Rahel Boon-Dejene is an Ethiopian born Dutch social entrepreneur who aims to bring positive impact to visionary professionals by creating job opportunities, developing soft skills and stimulating entrepreneurship. She is the founding managing director of R&D Entrepreneurship and Outsourcing Centre plc, the daughter company of her Dutch based firm RBD Consultancy.
She is also the founder of Partners4change, an initiative that was set up to work closely with young professionals from all sectors to combat global issues.
She holds an honor MBA degree from the University of Wolverhampton (UK) and pre-master’s in Social Entrepreneurship from the University of Amsterdam and BA in International Business Management. She has conducted a structural study in how to setup a successful social enterprise in the context of UK and has been able to implement her findings in her work in Ethiopia and The Netherlands.
Due to her works, Boon-Dejene has been selected one of the 16 young sustainable leaders by Earth Charter International and Sustainable young professional of the Year by the Dutch sustainability movement in 2011 and 2013 respectively.
Capital: Tell us a little about your company and what it has done so far in Ethiopia?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: R&D EOC is set up in partnership with Dutch based software company, ORTEC Sports and consulting firm in The Netherlands. Starting as an organization devoted to providing high quality sport data to global organizations, we have grown to be center of excellence in all areas of talent management. Currently, we manage group of companies specializing in Entrepreneurship accelerator, HR Consulting, Talent Development, Business Process Outsourcing. We welcome every opportunity to partner with other local and foreign organization as to maximize our impact in the ecosystem. Entrepreneurship Acceleratory partnering with organizations such as British Council and Cord aid Netherlands, we have worked with 81remarkable Small and Medium Enterprises in Ethiopia. Led by majority of women, the SME owners have been provided with expert mentorship, coaching, training and peer-to-peer networking. We also facilitate an internship opportunity for young graduates to work closely with these business owners as to obtain skills and employment.
Our business process outsourcing division is devoted to conducting different IT and HR activities for foreign and local companies. Being the biggest data collection center in Africa, majority of our employees are analyzing football data for clients in the US, Canada, China and Europe. We currently work 18 hours a day and plan to expand our services to 24/7 as to serve global clients in areas such as content and document management, customer relationship management, payroll management, data collection and data analysis.
We also have Talent management to help existing and start-up organizations increase their efficiency and business performance by providing exceptional training and coaching services. Using modern methods, we guarantee continued growth for professionals, enabling them to create operational efficiency and implementing strong business intelligence. We depend upon our ability to join force with international and local experts to provide our clients with an effective training and coaching, leading to improved management capacity and business performance.
While we provide +50 standardized and various custom-made trainings, professionals can rely on us to access a world class coaching program by our partner Ericson.
Our consulting division is designed to ease the growing demand on organizations by working seamlessly and collaboratively as an extension of in-house HR team. Our local and international HR experts work with our clients to assess current HR setup and design and implement strategically effective HR processes, practices and programs.
We deliver full-scale HR solutions including but not limited to HR development strategy, salary scale analysis, job grading, job description, change management, performance appraisal, interim management, and monitoring and evaluation.
Capital: you are going to celebrate your 10th year anniversary in here and we hear that there is an event in for the celebration; Can you tell us about it?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Before we officially set up the organization, we sought a partnership with St. Mary’s University college to recruit their students to perform a football analysis tasks. On 10th of January 2010, when the then African Cup in Angola was playing, we started collecting data from a small office at St. Mary’s University College.
Starting with my business partner, Wondwesen Zewdie and 6 students, we now are an organization with 120 employees and +30 external business development associates. In this process we have seen happiness, sorrow, success and failure, we owe it to ourselves and the people who believed in us to remember our roots and celebrate our future growth.
We are proud to be an organization led and driven by young professionals that are innovative, vibrant and flexible. We therefore like to take the opportunity to have an open discussion about the current challenges of African/Ethiopian youth in pursuing their dream, whether as an employee of a business owner.
Entitled, Skills for entrepreneurship VS intrapreneurship, the event is expected to be a platform where stakeholders from all sectors will come together to collaborate with like minds and celebrate our continuous commitment. The event will take place at Skylight hotel on 17th of January 2010.
Capital: Why is it difficult for African entrepreneurs to sustain their businesses?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Lack of an enabling business environment – institutions and policies that affect firm entry, survival, growth and exit are the main reasons behind a suppressed private sector in Ethiopia. Startup firms are dealing with two main barriers to set up a new firm, namely administrative burdens related to starting a business and access to finance.
Existing small business on the other hand have difficulties to reach maturity level of their product/service offerings, mainly due to lack of technical or operational knowledge. Entrepreneurs also lack access to proper infrastructure, technical assistance and information. I also believe that providing the right information or assisting businesses in areas such as auditing, accounting, business planning, feasibility studies, marketing, project evaluation and commercial law will strongly decrease the barrier to accessing finance.
Capital: Despite the recognition given to entrepreneurship and small business development in Ethiopia and other developing countries, entrepreneurs still face myriad of challenges. As a result, these survival rate of most entrepreneurial ventures in Ethiopia is low. What should be done to tackle these challenges?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Finding the right team, not having a unique business idea and model, expecting quick wins are some examples.
Entrepreneurs should understand that to sustain business, you need long-term goals and patience to experience ups and downs. Sector where quick financial return can be expected do not usually add value or create impactful employment, besides it is extremely competitive.
Knowing that there is a great need to develop Small and Medium Enterprises, the legal framework and the financial resources of micro financing institutions (MFIs) should allow access to relatively bigger credit sizes. Furthermore, there must be a single point of contact for entrepreneurs to gain access to the appropriate service depending on their stage. The available private sector development programs should provide quality and customized trainings, mentoring, coaching and technical assistance.
Capital: What are the key factors that will play major role in fostering entrepreneurship in Ethiopia?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: It should all start with changing the mindset of the new generation to consider entrepreneurship as an option. This should start with the education system that stimulate entrepreneurship throughout the talent development stage, starting as early as elementary school. We need to invest in vocational training and higher education with the aim to develop the skills of the workforce in the economy. A well-developed business development service is also vital for a company that wishes to grow.
We should also stimulate knowledge exchange/sharing initiatives, whereby there is a network of local and international experts that work with entrepreneurs on relevant areas.Furthermore, to stimulate export, entrepreneurs in the same field should cooperate to serve the export clients requirement of high volume and quality products.
Capital: What is holding back women entrepreneurs to do some business in the country?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Generally Ethiopian women entrepreneurs are severely disadvantaged in both the economy and society. They generally have very low levels of education, a low literacy rate and are responsible for assuming the domestic responsibilities of household activities. When starting business activities, they tend to pursue areas where they have (assumed) gender-based skills and know-how, such as food processing, clothing, and hairdressing.
Therefore, only a very small proportion of women in micro-enterprises grows into small business and very few small businesses grow into medium and large ones. Besides, the remarkable growth-oriented women entrepreneurs seem to have been neglected by the different entrepreneurship programs available in Ethiopia. The fact that customary law often places control over marital property in the hands of men also makes it difficult for women to use such property as collateral when seeking credit.
Capital: What should a budding entrepreneur bear in mind to create a long-term sustainable model?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Many entrepreneurs think their idea is unique, I have learnt that every second there is probably the same idea generated by other entrepreneurs elsewhere. Therefore, to start with, you need an idea but having a partner with other skill sets maximizes the success rate of a business. In addition, entrepreneurs mostly forget to assess the viability of their business ideas, without a proper market research and business plan, businesses are doomed to fail. The time that copy-paste entrepreneurs succeed is no longer the case, entrepreneurs should therefore deign proper business model around their idea. As the business grows, entrepreneurs also need to surround themselves by most effective teams, mentors, and role models. Finally expanding own network is very important success factor for businesses.
Capital: What are the key challenges facing social entrepreneurs in Africa, particularly Ethiopia these days?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Next to the constraints that enterprises face, social entrepreneurs create an intangible social transformation, which is difficult to measure their social value creation. Social entrepreneurs are also faced with the challenge of finding fund to support their commercial and noncommercial activities. In many cases, the success of social entrepreneurs is mostly dependent on their personal ability to grow, as social entrepreneurs are more devoted to the social goal.
There is also a risk of not finding the right balance in between economic and social benefit, resulting in loss of profit.
Capital: What are your recommendations to the Ethiopian government on supporting and accelerating job creation in Ethiopia?
Rahel Boon-Dejene: Without underestimating the impact of micro businesses in Ethiopia, the country needs to also build small and medium size enterprises, which will generate job opportunities and independent middle class.
Compare to when we started, the government has simplified business registration and investment licensing procedures. However, the private sector development requires minimizing credit constraints and trade barriers, improving judiciary and regulatory framework. Tax rates and tax administration should also be revisited to stimulate SMEs to further expand their businesses. Furthermore, governmental institutions that are supporting entrepreneurs should be equipped with the right skills to support startups or existing businesses. As mentioned above, the government should work towards a more practical and entrepreneurship driven education system.