ETHIOPIA - 11 July 2023

Start-up transforms young entrepreneur’s life

“The young people I know are ambitious and talented. But they remain unseen and have little opportunity to find work for lack of exposure and training. I wish that those who sit idle find work. People are supposed to spend their time working.”  Dine, 22, laundry entrepreneur

Dine is convinced that a good life is within reach if he works hard. And his laundry shop in Haramaya Town in Harar, eastern Ethiopia, is his path to prosperity.

As a child, Dine watched his family struggle after his father died, forcing all four siblings out of school. Dine dropped out in grade eight.

The young business owner has become his family’s breadwinner - complementing his mother’s income selling groceries.

“I have been concerned about the wellbeing of my family ever since I was a small boy,” says Dine. “I noticed that there were serious money problems in the house. That is why I decided to work hard.  

“When friends that I went to school with bought something, I envied them. If they bought a phone, I also wanted to get a phone but my family could not afford it. It is things like this that have motivated me. I need to earn something to buy the things people get for themselves,” he says.

Dine’s laundry shop is small and cramped. Laundered clothes are stored in plastic shopping bags and stacked in shelves; others hang on the wall.  A white washing machine hums in one corner of the shop.

Training for the job

After he dropped out of school, Dine says he kept himself busy washing cars and scrubbing carpets.

He was inspired to open his shop three years ago, after attending a youth employment training programme initiated by SOS Children’s Villages family strengthening programme.

The programme is designed to meet the young people where they are – with limited resources and new to the world of business. The training invites young people to see themselves as determinants of their own future, and not victims of factors beyond their control.

Young people who did not graduate from high school like Dine, and those who have graduated but are unemployed are the programme’s target.

According to the Ethiopian Statistics Service 2022 data, only 58 percentage of graduates are absorbed in the job market. The rest are idle. While majority are willing to take up jobs, there is a mismatch between their abilities and the skills needed in the marketplace. The national youth unemployment rate is at 23 percent.

For three months, the young people are trained in entrepreneurship, soft skills, the importance of saving and how to use financial services to their advantage - shaping their minds to start a business instead of doing nothing.

Eyob Hailu, the family strengthening programme coordinator says the number of young people needing support in Harar is very high. “And this is a security risk,” he says. “This is a volatile area so when young people are busy then the peace is maintained.

“And although not everyone in the training goes on to open a business, the education is a confidence and self-esteem booster, especially for young people living in poverty. And the valuable skills and experience makes them employable.”

The laundry shop

After training, Dine received capital and a new washing machine to start the business of his choice.

He first rented space for two years but realized the expense was eating into his profit. Two months ago, he moved his services to his family’s compound after putting up a new shop.

The laundry opens at 8.00a daily until 9.00pm. Dine is the only permanent employee. On busy days, he hires his friends to help for the day or two.

“I know my customers are satisfied with my washing because some give me tips and others bring more clothes the next time they come, even clothes that are not that dirty,” says Dine.

Dine hangs the wet clothes to dry outside his shop, on a rack made of wooden poles. Then he carefully irons and packs them folded in the customer’s bag.

He makes about 7000 birr [120 Euro] in a month.

Family support

With income from the shop, the laundry entrepreneur is educating his brother and has funded himself to complete high school. He is now waiting to find out if he has passed his university entry exam.

“I think that I will join the extension program in the evening,” says Dine of his university plans. “I will work during the day and attend classes from 5pm to 8pm at Haramaya University. If that does not work, I will teach someone else to run it [laundry shop] and I go ahead with my studies.

“Education is my priority.

“I want to be wealthy and educated by the time I get a degree - which is in four years. Paying for my education does not worry me these days like in the past. I can pay for myself.”

“I am happy that Dine has found this job,” says Shamshi, Dine’s mother.

“Life will get better if we continue living like this. At times when I need money, he gives me. He also provides for himself and the family. Now I have hope for the future. I believe in my mind that he will guide his siblings to follow in his footsteps,” she says.

Shamshi is very protective of Dine to make sure he does not keep bad company. He watches him closely to keep young people who chew khat (a stimulant) away from him. With Ethiopia’s largest khat market situated in Haramaya town, khat is easily accessible and a real temptation to young people looking to pass time.

“I always bless him and pray that he succeeds,” says Shamshi. “He is the one person I have put my hope in. He is strong.

“When young people come to visit him, I use my facial expression to disapprove the one I feel is not a good influence. I smile at those who are well behaved. I do not want to see him [Dine] around bad company, and he can tell by the look on my face. That is how I keep him in check.”

“My friends do not chew khat. They do not touch it,” says Dine.

“And we do not hang out in the same places with those that chew khat. They only go out at 1pm to buy khat, and after that they spend their time at home. If I meet them by chance at the coffee place, we talk about some stuff then they go to chew khat and I go to my work.”

Dine is determined to be successful in business and in life. He is thinking of expansion but lack of space in the current shop keeps him from acquiring a second washing machine.

“I have a lot of work coming in that I request clients to pick up their clothes in four or five days. Sometimes they bring blankets that are too big for the machine to wash and I am forced to clean them outside there using a brush. I can only wash a limited number using my hands which means there are customers who leave disappointed. I need to expand my business to keep everyone happy.”

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