Supporting Business Ideas for Social Change

Courtesy of Wongel Alemayehu Habtemariam

Name: Wongel Alemayehu Habtemariam
Title:
Food Scientist
Country: Ethiopia
Fellowship programme: Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship and Innovation, 2020 Horn of Africa Programme

Entrepreneurs have been responsible for truly revolutionary innovations throughout modern history that deeply impacted countries’ economies, politics, culture and, in some cases, completely changed the way entire societies were organized. But with the diminishing of our planet’s resources and the increased inequalities worldwide, a more thoughtful approach to entrepreneurship started to flourish; one that focuses primarily on developing and implementing solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues rather than solely making a profit. The former is the kind of entrepreneurship Wongel Alemayehu Habtemariam is interested in.

Born and raised in the largest city of Ethiopia, the vibrant Addis Ababa, Wongel is the third born of six children. From a young age, she dreamed of building a professional career that would help her not only support herself but also support people in need. “Eating good and nutritious food is a basic necessity. Growing up, I wanted to help people that are starving and mothers that cannot feed their children. I wanted to somehow contribute to improving their lives”, she says. That is why when she got older, Wongel decided to pursue her undergraduate studies in Food Science and Nutrition at the Addis Ababa Science & Technology University. “I love this field and the fact that there are not enough women in it only made me want to study more”, she reveals.

As any genuinely proactive student, Wongel got involved in initiatives that provided mentoring to freshmen and juniors to unleash their leadership potential. Knowing about her interests, a friend suggested Wongel subscribe to UNITAR’s 2020 Horn of Africa Programme, which focused on the Fundamentals of Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

I checked out the e-learning programme and it seemed like a good starting point to figuring out how to do what I wanted, how to find ways to care for myself and others, so I signed up.

The UNITAR Horn of Africa programme is designed to provide participants with the hard and soft skills they need to develop business ideas that spark their passion while tackling challenges specific to their communities and regions. During the first phase of this programme, Wongel and other participants learned more about the process of identifying opportunities and mobilizing resources to bring a new enterprise to life by using design thinking and lean start-up techniques. They also learned how to create desirable, feasible, and sustainable solutions that solve customer needs and problems. By the end of this first phase, each learner had to produce a peer-reviewed business model addressing a specific development challenge in their region and they counted with a team of local and regional coaches to mentor them in refining their business initiatives and models.

Wongel completely emerged herself into the programme. “I had time in my hands, so I studied everything, watched all the videos, participated in the discussions and I learnt so much! I particularly enjoyed the interactions I had with other colleagues”, she says. The experience also challenged Wongel to stretch her creativity. “The most challenging thing for me was trying to think ‘outside the box’. I always loved the idea of building a business whose main purpose is to support vulnerable people, but never really thought of different ways in which I could do it. I always thought it was an almost impossible thing to do, but the knowledge I gained from the programme showed me that it is actually possible and I could do it, so I felt very excited”, she tells adding that her final assignment was on a business model of an inclusive cafe.

When the first phase of the programme came to an end, Wongel started to look for job opportunities and was invited to become an assistant in a coffee shop. “I cannot wait to share all my business ideas with my colleagues to increase our social impact”, she enthusiastically says. Meanwhile, Wongel is also working on some big plans for the future.

I want to continue the study, do my master’s degree abroad and learn more about economics, businesses and consumers. On top of that, I plan to open my own cafe where I can employ single mothers and young people and teach them everything I learnt about developing simple business ideas that, hopefully, they will be able to apply to their own lives.

At the beginning of this year, 2021, Wongel was amongst the 65 strongest participants from the first phase of the UNITAR Horn of Africa Programme selected to participate in its second phase, which focused on Leadership, Strategy and Innovation. With even more knowledge to lead sustainable initiatives, Wongel might not be too far from turning her plans into reality and we cannot wait to see what she will do next!

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