Take a stroll down almost any grocery in the U.S. and you will probably see what seems like hundreds of different varieties of yogurt. But in Ethiopia, being able to choose between different flavors of yogurt is a new phenomenon. One of the key woman responsible for the introduction of this new product is Hirut Yohannes.
The significance of this story is not simply about providing more flavorful choices at the supermarket. It is about how empowering an entrepreneur can improve the nutritional status of those in her community, while at the same time boosting the incomes and improving the livelihoods of hundreds, helping lift them out of poverty.
Eight years ago, Hirut launched Rut and Hirut Dairy, a milk processing company 30 minutes outside of Addis Ababa in Cha Cha, Amhara. Her business stalled several years after she started it, caused by a dearth of equipment and a lack of proper training. In 2013, she started working with the USAID AGPLMD project, through which she received training in dairy product production and marketing techniques. Through a competitive matching grants program, AGP-LMD also provided Hirut with new milk processing equipment. Fast forward to 2016 and Hirut’s business has been transformed and revitalized.
Hirut now produces 16 different types of cheese and new types of yogurt including strawberry, chocolate and honey. This model woman entrepreneur supplies her products to 12 stores around Ethiopia’s bustling capital city and serves customers 24 hours a day in her own Addis-based shop. Seven thousand liters are collected each day – a significant increase leading Hirut to expand her staff from 15 in 2013 to 20 full-time employees in 2016.
But the impact of AGP-LMD does not only directly affect Hirut and her employees. Hirut has emerged as an inspiration and resource, especially for other women entrepreneurs. More than 450 women supply milk to Hirut at her seven collection centers ranging three to 25 kilometers away from her business.
Zelekash Wolde-Amanuel (pictured to the left) is one of those women that supply daily milk to Hirut. A mother of four, Zelekash used to only produce enough milk to feed her family. She had no prior experience in selling milk until Hirut started to share the information she learned from USAID such as barn management, proper handling of cows and feeding. Zelekash eagerly jumped at the opportunity to earn additional money for her family and now supplies 40 liters a day. She currently earns 12,000 ETB per month from her milk sales – a new income that helps send all of her children to school.
“The only shortness we have is awareness,” Hirut explained. Her story is a testament that when given the knowledge and empowerment, many lives can be transformed from the success of a single successful business.