Friday, April 19, 2024
SocietyWoman entrepreneur flourishes in face of adversity

Woman entrepreneur flourishes in face of adversity

Women around the world face a staggering lack of opportunities and numerous obstacles in their quest for economic empowerment. Centuries of tradition, social norms and gender bias have stacked the deck against female entrepreneurs and business leaders. While laws and attitudes are slowly changing, women still face pervasive challenges in accessing capital, education, business networks, and fair treatment. Generations of limited opportunities for women mean they enter the workforce with fewer resources, skills and confidence compared to their male counterparts.

But as women rise economically, it also lifts up families, communities and entire nations. In Ethiopia where opportunity often overlooks women, Birknesh Fatuke is proof that grit and nous can trump the toughest odds.

The 35-year-old mother from Damot Pulasa, Wolayta, is turning the tide for women in her family, refusing to accept the limited futures of her mother and grandmother’s generation. She wanted different for herself.

The spark for Birknesh’s success was an unexpected place: a local women’s empowerment group sponsored by REAL called the Women’s Economic Group (WEG).

There, Birknesh learned invaluable business skills that lit a fire under her entrepreneurial spirit. The project gave her the tools and confidence she needed to start her own venture, despite having no prior experience.

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The project instilled in her the belief that change comes not just through aid, but also through self-reliance and initiative. Armed with this insight, Birknesh started a group savings and loan system to fund her own business through collective savings.

She now owns an injera baking and livestock husbandry business, established in April 2017.

“The inspiration for my venture came from the training provided by the project,” says Birknesh.  Her business supplies injera, Ethiopia’s staple food, to the local rural market. She manages livestock, focusing on improved fodder to ensure good health and produce dairy for her family.

Like all entrepreneurs, Birknesh faced challenges building her business. The Belg season meant lower incomes for customers, limiting injera purchases. Rising teff prices, the main ingredient for injera, also impacted profits. Yet through grit and perseverance, she has overcome these hurdles and continues growing her venture.

Birknesh’s journey with International Development Enterprises (IDE), a non-profit that empowers rural women, has been transformative. IDE’s approach focuses on building women’s capacity for market-based activities through training in financial management, business skills and market analysis. IDE also provides access to credit, inputs like seeds and tools, and helps women connect with suppliers and access new markets.

“My journey with IDE has been enriching,” Birknesh says. “The most important lesson has been around mindset – believing we can bring about change for ourselves and our families starting with what we already have, not just relying on aid.

Birknesh’s business has experienced steady growth in its first two years, followed by rapid expansion. Her initial capital of 1,500 birr has grown to 25,000 birr. She has created jobs, employing others in her community.

She plans to expand further by introducing electricity to bake injera. “This could potentially increase supply, reduce labor and energy usage, providing a platform to scale up my business,” she says.

She believes her journey can inspire other women with similar experiences. She firmly believes women in similar businesses can transform their lives. “Challenges are often opportunities for growth,” says Birknesh. “Small business training is crucial for understanding business ideas and conducting cost-benefit analysis.”

Birknesh’s success exemplifies how even modest women-led enterprises – with the right skills, motivation and support networks – can make tremendous economic impacts by empowering entrepreneurs, creating jobs and strengthening communities from the ground up. Her story shows the power of self-reliance and entrepreneurship in transforming the lives of rural Ethiopian women.

Currently, Birknesh is being honored by IDE’s “40 Under 40” initiative, which spotlights inspiring entrepreneurs under 40 who are battling poverty and making a big impact in their communities.

Through her journey, Birknesh aims to remind people that with the right mindset and support, women can create lasting change in their own lives and communities. Initiatives like IDE’s Women in Business (WIB) and Women in Agriculture (WIA) programs – which provide women entrepreneurs with skills and resources – are critical to help women succeed, she says.

Birknesh’s experiences epitomize how grassroots entrepreneurship – coupled with targeted training, funding and market linkages for women – can unleash an upward spiral of economic and social progress, starting from the ground up and empowering entire families and communities with dignity, opportunity and hope. Her message to other women is clear: with the right training, resources and belief, they too can create lasting change in their own lives and communities.

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