year’s Social Enterprise World Forum was a “welcome opportunity to learn from and celebrate” what was happening in Ethiopia. 

The chair of the Social Enterprise World Forum, Helene Malandain, agreed, reflecting on this year’s theme – “local traditions, fresh perspectives”. Social enterprise as a model compares with the way that most indigenous people approach business, she said, adding, “We have a lot to learn from Ethiopia’s traditions.”


A legacy for Ethiopia

“It’s a big deal to have the forum here and your presence here will leave a legacy,” said one of Ethiopia’s most well-known social entrepreneurs, Bruktawit Tigabu, founder of Whiz Kids Workshop.

She was speaking during the event’s first plenary session which examined the role of social enterprise in tackling inequality. 

Bruktawit was joined on stage by Lord Victor Adebowale, CEO of UK social enterprise Turning Point and chair of Social Enterprise UK. He repeated the message that he gave at last year’s Social Enterprise World Forum in Edinburgh that the world was “standing on a burning platform”. The world was facing three significant threats, he said: the climate crisis, inequality and inequity, and political unrest. The social enterprise movement, he urged, needed to step up to the challenge of tackling these.

Sara Eklund, the founder of Ethiopian social enterprise Noble Cup, which helps young women understand and manage their periods, spoke frankly about the realities of menstruation for women around the world. 

“Social enterprise over the last few decades,” said Bruktawit, “has proven that it can not only make an impact but that it is locally driven and sustainable.”

The Social Enterprise World Forum “will be a major milestone”, she said. “It will engage Ethiopia and Africa in the inclusive economy movement.”


Header photo: Digital Storytellers