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Self-Help Groups and the Rise of Ethiopian Women in Business

“One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.”

~Helen Keller

Helen Keller is right, we can never consent to creep when we feel the impulse to soar, the longing to reach our full potential. From the earliest, even as toddlers, we try to defy our parent's by asserting the word, "No", attempting to stretch ourselves and do things ‘our way’. It's ingrained in us, an innate desire to step out and reach for more.

Women understand that drive well. For hundreds of years, women have strived to gain a foothold of independence in society. The last century has seen a tremendous rise in the number of women in the workplace, many becoming CEOs and starting their own businesses.  Countless women around the world have never known a time where business ownership was not a viable option for them.

However despite these gains, challenges and disparities are still present for women like Etagean Bekele.

Etagean lives in Ethiopia and until recently she had no income of her own and felt she had no purpose. She longed to stand on her own two feet, earning her own living but poverty made that desire seem like an impossible dream. Etagean felt ashamed by her poverty and it almost prevented her from joining a nearby Self-Help Group (SHG).


Photo: Etagean Bekele, member of the Sikuwa SHG, standing in front of her crops she grows to sell at the market. Credit: Sean Copeland, Tearfund Ireland

Gaining independence can be a huge challenge without any resources. Etagean was daunted by those challenges but a local facilitator setting up a SHG in her area convinced her to join saying, 

"the SHG is here for people just like you."

Tearfund Ireland’s SHGs are small social and economic groups that have their own bylaws, vision and accountability structures set by the members. Members mobilise their own weekly savings into a common fund, then through loans and low interest rates set by the group, profits are placed back into their fund.

The women who make up the membership make the financial decisions together and loans are given to group members on the basis of proposed business plans. Chairing of meetings is rotated every week to build leadership and communication skills and there are social protection funds for members who face business failure or family emergency.


Photo: Women from the Sikua Self-Help Group Credit: Sean Copeland, Tearfund Ireland

In Ethiopia, our Self-Help Group (SHG) programme has helped see the start of many women-owned small businesses. Over 12,000 groups of 12-15 women exist and have resulted in over one million women being positively impacted. 

The impact of these groups is vast. SHG members experience increased independence, confidence and skills, stronger relationships, better nutrition, empowerment, and environmental awareness.

Etgean has seen a change within herself since joining her SHG. She has learned how to use her God-given talent and planted a garden near her home, selling her crops in the local market. As her economic situation grew, so did her confidence. The shame she felt before is now gone and she has seen her dignity restored. 

“Now I have money, skill and confidence. Now I greet people and we share our burdens and our dreams.”

Many women have grown personally and professionally as members of SHGs and it makes us excited to see what the future holds. However, Covid-19 has greatly impacted much of the progress that these women have achieved. Markets for produce have decreased and profits are slowing. 

We want to see that future bright again for the women whose livelihoods are threatened. If you want to contribute to the growth of the SHGs and help women with resources they need to save and start their own enterprises, to see women soar and fulfil their God given potential, donate today. 

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Cover Photo: A Self Help Group in Ethiopia

Credit: Gavin Leane