Launch of Joint Project Connecting Women to the Export Market Prime Minister’s Office

Feb 17, 2014


Eugene Owusu

UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and

UNDP Resident Representative


Her Excellency First Lady Roman Tesfaye

Excellency Ministers,

Honourable Members of Parliament,

Senior Government Officials,

His Excellency Ambassador David Usher of Canada

Development Partners,

Representatives of Non-Governmental Organisations,

Members of the Private Sector,

Ladies and Gentlemen,


Today we are gathered here to launch a flagship project by the First Lady of Ethiopia, the Centre for Accelerated Women’s Economic Empowerment, and the Federal Micro and Small Enterprises Development Agency, and with the support of the Entrepreneurship Development Centre, to improve access to the export markets for women.


I applaud the First Lady’s robust commitment towards women’s issues, particularly her work to promote women’s entrepreneurship in Ethiopia.

One of the common blessings in Ethiopia when people take leave of each other is to say   ‘Ye-Amet Sew Yebelen’ - may we meet again next year.

I stood in this very spot a year ago in February 2013 when I had the great privilege to join Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn to launch Ethiopia’s Entrepreneurship Development Programme, together with Minister Haile Mekuria of the Ministry of Urban Development and Construction.


UNDP is a proud supporter of that flagship programme, and today we are a proud supporter as Ethiopia takes another important step on the road to promoting entrepreneurship development – increasing the role of women in the economic life of this country.


For far too long, we in Africa have sold our natural resources largely as raw materials with little value added and therefore little benefit for us overall. With the right support, our local entrepreneurs can help reverse this undesirable situation. 


By developing the skills of women, and opening up access to international markets, this project will help them take greater control of their own lives, allowing them to earn a decent income not only today and tomorrow, but in the months and years ahead.  Where these 1,500 women lead, I have no doubt others will follow. 

This is not fanciful thinking. We have already seen it happen not far from this very room. From humble beginnings Bethlehem Tilahun built a successful shoe company and global brand, helping to place Ethiopia at the forefront of a growing export industry.


This is exactly the sort of positive example Africa needs right now. The continent is experiencing a period of exceptional economic performance and growing GDP per capita. We see that here in Ethiopia – a country clearly in a hurry to develop, and to develop sustainably.  Yet, across Africa recent economic progress has yet to significantly translate into higher human development for all.  


All across Africa, women play major roles in agriculture; trade; services; micro, small and medium enterprises. But inequality constrains women’s achievements. Given the right opportunities, women can boost their own and their families’ incomes and the growth and development of their communities. Backed by equal rights, equal access to credit, equal access to productive resources, and equal access to markets, women will be an ever more powerful force in the development of Africa and indeed of Ethiopia too.


Excellencies, this is not a development strategy based on a sound bite. It is a strategy based on sound economics. A recent study by UNDP’s Regional Bureau for Africa found that the gender gap costs Africa $ 60 billion in potential output each year.  That figure equals about half of global ODA last year.


Precisely for this reason – the significant loss in potential output as a result of the gender gap, the key target group of the Entrepreneurship Development Programme, that UNDP is supporting, is women. In the 12 months since the programme was launched, we have started to dismantle some of the barriers holding back the local entrepreneurial talent of Ethiopian men, women and young people. 


Since launching the programme last year, existing and potential entrepreneurs, as well as business development advisers and lecturers at public universities have been trained. While these trainees have been drawn from across the nation, the programme was also physically rolled out to four regions.  Beyond trainings, business development support and advisory services are being provided to growing numbers of women and men.


By the end of 2015, we hope to transform the mind-sets and behaviours of 200,000 Ethiopians, particularly youth and women, and to help them acquire or improve entrepreneurial skills and knowledge. Through the programme, we intend to turn young men and women into job creators as opposed to them being job seekers.


Excellencies, globally, an estimated 425 million young women and men will join the labour force between 2016 and 2030. That means the world will need about half a billion jobs by then. Entrepreneurship must be a part of the solution by transforming unemployed young people into major employers.


In Ethiopia, tapping into the creativity and drive of existing and aspiring entrepreneurs, particularly youth and women, is an important part of our toolkit to address the challenge of unemployment in the country.


With the right policies and an enabling environment, with the provision of good business advisory services, and with access to finance, there is every reason for more Ethiopians, and for more female Ethiopians, to join the ranks of successful entrepreneurs like Bethlehem Tilahun – and to take “Made in Ethiopia” to the world. 


A vibrant private sector, if properly supported and populated by skilled entrepreneurs can create jobs, boost wealth, and help reduce poverty, providing Ethiopia with a solid foundation for future growth and the tax base which can be used to invest in critical areas such as education, health, and social welfare.  Growing export markets for the beautiful handicrafts and fashion items made by Ethiopian women is important to that mission.


I say with strong conviction that Ethiopia’s time has come. This country is in the midst of a major development transformation. But to succeed in maximizing the opportunities that lend themselves to Ethiopia, crucially we need to tap into the energies of the people and we must tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of the people, particularly women.


There is no magic wand which will build entrepreneurial skills. However there are certain building blocks that need to be in place. These include designing innovative training programmes; facilitating access to affordable financing; improving skills, knowledge and technological capacities; and expanding access to markets. To this list I will also add paying special attention to the needs and abilities of women.


I am confident about the prospects of this programme that we are launching today. I hope that in the months and years ahead we will see more and more “Made in Ethiopia” baskets, jewellery, leather, hand spun materials, and embroidery on the shelves in stores across the world, and more and more Ethiopian women becoming business leaders and engines of economic growth and prosperity.


Let me end by echoing the age old wisdom which says “Ye GuuNdan Gulbet, Ye Se’et Billi-Hat Yii-STachu” -- “May you have the strength of an ant and the creativity of a woman.”

Thank you. Am-e-se-gi-na-lew.

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