As Ethiopia celebrates the 43rd International Women’s Day, there is still much lagging behind in Ethiopia. There is still a gap between gender equality in Ethiopia and many other African countries. What is being done so far is not to be ignored. Women have worked hard to be able to have equal rights with men. The current Prime Minister of Ethiopia has appointed half of his cabinet women and Ethiopia’s president is now a woman. This comes as a joy for many but how about other women? What is being done to help women progress in their careers? And what could businesses do through their corporate social responsibility (CSR)?
When people talk about corporate social responsibility, it is usually in regard to human rights and environment pollution. Companies have corporate social responsibility towards their communities and the earth. Corporate social responsibility is implemented voluntary and by self-regulatory measures. Companies undertake this responsibility to give back and contribute positively to the society.
As the International Women’s Day is celebrated on the 8th of March, countries have much more that needs to be done in regard to women. International Women’s Day aims to protect women’s right and promote women’s social, economic, cultural and political empowerment. It is also a platform that raise awareness in communities of the need to eradicate practices against violations of their rights.
One of the companies that is working towards their corporate social responsibility, is Rainbow Foam. On Sunday March 8, Rainbow Foam organized an exclusive event to celebrate Women’s Day and brought 10 elderly women from Bishoftu to celebrate Women’s Day. Haben Woldu, director operations and brand ambassador at Keste Damena Foam Factory, told The Reporter about their company’s corporate social responsibilities. They recently collaborated with Yeha Digital Arts as one of their diamond sponsors. Rainbow (Keste Damena) is known for its foam and mattress. Haben told The Reporter, “We each need each other” which is why they choose to sponsor Yeha Digital Arts exhibition, in a way to help the creative industries.
From March 6-8, Rainbow Foam had 80 percent discount at all their shops in honor of International Women’s Day. Part of the proceeds, is going to be given to a non-profit organization, Haben told The Reporter. Part of the program is that they help women to save money, open bank accounts for women who have never had a bank account. They have another group called granny club that addresses the need in Ethiopia of taking care of the elders. With the rapids changes in development in the country, the youth and children as well as education get more attention while the elderlies are usually forgotten in the process and neglected as a result. Rainbow Foam partnered with a non-profit organization called Ethio-Genet.
The granny club meets every month and do coffee and tea in order for them to feel integrated in the society, so they do not feel that they are alone. Moreover, Ethio Genet gives them something every month such as oil, soap, teff etc. Haben told The Reporter that last month Rainbow Foam gave all the elderly women blankets. She said, “We believe as a business, we have a corporate social responsibility and that we need to give back to the community”.
The event was about honoring women, and the event was aimed at showcasing those elderly women. For future projects, Haben told The Reporter that Ethio-Genet helps 10 houses a year and Rainbow Foam is planning to double the impact and help 10 more houses making a total of 20 houses. Eventually, there is plan for a Rainbow Foundation, which plans to help even more elderly. Rainbow Foam industry is currently operating as a financial vehicle for Ethio-Genet and they also plan to use media and advertisement to share those elderly women’s experiences and inspire other organizations to be doing these things. Haben said that they are currently trying to set an example so others can also follow.
“It is hard for people to see your vision without action, so it is hard for people to buy in. so when people see more impact on the community you will get more buy in,” Haben says in regards to the challenges she has encountered with making corporate social responsibility happen. “In a country where there is so much people that need help it is hard to know where to direct your energy. So we want to give people an outlet on how to support and be the vehicle”.
Another business is working towards a different perspective of corporate social responsibility. Sabegn, an Ethiopian based social enterprise created by two young women in their 30s are also doing corporate social responsibility as part of the core of their business. Eyerusalem, cofounder of Sabegn, sat with The Reporter and discussed her journey. The main product of Sabegn is leather bags, and they also have a concept place where they showcase artistry where they have over 50 designers and artisans that display in Sabegn. They also have a concept coffee shop.
Eyerusalem and her sister have been in the business for nine years where they learned to be inspired and appreciate the process. Their main goal was to create an impact. Sabegn was opened two years ago. Currently, there are 52 employees and 82 percent are women. Eyerusalem told The Reporter that their main goal is to create jobs that pay fair wages. She added that they try to recruit employees from different background that are also considered vulnerable as well. Vulnerable includes women that do not have employment and that are dependent on others because of different reasons. Sabegn so far employs a mix of women that have gone through training but with no experience. The training they give on the job is also for people who have basic training at the leather institute. The training usually takes for 3-6 months though it depends on the person.
When asked about challenges that Eyerusalem and her sister encountered as women entrepreneurs, Eyerusalem chose to give a different perspective from what is usually said. She told The Reporter she believed that there are more opportunities for women as entrepreneurs than challenges, of course as a business there are many challenges but being a woman did not make it harder. She noted that it is all about one’s personal outlook that dictates their surrounding not the other way around. “I think mindset is very important. So if you see the positives and the impact you can make instead of what the environment is pushing at you that really helps direct you forward.” There are challenges as a county and as a business but as being a woman entrepreneur, Eyerusalem says she doesn’t see the challenges as directed to her because of her gender any longer.
Sabegn concept store opened with the aim of empowering community by creating sustainable employment by paying livable wages and crafting a unique customer experience showcasing of different visual artists, photographers, jewelry brand, fashion, lifestyle and accessories designers. Eyerusalem said that their business does not believe in cheap labor and aim to pay fair wages to their employees. She also added as part of their corporate social responsibility they recycle leather that has been thrown away and if leather end up in waste it can become very toxic.
For the future, Eyerusalem said that they are piloting a homeworking project, which is outsourcing some part of the production to mainly women who can’t leave their homes, like the elderly, single mothers or disabled people. For example, the weaving part of the bags would be outsourced from those people.
To all the women out there, Eyerusalem advices them that their mindset and how they perceive themselves is very important in order to succeed. She told The Reporter, “You can really shift the attitude of other people if you can shift of how you think and how you conduct yourself”. She added that you can succeed by helping others and it is important to uplift others.
Contributed by Sesina Hailou