Social enterprise in Tigray

When their father was seriously injured in a car accident, the children of the Abebe family from Sasie-Tsaeda’emba were faced with a huge challenge. ‘Our father, a baker, was unable to work, and our mother had a nervous breakdown and fled,’ explains 15-year-old Selam. As the eldest of five siblings, Selam found herself with the responsibility to raise her brothers and sisters and care for her injured father.

Selam received a loan and help to set up a small business to provide for her family through support provided by the Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP) to the Association of Civil Society Organisations of Tigray (ACSOT). ‘I received a loan and access to a work place where I could sell tea, coffee and bread. With my earnings I could pay the running costs of the household, and my brothers and sisters could go to school,’ she explains.

Woman running a small business selling coffee (Photo by Michael Tsegaye (CSSP))

ASCOTs approach to improving service provision

This was made possible by a networking grant given to ACSOT by CSSP. The grant funded a project to help improve co-ordination between local community groups, civil society organisations (CSOs) and local government in nine woredas in Tigray Region. The project streamlined responses to development needs within communities by strengthening interaction between organisations working in marginalised communities and the institutions that provide public services, enabling resources to be mobilised more rapidly to reach those in most need – like the Abebe family. Like many others, Selam’s situation may have been compounded in the past by a lack of co-ordination between civil society organisations, who often work in competition rather than together, compromising the delivery of support services to vulnerable members of the community.

A local organisation, Operation Rescue Ethiopia, part of ACSOT’s network, heard of the Abebe family’s difficult situation and acted quickly, contacting relevant local government partners to secure micro-credit and a suitable location for Selam to set up her business. The support provided to Selam and her family is an example of how improved service provision can have an immediate and significant impact on those most in need. Initiatives supported by ACSOT are in a wide range of areas such as education, environmental health and enterprise, all aimed at improving service provision to marginalised people and communities. This includes improving peoples’ access to potable water, improved waste management services and creation of micro-credit schemes for selected communities across nine woredas in the Tigray region.

Strengthening relationships

Before ACSOT’s intervention, civil society groups working with marginalised communities had little influence on regional and local government decision-making. Public services like water supply, access to credit or employment services frequently excluded people and communities most in need of these services – the ‘hard to reach’. This was compounded by a lack of co-ordination between community-based organisations (CBOs) themselves. For example, women development groups and community care coalitions operated in all kebeles of the region yet had their own objectives, worked independently, and reported to different local government ministries.  With the support of CSSP, ACSOT strengthened relationships between local government, CBOs and CSOs, enhancing co-ordination and improving access to social services for the hardest to reach people and communities.

The representation of CSOs in woreda and regional council’s has been boosted to 30 per cent, and CSOs are now invited to contribute towards planning and prioritising services.  Government–civil society forums are established to strengthen communication and diverse CBOs have established woreda networks, taking a holistic approach to the challenges of the community. The network provides a focal point for two-way communication with local government bureaux. Information is shared between all parties to cascade a common development agenda. As a result of this dialogue, hard-to-reach populations – such as those with HIV, the unemployed, geographically isolated people and communities, and elderly people, are increasingly represented in local government decision-making. Their needs are more effectively addressed as was the case for the Abebe family.

‘It was tough, but with hard work and the support I’ve received from Operation Rescue Ethiopia I’ve managed.  With my earnings selling bread, tea and coffee I was able to pay off my loan, now I want to set up a hair salon,’ says Selam, who clearly has a taste for business.

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