Lessons from Addis by Caroline Gathungu, a graduate of KCA University
Before I left Kenya for Addis I knew that this would be an awesome experience because God had already began working things out even when I least expected Him to. I got my passport in two weeks, God provided the finances I needed and I got leave from work among others; all these events made me know for a fact that God had already given us favor for this trip.
Ethiopia through my eyes
I had mixed feelings about this trip.
On one hand, I was excited at the thought of traveling to another country but on the other hand I was scared of being away from my home country where help was within ease of reach. I was not sure if I would cope with the climate, the food and the culture. I had never been outside Kenya which added to the doubt and uncertainty.
When I landed in Ethiopia I felt at ease; I had a gut feeling that I would enjoy the experience and that there was nothing to be scared about. I was able to adjust quickly to the climate and the new atmosphere.
My encounter with our host on the first night predicted that we would have to find an alternative language of communication which turned out to be true. The language barrier was so real we had to adopt use of broken English to try and communicate. I was lucky to find food that I was already used to in Kenya thus my food worries rested. The most amazing experiences I had in Ethiopia were the train ride and the visit to the African Union headquarters (we will share a report giving more information on the trip). However, on a personal level, I learned three major lessons as enumerated below.
The most important lesson I learnt in Addis is malleability, which is the ability to be shaped and molded into various forms or shapes without breaking.
I picked this lesson through my interaction with various mentors who spoke to us. Olivier Poujade, the General Manager of EA Gate is one such mentor from whom I learnt the lesson on malleability. Olivier has vast experience derived from working in various places ranging from garbage collection, fruit picking, train tout, legal practitioner, and consultant among others. Through his experience in the various fields he has worked in, he has been able to gain valuable skills that have been instrumental in shaping his business. He did not waste the opportunity to learn in each workplace even when it was not in line with what he had studied.
Feleg Tsegaye, the founder of Deliver Addis was willing to try his luck in a new business when the first business failed. He was flexible enough to move to a totally different business in which he did not have any prior experience.
The second lesson I learnt is resilience.
The Ethiopia government is heavily involved in all sectors of the economy and they are a major player in all areas. However, this has not stopped entrepreneurs from investing in various sectors of the economy.
A tour of the various projects being incubated at Ice Addis with most of them being started by university students is proof that you can rise above limitations. Feleg Tsegaye, the founder of Deliver Addis talked about the various challenges he is facing as an entrepreneur. His business relies heavily on power and mobile technology which are owned and run by the government and are unreliable. He uses motor bikes for delivery and there are currently very few motor bikes in Addis. There is currently no mobile money transfer technology thus he has to run his business on cash basis thus necessitating provision of a cash float to the riders. Despite all the challenges he is facing, he has managed to keep his business afloat for more than a year. He has stuck at it and is working on more innovations to make the business even more successful.
Impact investment is the third lesson I learnt.
Effeson Hailemichael, Investment Manager, Novastar Ventures stated that you do not have to sacrifice profit for impact, what you need to do is find a balance between the two. If you want to specifically focus on impact investment then you are better off starting a non-governmental organization (NGO).
A perfect example of balancing between impact and profit is EthioChicken business. David Ellis, the Co-founder and Managing Director of Ethiochicken informed us that his main focus in the business is to make profit while impacting the lives of the women in the rural areas. He sells day old chicks at $1 to agents who supply them to women in rural areas. The women rear the chicks and later sell them at $15. Through this venture, he is able to make his money while creating impact for the women in rural areas. He has mastered the art of balancing between impact and profit.
Based on the lessons I picked from this Experience, I intend to be flexible and open-minded, as I appreciate the processes of God in my life because God does not waste experiences. I will be persistent no matter the challenges I face in life. As I work on my business venture. I will find a way of making an impact in the lives of the people I come across and most of all my customers. Thank you Ethiopia for imparting these great lessons in me!