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Africa: Could Ethiopia Be the Key To Understanding The Future Of Business?


Ethiopian entrepreneur and AS+A speaker Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, founder of eco-friendly shoe brand soleRebels and creator of Republic of Leather, is a beacon of fearless African entrepreneurship and Ethiopia’s growing presence in the international business landscape. Alemu, described in one article as “the fair minded cobbler,” has used her success to challenge the narrative that African poverty needs to be alleviated by external actors, and instead promotes the idea that prosperity is created by local Africans maximizing on their talents and their resources.

Named by Forbes magazine as one of the 20 Youngest Power Women in Africa in 2011, Alemu was also named by CNN as one of the 12 female entrepreneurs of the last century who have fundamentally changed the way business is done. Alemu is not the only Ethiopian entrepreneur making the world look up and take notice. Kebede Lakew, who runs an organic liquid fertiliser producing company was this year’s recipient of the UNDP Entrepreneur of the Year award, a competition between Ethiopian entrepreneurs, and Senai Wolderufael, founder of Feed Green Ethiopia Exports, employs mainly women and runs the leading food export company in Ethiopia.

To understand Africa’s dynamic entrepreneurial path, one must look closely at Ethiopia. Africa’s second most populous country with a population of over 94 million people, Ethiopia has become one of the continent’s fast growing economies. Forecasts from the Economist Intelligence Unit, Ernst & Young and the Financial Times predict that the country with have an average of $1.5bn each year for the next three years in Foreign Direct Investment, and that the country will rank among the continent’s top four manufacturing hubs in a decade. Ethiopia has long been home to internationally renowned artists, but it is also becoming fast recognized for its entrepreneurs and its role in global commerce.

Ethiopian Airlines runs the biggest network of any African carrier, and in September Ethiopia inaugurated the country’s first light rail network.  As Ethiopia barrels into a prosperous future, the insight of entrepreneurs like Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu will be priceless in understanding what works in a burgeoning global hub. In turn, Ethiopia might be a litmus test for other African countries in the realms of investment, manufacturing and business.