Taking Advantage of Abundant Resources
Despite their cell phone use and other small signs of technological advance, it can be difficult to see rural Ethiopians as innovative, creative, and productive. The mud huts, antiquated farming techniques, dirt roads, limited plumbing, and electricity paint a picture of stunted development. The typical response from outsiders is pity, confusion, or both. Those inclined towards compassion tend to see needs (many of them urgent) – better housing, cleaner water, new shoes. Those with an analytical perspective have questions – “Why in the world do people still live this way in the 21st century?”
The paternal instinct is strong in these settings for us in the West. Can’t we do something to help and accelerate their progress? Now, we should be seeing ourselves as equals and partners with our Ethiopian partners instead of parents. But a even parents know the importance of influencing their children while giving them freedom to reach their potential on their own. As a partner in community development, this should be our approach. Our Discovering Light team is learning the benefit of helping while staying as far out of their way as possible.
A closer look reveals how many individuals are taking every opportunity they can to make a better life for themselves. During a recent trip to Ethiopia, we had an unexpected visit with one of our original Multi-Crop Thresher owners. Muhamed heard we were in town and made sure to find us as he had some exciting news to share. In 2012, We provided a threshing machine to Muhamed and two others with the understanding they would repay the cost over several years. We’ve reported before about the impact this investment made on another owner, Habib, and his family.
This time, it was Muhamed who wanted us to know the difference his thresher business has made. Sometime this last year, after the thresher repayment was completed, he used some of his earnings to purchase a Bajaj, Ethiopia’s version of the three-wheeled taxi. Entrepreneurs are exceptional at identifying untapped resources. In this case, Muhamed saw an opportunity to use the often underutilized resource of time. Threshing can take as little as two months out of the year depending on the size of the harvest, travel capacity, and other factors.
Inspired by the success of his threshing business, Muhamed multiplied his earning capacity by investing in another income-generating activity to pursue in between harvest seasons. Fellow thresher owner Habib took a similar step towards abundance by starting an in-home tire repair shop with his earnings. The financial benefit of these choices are significant but they only tell part of the story. In 2012, Discovering Light and our partner Selam Awassa Business Group designed the simple thresher business model based on perceived needs and opportunities in West Arsi. But the owners are the ones who took advantage of their success to pursue another business. Muhamed was obviously filled with pride over his achievement as he sought us out on the side of a street in Arsi Negele. Somewhat ironically, the Bajaj Muhamed now drives is made out of the same blue aluminum as his multi-crop thresher. Just another example of Ethiopians learning to take advantage of an abundant resource.