Look at the fire!

Posted on September 18, 2009


‘The West should really stop giving,’ says Bethlehem. ‘They are ruining everything, changing peoples minds and work ethics by making them dependent on aid.’

Bethlehem is a succesful Ethiopian entrepeneur. Her story should be a wake up call for every complaining jobless Ethiopian, but especially for all the donors in the West.

I’m probably going to fast. Who is Bethlehem? Well, she is the managing director of fairtrade shoe factury SoleRebels. A company that produces pretty sneakers and flipflops solely from Ethiopian material. All hand made.

Retailers and internetshops sell her shoes in the United States and some places in Europe, like Great-Brittain, Denmark, Germany and Poland. The buyers are ‘conscious people’, with good taste I must say, attracted by the articraft of the product, its ecological character (soles are made from tires) and the fairtrade logo.

Why she deserves this logo? Well, when she started SoleRebels, she took unemployed people -or bad employed as I consider being a prostitute bad employed – from the streets, trained them and offered them a nice salary and some good conditions. They get, for example, money to go to the hospital in case of illness and schooluniforms for their children.

All good. If you want to be conscious about your clothing and pay just a little extra money for a fairtrade logo? That’s fine. But, according to me, the real reason to buy SoleRebels shoes would not be the fairtrade logo but Bethlehem’s fire.

Do something
Her hard working employees were once sitting on rocks on the side of the road doing nothing. ‘And there are still many people like that,’ she told me in an interview for the already legendary documentary One Size Fits All. ‘The only way to change something and improve your situation is to get up from that rock and start working. Do something.’

No surprise Bethlehem is a big fan of Zambian Economist Dambisa Moyo, who wrote the ground breaking book Dead Aid (read it!). Moyo’s message: however well intended, development aid is not working. So quit.

No, she’s not just complaining. She offers an alternative route for poor countries as well. With better acces to global capital and markets and without dependancy on aid these countries can beat corruption and implement new economic policies – which the growing middle class will demand anyway.

I guess African women like Bethlehem, Dambisa Moyo and many others share the same fire and can show the way to real development.