Every two months, at 5 pm on a Thursday, the cozy Black Rose Lounge starts to fill with people involved in agri-business and Ethiopian agricultural development. The people who come to this place on Bole Road in Addis Ababa are not always the same, but neither are they a random collection. They are members of AgriProFocus Ethiopia and partners of the Ethiopia Netherlands Trade for Agricultural Growth (ENTAG).
ENTAG aims to strengthen the Ethiopian private sector by, among other things, supporting business models that are inclusive of smallholder farmers. AgriProFocus is an international network of agricultural development actors, which promotes agribusiness by facilitating improved visibility and interactions. But they go further than online platforms and social media only. In fact, in a society where internet access is limited, bringing those engaged in agribusiness together to meet in person is the best alternative. That is why ENTAG and AgriProFocus Ethiopia jointly conceived the ‘Business Drinks’ event in 2015.
Visible at night
The Business Drinks events create an enjoyable and yet beneficial occasion for agribusiness owners and agricultural development actors to come together and share experiences, and find partnership and funding opportunities. Most importantly, the event provides an opportunity where members and partners can make their organizations, programs, and products visible to relevant stakeholders. At every event about 10 participants make a one-minute pitch. Based on requests from other participants, organizers have begun to invite selected people in the agribusiness sector to make extended pitches of five minutes. Participants can make or listen to pitches, or can easily pass their business cards and start a conversation with whoever is there. And all this happens while enjoying two free drinks.
These informal networking evenings have become interesting and beneficial to the agribusiness community. Participants are getting the chance to promote and sell themselves better. “I have been looking for the right person for three years”, said Ato Wagnew Ayalneh, owner of a mushroom farm. While attending one of the Business Drinks events, Wagnew met this person. “We chatted in detail about possible market opportunities for my mushrooms, and arranged a formal appointment.”
Beyond visibility, the Business Drinks have become a real marketplace and match-making event. During pitch sessions, one can easily observe business partnerships in the making. While someone pitches about his organization producing quality teff – the main ingredient of injera, the dominant staple food in Ethiopia – the subsequent pitcher may say the company he represents engages in exporting injera.
Business Drinks have resulted in creating and developing ‘self-selling’, that doesn’t come naturally to many Ethiopians. Participants are also seen to make actual sales. Abel Ayele could not resist himself while listening to a pitch about improved crop storage bags. He works for Damot Wolayta Cooperative Union and called his colleagues immediately. The next day the union ordered more than 12,000 Birr (€375) worth of storage bags.
As a network, the Business Drinks have managed to attract a wide variety of people: agribusiness owners, development agents (NGOs), researchers, policy makers, diplomatic communities (embassies), academics, students, and more. However, participation from government organizations is very limited. After registering online, they tend to miss the event or come late. Similarly, participants attending the event are those with easy access to transportation. This is mainly because the Business Drinks take place in evenings. This has limited the number of participants for each event to about 70 people on average, and also made the event less inclusive. So more efforts are needed to look for a convenient time for all, and to organize such events in regional areas as well.
[This article was was written by Gizaw Legesse and originally published in 2017 on foodsecurityethiopia.nl website among several articles produced as a result of Experience Capitalization writing workshop organized by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, led by CTA./