Musings from the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) 2019 – Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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Last week I had the extraordinary opportunity to attend the Social Enterprise World Forum being held for the first time in a developing country – the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia!  As a 45 year old woman when I think of Ethiopia, I have the vision of televised mass starvation events due to crippling drought, war and politics ….  the sick and dying young and elderly. The Ethiopia of today has changed significantly and you would be doing it a great disservice if you only thought of the country like that.  Don’t get me wrong, like most developing countries (and most countries really) there are increasing divides between the extremely poor and the wealthy.  There are still areas that are either unsafe or not very safe for foreigners to visit.  To enter my hotel you had to go through an machine to check whether you were carrying weapons etc, and I wasn’t sure whether the armed guard at the entrance to my hotel was a comforting thing or a little scary ;).   I concentrated my visit in Addis Ababa and surrounding areas.

Some facts about the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Did you know Addis Ababa is one of the highest capital cities in the world – located at the foot of Mount Entoto, it sits 2355 metres above sea level!  I can tell you that walking up any incline made me puff ;). Also, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the “20 year post war territorial stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea” (thanks Wikipedia). Balance this with a city undergoing extensive expansion and construction, with growing numbers of social enterprises – it is quite a dynamic place to be!

What actually is SEWF 2019?

“The Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) is the leading forum for international exchange and collaboration in social entrepreneurship and social investment. The success of the event in galvanising the global movement of social enterprise has created a platform for learning, sharing of good practice, ideas and creating partnerships has made it the main forum for the social enterprise sector. The annual event was first held in Edinburgh in 2008 and has since been held on six continents. This is a historic occasion as it is the first time the SEWF will be held in a developing economy. The SEWF will promote sustainable economic growth for human development and offers a great opportunity to establish new relationships and create synergies for working together to increase the visibility of social enterprise on the global stage. It will also create a platform for on-going collaboration and sharing by connecting people across Africa and the world, between advanced and developing economies”. (SEWF website)

My First Impressions of Addis Ababa

Australian plants!!!  Absolutely EVERYWHERE! I kind of felt like I was in the twilight zone.  Everywhere I looked were eucalyptus, bottle brush and grevilla.  Glorious established trees, made me feel right at home …. except that is where the visual similarities ended.  Ethiopia is so uniquely itself.  Gloriously vibrant, with the most incredible food (although my belly is thanking me for some plain food back home – hahaha), colours, dance and amazing culture. They have pony and cart alongside cars, vans and buses – such a contradiction to the senses.  Oh and coffee …… Ethiopian’s LOVE coffee!  They even have a beautiful ceremony for it. Even though I’m not a coffee drinker (their Addis tea is lovely, though), I can appreciate this ceremony and their love for coffee (see the bottle brush flowers in their ceremony)!

Australian Delegation

Even on the other side of the world Australia was the second largest delegation at SEWF!  The main picture shows the majority of the Aussies, unfortunately some missed out being in the photo.  This isn’t surprising because the Social Enterprise landscape in Australia has grown significantly in the past few years.  A recent study by Thomson Reuters Foundation discovered that Australia was the second best place in the WORLD to have a social enterprise:

“Australia reported the best improvement in the overall ranking, advancing 24 points to reach second place behind Canada, bolstered by government policies to support social entrepreneurs and a friendly environment for businesses that do good”.

There has never been a better time to operate an social enterprise in Australia! I was blown away by the diversity of social enterprises within Australia! The best way to get to know all these amazing entrepreneurs, what they do and how they are changing society and people’s experiences in an ethically sustainable manner, is to join your local social enterprise network.  Message me for contact details of local / state coordinators.

SEWF 2019

1200 delegates!  67 countries!  Just let that sink in!  WOW!  Held at the United Nations African Head Office in Ethiopia.  Yep, the place where you sit at a desk with an earpiece and a microphone. I would be writing forever if I went into any kind of detail.  Sitting in that place with all of those people (some of the full sessions had to be split between the two largest conference rooms to fit us all in) hearing about how each of us are creating social, community and global change – just awe-inspiring.  Celebrating the rise of Ethiopian social enterprises, visiting urban social enterprises participating in full plenaries, plenaries, mini-plenaries, workshops, debates and the World Cafe’ on soooo many different topics. The stand outs by far for me were:

*touring urban social enterprises;

*the debate “small is beautiful, or bigger is better?” -my gosh, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwunell from LEAP Africa / Sahel Consulting was dynamic, powerful and passionate in her discussion on scaling for impact – see my FB post on her session.  Thank you for your signed book, “Reaching Millions with Impact”;

*Pam Armstrong from New Zealand talking about her Maori hosting platform, Stay Native NZ;

*Lynda Toussaint from Uranjani Clinics NPC in South Africa, where health clinics are coming to regional / remote communities and each professional nurse is supported to own their clinic within the community they live.  Thanks Lynda for answering my questions the day after my session.  The support and care you provide is wonderful.

*Hearing that 100,000 social enterprises in the UK contribute 60 Billion pounds to the UK GDP (mind blowing figures)!

*Sara Eklund from Nobel Cup, with her frank discussion on menstruation issues in Africa – “Every Queen Bleeds”.

*Bruktawit Tigabu from Whiz Kids Workshop reaching 5,000,000 children on serious topics.

*Metasebia Shewaye Yilma from Queendom Media – just WOW! Another incredible woman creating change across the African continent!

*Aussie social enterprise, Digital Storytellers, presenting a workshop on creating video messaging for your enterprise 100% on a smart phone!  I’ve just signed up for their 6 week course.

*Meeting fellow Australian Indigenous powerhouse, Jacinta Alliung from Families as First Teachers.

*Food-based social enterprises – wow, who would have known there were so many awesome enterprises in this field.  Fellow Aussie, Emma-Kate Rose from Food Connect Brisbane is doing fantastic things in this space!

*Meeting fellow Aussie, Susanna Bevilacqua from Moral Fairground. Can’t wait to investigate how we can work together!

*Meeting Etambuyu Gundersen from the UN. Eta, you are wonderful!

I could go on and on!  Yes, I met soooo many people – far too many to mention.

Biggest thanks and gratitude

I have to give the biggest expression of thanks to the following people:

*Belinda Morrissey, CEO of the English Family Foundation for coordinating the bursaries for Australia.

*Paul Madden from the Wyatt Trust; and the Fay Fuller Foundation for co-funding the bursary for me so that I could attend.  The experience was so amazing and I honestly couldn’t have got there without assistance.

I’m going to leave you with this photo of me and a wrap up video by Digital Storytellers on this amazing experience.

If you have any questions about any of the trip, please just ask.  Oh, save the date!  SEWF 2020 is in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada in October! I’m going to find a way to meet you there.


Bianca xx