After completing nearly two years of work with Cherokee Gives Back (5 months in Raleigh, NC and some 16 months in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia) I have moved to Awassa, Ethiopia to begin a six month contract with Selam Awassa Business Group (SABG). SABG is a start-up (2007), for-profit enterprise focused on the production of appropriate technology and renewable energy technologies; simultaneously, SABG operates a tuition free (funded by donors and SABG) technical and vocational training college. I’ll be working on developing marketing materials and a website for SABG this fall. In the spring, I hope to be doing assessments at rural health clinics to determine their renewable energy options. SABG is in a joint partnership with Practica Foundation and Dorcas Aid International to develop renewable energy technologies (wind mills, micro-hydro turbines, etc.) for rural health clinics in Ethiopia. I’ve been told that there are over 700 rural health clinics without power in Ethiopia.
I am excited about the opportunity to work with SABG and believe I will learn a lot over the next six months. I am also excited about living in Awassa. Awassa is a quaint, but growing little town tucked away on the shores of Lake Awassa and surrounded by small mountains. Just this morning I went for a smog free run (not possible in Addis Ababa) and then climbed Mt. Tabor in time to watch the sun rise over the town and the lake. It was one of those beautiful morning sunrises I won’t soon forget.
My time in Ethiopia thus far has been tremendous. At times it has been challenging and disappointing. Other times it has been richly rewarding, deeply insightful and inspiring. I have made great friends along the way and met countless people who certainly intrigue me. Ethiopians are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever known (and I’m from North Carolina!). Undoubtedly, the country has many challenges before it (population growth and overcrowding, deforestation and land degradation, poor (but slowly improving) infrastructure, and a less than open investment environment), but I hope, and believe, it will continue to develop. I hope schools, such as Initiative Ethiopia International Children’s Association, continue to flourish. I hope more investors begin to consider opportunities in Ethiopia – where labor and land is in abundant supply – but, I hope those investments are environmentally enriching. Without fertile land, this agricultural based economy will shrivel up. I hope that population growth levels off and that the country can one day support its citizens without continual dependence on foreign food aid.
I am hopeful, but realistic. I figure, time will tell. It always does. In the mean time, I will work towards overcoming the challenges mentioned above, and believe one of the best ways to do that is by stimulating job creation through business and investment.
Start-up businesses excite me. That’s part of the reason I’m at SABG. There is so much opportunity, so much potential, and so much creativity. But, always, the companies are operating so close to the margin. That is, until they reach that breakaway point – some call it the ‘tipping point’ – and it all begins to seem like a snowball rolling down a mountain, effortlessly picking up speed and more snow as it goes (at least, that’s the goal). I hope to contribute to this snowball effect at SABG, but certainly they could do it without me.
Over the next six months, I will use this blog to focus more solely on my observations of the challenges and successes of getting SABG to that elusive tipping point.