Africa is a continent on the rise with female entrepreneurs leading the continent’s growth in a sustainable and an ecofriendly manner. Africa has seen the highest growth among businesses run by women in recent years. Amongst these female entrepreneurs is Mitslal kifleyesus (PhD), an Ethiopian Agri entrepreneur, looking to bring Ethiopia’s agricultural practices into the 21st century.
In the early stages of her career, Mitslal helped set up the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) back in the 1990s, with the organization recently receiving the Nobel Peace Prize. She is originally from Ethiopia and now lives in Jena in the German state of Thüringen. She’s a political scientist and a social entrepreneur running a business helping 11,000 farmers in Ethiopia.
Mitslal strayed from her first career path after having done what she initially set out to do, pursuing a career path full of unknowns and difficulties. Her first career had more to do with convincing a number of African and Latin American nations to ratify the Chemical Weapons Convention, persuading them with a promise of a better tomorrow for their respective countries.
With a vision of a country that would be peacefully developed with food, cosmetics, medicine, and other applications, she understood she would have to work with farmers instead of the higher officials in order for it to come to fruition. Hence, Mitslal left her high paying job at the UN to work with local farmers.
Mitslal is the founder of Ecopia, a social for-profit company, dedicated to promoting sustainable development within the Ethiopian rural community. Even though her previous career took her on a different path, she always had an entrepreneurial spirit that pushed her to solve problems in ways it benefits everyone involved.
Mitslal recalls how her entrepreneurial journey began as a 12-year-old girl, who noticed a sick man on the doorsteps of Menelik hospital. Wanting to help the man, she talked to a surgeon who then proceeded to tell her that he needed money for the surgery. Mitslal proposed a deal to the surgeon, where she would work cleaning his office on the weekends and the surgeon could use the money he would have paid her, for the medical costs of the man in need. She learned the value of money at such a young age, instilling in her the importance of doing something good for others, while also benefiting yourself, a social entrepreneur was born.
After having spent several years abroad, she started working for the United Nations at the age of 21, where she was presented with the opportunity to see the world in a different light. When Mitslal returned to Ethiopia in 2007, she aimed to contribute to poverty eradication in rural areas, by creating a company that allowed farmers to enter the 21st century market.
“As Ethiopians, we are heavily involved in trade but not so much on production. Since the early years of Queen Saba, our epigenetics is designed to trade, but thankfully this can be changed with just a bit of effort. I wanted our products to be marketed to the 21st century market. Meaning, I wanted Ethiopian products to be more than products, I wanted us to sell a lifestyle, an organic nature-based product that would connect one with Mother Nature. The products we sell transcend the physical products alone, it transforms in a spiritual level as well,” said Mitslal.
Her company is based in rural communities, where they process all the products with the rural community.
Ecopia already has more than 14 sites, where they have started collaborating with local colleges to recruit young entrepreneurs with a startup idea.
“As long as the community wants to earn money to fulfill the Sustainable Development Goals, we will go anywhere. The aim is to generate money through fulfilling the SDGs,” Mitslal said.
According to a 2018 World Bank report, Africa is the only region in the world where more women than men choose to become entrepreneurs, a phenomenon that is not the subject of adequate discussion, although these women lack the support to see their businesses through.
Ecopia encourages women to explore their work ethics, and their Entrepreneurial desires. Women make around eighty percent of the products in the company, since more women are drawn to it than men due to the nature of the activity itself. The company presents them with an opportunity to manufacture, while learning the ins and outs of the business for themselves as well.
It encourages young women to become entrepreneurs with effective trainings, where they discuss the obligation of the communities to take the full responsibilities of their companies after five years, and help them with the branding of their products. Ecopia invests in the dreams and talents of these women and works with them as well as market their products in the cities as well as abroad, giving the women an opportunity of a life time.
The company’s aim is to build a sustainable social entrepreneurial experience where the rural community is involved with manufacturing and production of these products that are fit to be marketed for the 21st century consumer. It involves all the communities from the beginning and makes sure that they are as independent as possible. So far, it has around 11,000 – 12,000 suppliers, but the aim is to reach two million Ethiopians.
“Often times, women want us to do this because most of the young men are interested in big projects, not the small ones. The men want flashy things that more often than not help fluff their egos. But women want to contribute to their communities while providing essential things, like food and health,” Mitslal exclaimed.
Social enterprises are the ones that will survive in the coming 10 to 20 years. People want enterprises that solve their problems, not ones that create pseudo problems and solve them afterwards. The future for Ecopia is great because social enterprises are on the rise, especially in Africa, where manufacturing and production are just starting to take their baby steps.
Ecopia has come so far to a point where it has created a social entrepreneur impact house with the Ethiopian government, connected with the financial system and Universities, to create a financial institution, which enables start-ups within the social impact field.
Mitslal has conquered multiple career sectors mainly due to her drive and ability to accept the reality of where she comes from and what resources are availed to her. There is still so much more she plans to implement in Ethiopia and Africa as a whole. As part of her next big steps, she plans on creating Ethiopia’s Stock market.