Living in Addis Ababa; An Outsider’s Perspective

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Irene Blog

In a few days I will have been living in Ethiopia for a month. The experience has been filled with the unfamiliar, which I find eye opening. Before leaving, a mentor described Addis Ababa as a city caught between two worlds. I completely agree. There are elements of the not-yet-modern in one of the oldest capitals: rocky unpaved roads that make for extra long rides; minimal traffic guidance in a city of 4 million; and overflows of donkeys and other animals striding along fast-moving vehicles completely unfazed. Within a week though, my eyes also began picking up on details akin to the vibrant character of New York City where I grew up: bustling traffic, rows upon rows of retail and grocery shops, and construction around every other corner. My personal favorite attribute of the city has been its unparalleled diversity. It boasts the largest number of embassies and NGOs in the world, not to mention being the headquarters of the African Union.

I’ve also discovered how friendly people are here. I become friends with almost every cab driver I meet as we practice and laugh over my attempts at Amharic, talk about the neighborhoods we drive by, or have that never-ending conversation about how I can be American though my parents were born in Asia. One was especially excited to show me the beautiful new church where he worshiped. Another had his daughters in tow, one of whom was applying to college and excited about Brown University. I value these vignettes which offer brief insights into the way of life here and will catalyze the most impactful business ideas.

The work of the social enterprise team is filled with opportunities to meet businessmen and women and learn their stories. My role involves sourcing and assessing ideas that Nuru could invest in that take advantage of local capabilities while meeting a market demand. It’s been a privilege seeing these businesses firsthand – without Ethiopian leaders’ networks and knowledge, none of this would be possible.

One of my projects has been evaluating the potential of converting Ethiopia’s plentiful supply of quality mangoes into longer lasting juice. Mango juice enjoys high global demand as well as in Ethiopia where disposable income is carefully budgeted. Unfortunately locals must rely on imports from the Middle East because of the country’s underdeveloped processing industry. What economic and social benefits might emerge from investments in local juice processing plants? Though the list of challenges for doing business in Ethiopia is long, it’s hard not to get excited when you imagine the possibilities for the country with the right capital injection, technical expertise, and market support.

I’m looking forward to the next month’s adventures and the new stories it will surface. Ciao!

Irene Chung
Nuru Social Enterprises, Intern

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