Tuning women in to entrepreneurship

Kalkidan Lakew knows it’s not easy for women in Ethiopia to pursue entrepreneurship.

“Business in Ethiopia is dominated by men, especially business that requires risk-taking. Startup businesses are left to men while small-scale and other informal business types are seen as being a woman’s domain,” says Kalkidan.

The research supports her. In 2012, Ethiopia ranked 107 out of 112 countries on the Economist’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index. Women are often less educated than men and face discrimination because of their gender. When they are successful in launching businesses, it’s often difficult for them to receive enough financing to grow.

Fortunately, DOT community leaders like Kalkidan are taking steps to break down gender and social barriers.

After completing a master’s degree in human rights, Kalkidan joined DOT as a community leader, delivering skills training to local entrepreneurs, teachers, youth, and marginalized groups. In this role, she helped connect hundreds of people to the digital, entrepreneurial, and communications skills they needed to build sustainable livelihoods, businesses, and careers, with a particular focus on supporting women in marginalized communities.

Then Kalkidan had a unique opportunity to reach even more people throughout Ethiopia.

She went from conducting skills training in the community to conducting skills training on air for the radio show FRANK. Named after the Amharic word for “coin,” FRANK was set up by DOT Ethiopia youth entrepreneurs, in partnership with the UK-based Forward Foundation, to help other young people develop their business skills. Kalkidan and her co-hosts discussed business planning, financial management and accounting, business ethics, and marketing.

DOT Ethiopia aired 26 episodes of FRANK, and having women hosts was a powerful message about women’s ability to be entrepreneurs.

“Having male and female hosts enabled our audience to relate to us,” says Kalkidan. “It encouraged female audiences to start thinking about their passion and a business that they want to be involved in, and it gave them the moral boost that they can do it.”

Radio is a massively popular medium in Ethiopia, providing daily updates and news to the majority of Ethiopians. Because of the low literacy rate in Ethiopia, radio programmes fill an important role in providing accessible information.

FRANK reached young people all over Ethiopia, including areas where DOT did not have a physical presence, giving youth an opportunity they would not have otherwise had to develop their entrepreneurial and communication skills. DOT Ethiopia reached an audience of 3.7 million Ethiopians with the show.

With its informative and entertaining broadcasts, FRANK was a hit. More than 700 listeners called or text messaged the radio show to seek advice on their business ideas, or to participate in contests. At times, so many young people called in that the phone lines were completely busy.

Every show featured the voices of young people that Kalkidan and her co-hosts approached on the street to ask for their opinions on topics related to entrepreneurship and social change.

“They were happy to share with us their genuine opinion,” says Biruk Yosef, one of Kalkidan’s co-hosts, “and that helped us to connect with our audience in a realistic way, just like we do in face-to-face training.”

Half of FRANK listeners said the show improved their attitude toward business and entrepreneurship, and it inspired young people—men and women alike—to identify needs in their communities and launch initiatives to address them.

Young people like Tekle and Desalegn, two FRANK listeners, were inspired to bring together a group of 22 young people with physical disabilities to start a mushroom-growing business. Listener Murase developed a vision for his construction business and connected with the FRANK team to let them know about it, and get further business innovation support from DOT. Lydia, a young woman passionate about acting, was inspired by the radio show to establish a supportive network for other young people in Ethiopia interested in the performing arts.

Many of these innovators reached out to DOT Ethiopia and received in-person coaching, deepening their knowledge and networks to help their businesses succeed. As Biruk points out, this demonstrates how eager young Ethiopians are to create opportunities for themselves and others.

“Whenever you tell them something, they take it and put it to very good use in their lives,” says Kalkidan. “That was very important and very significant to me.”

The programme ended after its 26-episode run. Given the advantages of radio, DOT Ethiopia may launch another radio programme sometime in the future.

“Radio is accessible, and unlike TV it’s a lot easier to involve audiences through call and text message,” says Kalkidan. “Also, because radio lacks the visual effects of other media, the majority of the work focuses on content and what to bring to the audience, which increases the quality of your work.”

Reflecting on the show, Kalkidan says FRANK brought something new to the air.

“Most radio shows are mainly designed for entertainment.  Music shows, sports and interview programmes dominate most of the air time,” she says. “Our show brought a very new idea to the table: radio can enable and enrich people. It can be used to share business skills and ideas.”

Kalkidan shows that radio can also be used to break down the gender and social barriers that keep women and other disadvantaged groups from developing their leadership skills and becoming daring social innovators. With DOT’s support, they can tune in to entrepreneurship and build the skills they need to build sustainable livelihoods, businesses, and careers.

As a DOT community leader and FRANK host, Kalkidan also demonstrated the potential of something even more powerful than radio: the ability of one person to have a positive effect on the lives of many others. She is one of many DOT community leaders creating a world shaped by young social innovators who have the tools, knowledge, and networks to create opportunities and transform their own communities.