WISE: WOMEN WITH VISION

“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice” – The Borgen Project

Introduction

Women in Self-Employment (WISE) is one of the few organizations in Ethiopia that practices the Social Enterprise model, not only conceptually but also technically & practically. It is the collective work of three independent entities; WISE the non-governmental organization under which all were formed, Savings & Credit Cooperatives Union (SACCO Union) which is the umbrella body that provides different services to 100 SACCOs in Addis Ababa and Meleket Training Services, the income generating wing.

WISE is an organization dedicated to reducing poverty and realizing sustainable livelihoods among underprivileged women in Ethiopia. Primarily focused on urban poverty, WISE has impacted the lives of over 56,000 families in Addis Ababa directly and other 46,000 families in Ethiopia through partners. Although WISE’s target members are women living in poverty, this is not a story about poverty but that of the emancipation of women through financial independence.

The journey of WISE ignited from one ambitious woman and spread throughout Ethiopia like wildfire. Tsigie Haile, the Founder and Director, wanted more than a comfortable life for herself – she wanted to dedicate her life to empowering women economically. She says “Economic Empowerment is an essential entry to overall empowerment”. She chose a fulfilling life of “Eradicating absolute poverty and building resilient families.”

WISE is built on the idea that both poverty and prosperity are rooted in the mindset. Since commencing its operations in 1998, WISE designed and implemented many successful programs, operations, and interventions that address the core issues of poverty and dependency among its target members. Women street vendors, women with HIV/AIDS, and returnees from Saudi and other Arab countries are among the target members. It provides eye-opening programs for its members through which the idea of poverty is extracted from their minds and replaced with unlimited potential for growth.

Organizing, Training, and Financing are the core components that are incorporated in all the initiatives and programs. Organizing is important in magnifying the women’s voices and taking collective actions – through sharing their challenges and stories they find motivation, inspiration, and peace which will eventually bring out the leaders in them. Forging partnerships with organizations that can undertake advocacy on behalf of the target groups and improving their advocacy capacity is another benefit of organizing. Training helps develop the knowledge and skills of the women in the areas affecting their businesses and personal lives. It brings lasting changes in their attitudes regarding different issues including cultural barriers. Capital is one of the challenges many face when starting or expanding businesses and the financing component offers a solution.

The concept of empowerment is a history of social change that WISE achieved through its holistic approach. All the programs take the triple roles of women into consideration– productive, reproductive, and community. This holistic approach is enhanced by “Asset Based Community Development”. The “ABCD approach” is embedded in all the programs which guides the women to focus on the resources they already possess – like skills, environment, knowledge, etc.

When a woman is economically independent and is part of a supportive community, she creates resilient families. As Amelework, one of the beneficiaries testifies “WISE helps me think and decide in better ways” in one of their internal newsletters “ታሪኬን ላውጋችሁ” “Let me share my story”.

Formation & Milestones

WISE primarily focused on women with low income and those dependent on others for their livelihoods in the urban areas of Addis Ababa. Living in urban areas has more challenges for the poor; products and services are expensive and inaccessible. As the poor live off their daily income with little or nothing to save, they get trapped in a cycle of survival. They are also less likely to have support from social networks as urban life gravitates to individualistic living.

The founder and director, Tsigie Haile’s goal in establishing WISE was to help women obtain the knowledge, skills, self-confidence, and assertiveness they need to take control of their lives and attain sustainable livelihood. Rooted in this intention, WISE offers its members services that cater to their financial as well as social needs. WISE accomplished transforming many lives through trainings, establishing savings and credit cooperatives (SACCOs), and modeling its success to transform the larger community. 

While Tsigie served as a Human Resource Development Manager at Action Aid Ethiopia, she was introduced to the concept of community empowerment and development. Upon her request, Action Aid Ethiopia agreed to support her vision – seeing a nation where absolute poverty is eradicated and women play an active part in development.

The first board members’ meeting took place in 1997. These founding board members were all women and continue to passionately serve WISE to this day. The WISE office opened in the same year, staff was recruited, potential target groups were surveyed, and system development identification was completed.

After thorough study and preparation, WISE inaugurated its operation in 1998 forming three SACCOs in Addis Ababa. The first basic business skills and leadership trainings provided, 471 active members in three cooperatives enrolled and WISE completed the first year triumphantly. Like water running down the stream, WISE expanded to 6 Kebeles the next year and built the first Market Shelter. The construction of two more market shelters and the licensing of two cooperatives by the Addis Ababa Cooperative Bureau in 2000 were boosts to the motivation of the WISE team.

WISE had been targeting women in self-employment taking enterprise development as one strategic approach and disseminating information regarding enterprise development through its training programs. The five major training programs are Entrepreneurship skills, Leadership & management skills, Health education, Life skills, and Home & Result-based Literacy & Numeracy. WISE took the literacy and numeracy initiative further as it was crucial to the members’ growth. The initiative started with sponsored evening classes for 137 members. This initiative failed because many of the members have priorities in their homes and families. WISE tackled this challenge later on with a creative approach. A home & result-based literacy and numeracy program that became very successful for two reasons: the women became free to schedule their classes at their convenience, and the children engaged in teaching their mothers were proud, committed, and financially rewarded creating an additional income for the families. By 2004, seventy-seven members graduated from this program. Through this creative initiative, over 5,000 illiterate members were assisted and were given access to literacy and numeracy. A survey conducted by WISE on a sample of 439 women living in 11 different districts indicated that 25% of the members are illiterate with a majority of the other 75% not even completing their elementary education. This important survey validated the WISE’s assumption of the high level of illiteracy among the targeted communities and gave a boost to the initiative.

The SACCO program was a pivotal program of WISE through which members were offered access to finances. These cooperatives are formed by screening potential women from sub-cities and woredas. These women are invited to the orientation and rewarded for referrals. After the orientation, WISE facilitates the formation of a cooperative with a minimum of 150 women in each cooperative. The decision-making power of the cooperatives is in the hands of its members – the General Assembly (GA).  WISE assists the cooperatives’ first GA where members make decisions about their constitution, elect leaders, and amount of beginning loan. This shows the immense contribution of WISE to financial inclusion and emancipation.

WISE provides full support to the cooperatives for the first three years including paying for their expenses – supplies, salary, revolving funds, trainings, forums, and organizing costs of events and bazaars. After the three years, many of the cooperatives become self-sustaining but for those who are unable to, WISE continues to provide partial support for an additional two years. By the end of their fifth year, all the cooperatives become self-sustaining and begin to pay for the technical support provided by WISE’s SACCO Union. The SACCO union, an umbrella body for the cooperatives provides technical services such as digitalized financial services.

The SACCO Union is led by Roman Worku who has a 23-year history with WISE. She says the major hurdle they have to overcome is the misconception that WISE is an NGO that hands out money which goes against the very essence of the organization. Roman asserts “Our main objective is to provide the trainings for free.”

The staff members of the SACCO Union are equipped with in-depth knowledge in the development of cooperatives. They study the Cooperatives Law and possess the technical skills essential for savings and credit operations. Today 100 cooperatives lay under the umbrella of the union with 26,000 active members from all the eleven sub-cities in Addis Ababa. Over 80 of these cooperatives are already self-sustaining and the present repayment rate is at 89%. The Union also provides insurance services in partnership with Ethio-life Insurance. The insurance packages include maternity, death, funeral costs, and disability. Among the unique services offered by the union is the two-month grace period offered to the women on maternity leave.

Currently, there are two SACCO Unions in Addis Ababa. One is WISE’s SACCO Union which is a community-based union and the other is formed by organization-based cooperatives in the city. These two unions work collaboratively forming an umbrella body called The Federation. The Federation is responsible for solving issues that are beyond the two Unions’ capabilities.

In the first two years of operation, WISE had 1355 active members with a rate of repayment at 97% improved from 93% the previous year. By this time, the success of the programs was evident and the governance was changed to include representatives of the cooperatives. WISE began networking with like-minded organizations to expand the successful programs to more families. In 2001, WISE officially took the first step in the transfer & dissemination of its programs through partnerships that included 173 members of sister organizations.

One thing that made WISE stand out in creating a supportive community was its proactive, creative, and entrepreneurial approach to solving problems. The in-built insurance & Tena Idir (Health Insurance) are great examples of this. In 2001 the loans of 8 borrowers who passed away were covered by the insurance for the first time. Tena Idir was also established with 220 members and a discount agreement with Tesfa Private Clinic. Tena Idir won the Ethio-Sudan World Bank Development Marketplace award in 2003 for innovative ideas. It was a successful initiative that the government began providing the service to the public in the same model. To avoid redundancy WISE discontinued the service. 

Civic education, creative thinking, harmful traditional practices, and first aid were the new training programs introduced in 2002. WISE also started providing counseling services and home visits to enhance its holistic approach to empowering women and creating resilient families. The impact of WISE’s innovative program on the participants’ lives was felt and became undeniably successful in its fifth year of operation. Before joining WISE, members were often withdrawn, lacking self-confidence, and afraid to voice their opinions. The trainings enhanced transformation in their whole demeanor –their confidence, eagerness to learn, keenness to ask questions, and demand answers.

As an organization that believes in rewarding achievements, WISE introduced Award systems for its members in 2003. The categories for the awards were: dedicated leaders, successful businesswomen, good savers, and good repayors. This event became one of the events the members bonded on a deeper level.

Some of the significant milestones took place in 2004. Land to build a training center on was approved by the Addis Ababa City Administration, a 5-year strategic plan was crafted, good practice of WISE was documented by Christian Relief and Development Associations (CRDA), Media coverage was boosted, Lunchtime talk was introduced and aired by Radio Fana and the internal newsletter “ታሪኬን ላውጋችሁ” was launched. WISE devised and implemented an income-generating initiative from delivering trainings. Education loan, a new loan program, was launched in the same year. 2004 also witnessed the Union of the SACCOs becoming a legal entity with staff recruited and a business plan developed.

Perhaps the milestone that revealed how the programs were truly empowering the women took place in 2005. Five women ran in the 2005 election for sub-city and city administration levels. These women came a long way in the path of self-development, tackled cultural norms & discouraging practices, and opened their eyes to their own power.

The construction of the training center began in 2005 with the support of the Network of Ethiopian Women Associations (NEWA) and Action Aid Ethiopia. Six cooperatives also covered their costs becoming self-sustaining. The year ended with 3,694 active members. The WISE Women’s Academy training center’s first building was inaugurated on November 17, 2006. The savings and credits operation upgraded from manual to automated with the completion of the Financial Software for accounting of the cooperative’s books. By the end of 2006, the WISE community was thriving and the year ended with 6,000 active members and a total reach surpassing 10,000. The programs expanded outside of Addis through like-minded partner organizations and the WISE team provided training of trainers in Gambella, Benishangul, and Afar regions.

In 2012, the 15th year of operation, the number of cooperatives surpassed 50 with 32 of them financially independent and six partially supported by WISE. The construction of a second building next to the previous one began on this year and inaugurated in 2013. Additional plot of land was approved by Addis Ababa City Administration and the construction was financed with the support from Melissa Wagner, an American businesswoman and philanthropist. WISE Women’s Academy, housed in these two buildings, is one the most valuable assets WISE utilizes to date.

During the initial years of WISE, maintaining active members in the SACCOs was challenging and turnover was high. As the community became stronger there was an obvious shift in the awareness of the women regarding the importance of savings and loans that transforms their lives. Staying within the cooperatives, they understand is the only way to a wealthier and healthier lives and with that also comes a responsibility.

Operations in the cooperatives had been smooth until the COVID-19 pandemic hit and many members with small businesses were highly impacted. The loan return rate went down to 83% which is the lowest rate in the history of the SACCO union. WISE gave loan relief periods and provided in kind and monetary support to those impacted.

With the support of many donors and grants WISE successfully established these independent cooperatives helping members to thrive financially and socially. WISE forged many partnerships among which it worked with Oxfam Canada & JICA to replicate its good practice. Once it was time, WISE initiated a plan with potential means to become self-sustaining as an organization. As a result, the Meleket Training Service Business Unit was born and received a TVET License. This business unit generates income through providing soft skill trainings, technical and vocational education and training, and renting equipment & halls in the WISE Women’s Academy.

Meleket Training Service and the SACCO Union are both self-sustaining entities born out of WISE. WISE envisions becoming self-sustaining through the incomes from these two successful entities. It also looks forward to forming other Unions in the different regions it is currently operating in. Through Meleket’s services, WISE continues to spread its programs and expand its outreach throughout the country. Waves of change are vibrating out of WISE.

Achievements

Study shows half of the world’s population is composed of women. Empowering women means empowering an incredibly large number of people. Ethiopia ranks 109 out of 144 countries in the world on gender gap in economic empowerment and participation (World Economic Forum 2016). This is compounded by traditional attitudes, beliefs, and practices that reinforce gender roles that constraint women’s participation in development.

WISE is an indigenous secular non-governmental organization dedicated to the realization of sustainable livelihoods. A livelihood is considered sustainable if it is resilient in the face of external shocks and stresses. It also becomes sustainable when it is independent of external support and is able to maintain long-term productivity (Hardoy and Pandiella, 2009).

Once the women are economically empowered, they have the clarity of mind to organize their lives, create resilient families, and contribute to their communities. WISE creates platforms for dialogues revolving around different topics. The members use these platforms to discuss many personal and business issues they face to find solutions and support. These peer-to-peer discussions help the members understand different perspectives and open their minds to finding alternative solutions to their problems.

WISE’s programs use participatory adult training techniques which are proven to change the attitudes of members while enhancing their knowledge, and skills eliminating the information gap. Family peacebuilding, conflict resolution, time management, dependency, problem-solving skills, decision-making, stress management, male engagement, self-defense, gender-based violence, and parenting are some of the topics of the different programs. Through their acquired skills including communication and leadership, the women take on responsibilities in improving different conditions of their communities.

Among the challenges urban self-employed women face are; lack of practical government policies that support SMEs, low education, lack of market shelters for producing and selling their goods, lack of self-esteem, and lack of information on financial transactions and business expansion.

Serkalem Madde who had been working as a cleaner in a government institution for minimal pay was introduced to WISE through her neighbors. Speaking of her transformation, she left her job, and took a loan of 700 birr to open a small shop beginning a growth-oriented life. She fondly remembers the first day she went to one of WISE’s programs and she was asked to speak in front of all the women but she refused. By the end of the day, she asked to be given a chance and introduced herself taking one step out of her comfort bubble. That day marks the beginning of her continuous work on improving her communication & customer service skills. Currently, she took a 500,000-birr loan to expand her business. She took on a leadership role becoming the chairperson of her cooperative at a challenging time when it was faced with loss for the second time. She strategized with the leadership team, utilizing bazaars to overcome their financial challenges. She attests that WISE transformed her life and adds “Serving the cooperative that sustains me gives me great pleasure”.

WISE’s programs are carefully designed taking contexts into consideration and use customized interventions whenever necessary. Case in point, the returnees from the Arab countries who come back with a sense of hopelessness and feelings of failure. Tesfanesh Gizaw joined WISE upon her return from the UAE. She fled her country when her father, who was the provider of the family died. She came back to Ethiopia and started a small business but she didn’t know her profits, expenses, how she spent her time, and what she wanted to do in the future. “WISE helped me find my purpose,” she says. She now owns a printing business, a gift shop, and 4 cars working in the ride-hailing business. She created work opportunities for over 10 persons and has a vision of creating an organization that works on providing children the quality life they deserve.

As a learning center, WISE has an evidence-based and experience-informed approach to transferring knowledge. Helina Yitateku found her talent in WISE. Her education level was far better than the target members of WISE so she wasn’t accepted immediately. After much discussion and convincing she was accepted to the 15-day training which she expressed as “Life Changing”. She was committed to joining WISE because she couldn’t see any future through her education & career. Holding a diploma, she worked for a salary of 999 birr while her colleagues with bachelor’s degrees were getting paid 2,000 birr. She currently owns a printing business with 8 machines operating and 5 permanent employees. Helina’s vision is to expand into the garment industry.

From women beggars who grew to own businesses after joining this resilient community, to women who thrived and opened schools to serve their communities, to women who took on leadership positions, to women who created job opportunities for thousands are testaments to what a supportive community does to one’s transformation. The WISE community continuously strives for a noble cause – supporting women attain sustainable livelihoods and creating resilient families.

According to a survey done on 1,000 WISE members, 82.5% of women said that they are successful after using the services of WISE. The indicators of success were increased income, ability to cover family medical expenses, and education costs, saving more than 10% of their income, continuing their businesses even when WISE’s support ceases, repaying appropriate amount of loan on time, increased awareness and changed behavior about harmful traditional practices (HTPs).

The training rooms of WISE are filled with members singing songs that represent poverty isn’t their identity and acknowledge their immense potential for growth. Trainings are arranged to fit the work and family schedule of women so that it doesn’t undermine their other roles. The training materials are prepared to fit the members’ literacy levels – sketches, conversations, role plays, and different interactive methods are used. Focused on guiding each individual woman to find out her own potential and unique talent, the trainings primarily changes the attitude of the women. The shift from focusing on what they don’t have and undermining what they do to appreciating what they have and their unique talents begins in these rooms. Eyerusalem Gebreselam, the training head who has been with WISE for 25 years asserts “Women don’t lack abilities, they lack opportunities” which echoes the 90% success rate that the members attribute to the trainings.

Empowerment begins when financial independence is achieved. An individual who is financially dependent on others will be limited from expressing or exercising self-determination. The pillars of the WISE community are the SACCOs which are the collective results of the women’s savings and credits. WISE currently has 35 million birr mobilized in the form of loans. A total loan of over 537 million Birr has been disbursed through the cooperatives and the Union for the purpose of running businesses, making down payments for condominium housing units, and covering children’s school costs. On the other hand, close to 225 million birr was mobilized as savings from the members. Currently, the SACCOs offer loans ranging from 2,000 – 500,000 birr and members can get loans of up to one million birr from the Union. WISE’s SACCO Union is effective, sustainable, and profitable. It is also recognized as a model to others.

WISE, the SACCO Union, and Meleket Training Services have over 145 staff members of which over 75% constitute women. The leadership is 100% women. The WISE team received many recognitions and awards. All because of its excellence in implementing initiatives and focus in its sense of direction toward the vision. Among the awards are the CCRDA award for its excellent work in community-based organizations, Sinidu’s award from NEWA, YWCA’s award for its outstanding performance in women’s economic empowerment, a certificate of recognition from the local government for being a model organization in the area of micro-entrepreneurs development, recognition of excellence by the Addis Ababa City Administration, and African Centers of Excellence for Women’s Leadership Program by the Institute of International Education (IIE). WISE was also selected for a project led by the Coady International Institute, Canada, in which three African countries (Ethiopia, Ghana, and Zambia) took part. It was the only organization selected for the project that focused on strengthening women’s leadership for economic empowerment and food security.

The WISE Women’s Academy attracts leaders, artists, journalists, and well-known personalities from all over the world. H.E. Sahle-Work Zewde, President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE), Emma Thompson, Academy Award-winning British actress and writer, Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission, Michael D.Higgins, President of Ireland, Mery Robinson, Former President of Ireland, the Puck couple, Gelila Assefa and Celebrity Chef Wolfgang Puck were some of the visitors.

Key Lessons & Challenges

WISE has accumulated over 25 years of experience in organizing communities and building their capacity, training members & trainers, and offering Business Development Services. Currently, trainers’ and learners’ manuals are available for all courses provided. For some of the courses, manuals are available in English, Amharic, Afan Oromo, Somali, and Tigirigna. Videos of testimonials on how WISE transformed member’s lives have been produced and stories of change are published in WISE’s monthly internal newsletter.

WISE Women’s Academy with two G+2 buildings makes WISE to probably be the first local NGO working on the grassroots to establish a permanent training center. It serves as the main training facility and generates income through rental services. It is an asset that will continue to be transferred from generation to generation.

WISE uses Transformative Household Methodology that involves continuous home visits, discussions, and follow-ups. This makes both the women and men in the households to be aware of unpaid care work that needs to be recognized and shared. WISE uses the 3R approach regarding unpaid care work – recognition, reduction, and redistribution.

WISE Leadership training is about sharing power and decision-making at the household level, accepting religious and cultural differences, securing a career path, and emphasis on children’s education thus fighting intergenerational poverty and improving voice and representation in the community.

WISE’s success is mainly a result of its focus on its vision since 1997 and never compromised the set of directions and interventions for temporary funding and grants. The holistic view of empowerment using financial independence as an entry created a chain of impact – ignited from one woman impacting many women, their families, and communities. The ABCD approach in all its trainings, discussions, and programs is designed to encourage the members to take a step up the ladder.

WISE uses a non-collateral approach that leverages peer pressure. The cooperatives’ growth is dependent on each individual’s commitment to saving and return rate. Hence the members are accountable to each other’s success. Usually, donor-dependent cooperatives are short-lived but WISE’s approach proved to be sustainable. One can surmise that WISE is beyond an entity; it is a supportive community that can be replicated in different forms.

The initiatives and programs spread like wildfire due to the partnerships forged with like-minded local, regional, and international organizations. WISE is also a member of consortiums and umbrella organizations. It partnered with 352 like-minded organizations to spread its good practice and share knowledge and experience. It provided trainings of trainers for over 1,500 individuals. Over 30 Ethiopian organizations received trainings and models to replicate the savings and credits structure in the different regions. The lives 46,000 families were impacted due to these partnerships.

WISE’s holistic approach goes beyond access to finance, it provides market linkages like hosting exhibitions, bazaars, and innovative business idea competitions at the center. It also facilitates participation in international trade fairs. An increased participation of members in leadership positions was also witnessed. Women shy away from leadership because of family responsibilities, educational capacity, and low self-confidence. The leadership trainings enhances the women’s decision-making skills which leads them to get involved in the decisions of local government administration units. Since they are organized, cooperative members have increased their negotiation power with stakeholders such as government bodies to access resources that were otherwise inaccessible.

WISE utilizes its funding support mainly for the capacity building of the cooperatives efficiently. It is also acknowledged at WISE that having that kind of support, especially in the initial years eases the burden of finding financial resources and the team was able to focus on program development. Action Aid Ethiopia, covered the expenses while the team concentrated on program development and improvement. After several years with only one funding partner, Concern World Wide approved WISE to be its partner in 2006. Among many that supported WISE in its exemplary work are ILO, Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Dream of Future Africa Foundation, Melisa Waggner, the Coady Institute of International Education (IIE), and UN Women.

The success story of WISE has not been without its challenges. The aim of poverty reduction cannot be accomplished without uprooting the dependency syndrome. The WISE team consistently works to create awareness about the impact of dependency and within a supportive community, anyone and everyone can thrive.

Another significant challenge is as the women’s position in society begins to shift, domestic issues begin to arise, especially with their husbands. Some were even given ultimatums by their husbands “It’s either WISE or me”. A few of those relationships ended in divorces but WISE believes in resilient families and advises the families to take divorce as a last resort. Born out of this challenge was a new initiative – “Husbands Day”. This initiative created awareness among the men in the member’s households changing the attitude they have towards the women’s growth. They even volunteer to share domestic responsibilities. The learning from these experiences is that Male engagement is crucial in empowering women.

Currently, the resilient WISE community is faced with another challenge. 85 plus families’ homes and over 600 businesses of members have recently been demolished. They had to give ways for urban development be it roads, city parks, buildings, or other public facilities, etc. Since they are considered as land grabbers there is no relocation compensation. WISE stands in solidarity with these women and creates platforms for discussions. They gained comfort from these conversations but so far, no potential solution is presented. WISE is looking for charity funds for those in shock to get through this hard time but this is an issue many have been affected by and needs sustainable solutions. Through it all the women’s resilience is unshakable; still keeping their commitments to their own developments – they pay their loans on time.

WISE also hasn’t been able to find a solution for a challenge that persisted over the years which is to find office spaces in different Woredas for many of its SACCOs. This resilient community is outstanding for the very reason that it manages to run its programs regardless of the hurdles.

Conclusion

The overall goal of WISE is to bring about holistic empowerment of women through providing the tools and resources that help them attain financial independence. Not only financial independence, WISE’s mission contributes to the accomplishment of six of the 17 UN SDGs: No poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, gender equality, reduced inequalities, and partnerships for the goals. The apparent and obvious successes were revealed through different studies on performances and outcomes. An independent survey revealed the success rate of WISE’s interventions stands at 82.5%. This was found in an assessment of the success rate and factors contributing to the success taking a random sample of 1000 target members.

WISE has enabled its members to become part of the formal financial system and access resources, services, and essential skills for self-reliance in order to improve their living and working conditions. The members were able to access relevant, life-changing trainings on various topics to enhance their knowledge, skills, attitude, and practice (KSAP). WISE amplifies women’s voices and helps build sisterhood amongst the community members. The cooperatives brought a synergized power to the women enabling them to negotiate and interact with external bodies effectively, influence policies, and gain access to some resources. This ends discrimination against members and contributes to Goal 5 in the SDGs which is “Gender Equality”.

WISE’s inclusive approach by involving spouses, children, family members, women with disabilities, and women living with HIV makes a truly supportive community. It is also known for implementing creative initiatives like the home and result-based literacy and numeracy initiatives that have remarkable outcomes. The Maternity insurance is a one-of-a-kind and proactive initiative implemented. It is an honorable gift to all mothers of the world and contributes to Goal 10 in the SDGS which is “Reduced Inequalities”. WISE continues to empower and promote the social, economic, and political inclusion of women irrespective of age, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion, or economic or other status.

As an exemplary organization looking to replicate its good practice, WISE’s eagerness to share its unique approaches shows that it is built on the idea that we all deserve to change for the better. It used partnerships to spread its good practice throughout the nation and beyond. WISE created strategic partnerships with like-minded organizations and provided training of trainers to their staff and members. It also offered mentoring opportunities to expand the outreach of the programs and initiatives.

Leadership begins with leading oneself. Once the women become financially emancipated, they organize their lives and reap the fruits of their successes. They also begin to create impact in their communities taking responsibility for making necessary changes. Participation and exercise of leadership in community affairs have increased among WISE members. Some women are involved in governance structures of women’s associations, Woreda, and Sub-city administrative organs. Few were registered as candidates for the parliament and regional council seats in the 2005 general election.

WISE, as an organized community impacting the lives of many, successfully lobbied the government for the provision of the land on which WISE Women’s Academy stands. The full-fledged women’s training center has been set up on two buildings built with the support of donor-generated finances. This academy is an asset that the WISE community utilizes and will be transferred to the coming generations of women.

The passion and integrity of the WISE team arise from the commitment and vision-driven nature of the leaders. Members are also part of the governance and leadership which creates a sense of ownership amongst the staff members as well as the members. As the founder Tsigie puts it “WISE belongs to women.” When asked what their dream for WISE was in 2009, Staff members said,” To see an expanded WISE reaching women living in every part of Addis Ababa and other urban and rural areas of Ethiopia.” They did make their dream come true. The one dream that WISE is yet to fulfill is to make itself sustainable through its income-generating entities – Meleket Training Services and the SACCO Union. WISE also envisions forming other Unions in the different regions it currently operates in.

WISE is a center of excellence that created everlasting bonds within its team as well as its members – a sisterhood, solidarity, and sense of belongingness. That became a foundation and a support system for each individual in the community. The holistic and context-aware creative approaches along with the passionate and value-driven staff members continue to keep it thriving.

Currently, this resilient community is faced with the challenge of supporting its members whose homes and business premises have been demolished. The women are still resilient and know how to seek opportunities within challenges but we still have a responsibility to support each other as a nation. Being vigilant when implementing policies and how they affect the people on the ground and offering alternative ways when taking measures is important. Through its program called መረዳጃ ህብረት “Solidarity Scheme” which works outside the official programs, WISE offers support to those members experiencing shock. This program offers them relief periods and sometimes support in cash or in kind.

One woman’s dream 26 years ago impacted thousands of lives by giving hope to the hopeless and voice to the voiceless. WISE’s struggle to make a difference in society is a model that must be emulated by all concerned citizens who stand for the betterment of society. We join hands with the courageous WISE team who against all odds proved that eliminating poverty is not charity work but a human right.

Sources

Reta 2011 “A study on organization for women in self-employment (WISE’s) success rate and factors contributing to success.

WISE’s Video on 15 Years of Life Service: Key moments

WISE’s Monthly Internal Newsletter: ታሪኬን ላውጋችሁ

Women’s Economic Empowerment in Ethiopia: The Concept and the Practice by Ekram Mohammed Negash Osman 

Women’s Entrepreneurship Development in Ethiopia by Melat Tekletsadik Haile: The Case Study of Women in Self Employment (WISE) Published by Lambert Academic Publishing (LAP) 2016

Exploring the livelihood of female street vendors from selected sites of Addis Ababa: Meseret Alaro May 2019

www.wise.org

www.unwomen.org

www.undp.org/sustainable-development-goals

https://www.grocentre.is/static/gro/publication/589/document/Women%20Economic%20Empowerment%20in%20Ethiopia%20last%20version.pdf

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