WEF Africa 2012: Bethlehem T. Alemu Named Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2012 World Economic Forum's meeting on Africa being held this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (Photo courtesy of SoleRebels)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – As the World Economic Forum’s meeting on Africa wraps up in Ethiopia, The Schwab Foundation announced six winners of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year in Africa award that were presented at the Addis Ababa event on Thursday by the Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. The winners include Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu of Ethiopia, Co-Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels; Sameer Hajee of Rwanda, Chief Executive Officer of Nuru Energy Group; Paul Scott Matthew of South Africa, Director of North Star Alliance Africa; Andrew Muir, also from South Africa who is Executive Director of Wilderness Foundation; and Seri Youlou & Thomas Granier of Burkina Faso, Co-Founders of the Association la Voute Nubienne.

According to The Schwab Foundation, the awardees are among a group of the foundation’s 17 social entrepreneurs from around the world who took part in the meeting. “Africa has seen tremendous growth over the past decade,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “Social entrepreneurs use innovative approaches to extend access to healthcare, education, energy and housing to marginalized populations that may not otherwise be included in the traditional markets. They ensure that growth, such as that Africa has experienced, is and will be inclusive.”

“I am truly honored that the Schwab Foundation Board has chosen to recognize me in this manner,” the Ethiopian winner Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu said in a statement. “I proudly share this recognition with every single one of the talented, industrious, committed and cultured people who everyday work alongside me to make soleRebels what it is – the coolest artisan driven footwear company on the planet.”

The ceremony, which was broadcast live via a web-stream on the forum’s website, was attended by hundreds of global leaders from various sectors and dignitaries from around the continent, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Bekele Geleta, and heads of state from South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Gambia, Gabon, and host nation Ethiopia.

“We deeply believe that economic as well as social progress can best be achieved through entrepreneurship.” said Schwab Foundation Chairman & co-founder Klaus Schwab. “Bethlehem embodies the vision and values of the global social entrepreneur community, and we are proud to honor her exemplary work in creating a highly innovative, ethical and sustainable business that continues to make a strong social impact with this special award.”

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship was founded by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and his wife, Hilde. Since its inception in 2000, the foundation has recognized the world’s leading social entrepreneurs in over 40 countries.

Below are the 2012 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year in Africa:

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Co-Founder and Managing Director, SoleRebels, Ethiopia
SoleRebels taps into Ethiopia’s rich artisan heritage to create durable, stylish and eco-friendly footwear for international markets. The company offers training and employment to hundreds of underprivileged workers in Ethiopia, creating a new employment model for local enterprises. By using recycled automobile tires for the rubber soles and other environmentally friendly practices, soleRebels is committed to a zero carbon footprint.

Sameer Hajee, Chief Executive Officer, Nuru Energy Group, Rwanda
With many homes in sub-Saharan Africa not connected to electricity grids, Nuru Energy works with microentrepreneurs to disseminate its Nuru LED light, which can be recharged using an off-grid, pedal-powered platform. The LED light gives up to 26 hours of light and costs one-sixth of kerosene to recharge. To date, Nuru Energy has set up 70 village-level entrepreneurs who have sold 10,000 Nuru lights.

Paul Scott Matthew, Director Africa, North Star Alliance, South Africa
In the 1990s, Paul Matthew saw the alarming impacts of HIV/AIDS on mobile workers such as truck drivers and realized these workers lacked access to basic healthcare. North Star Alliance provides mobile workers and related communities with sustainable access to high-quality health and safety services through a network of interlinked clinics known as “Roadside Wellness Centres”. Since opening its first center in 2005 in Malawi, North Star has grown to 22 centers in 10 countries.

Andrew Muir, Executive Director, Wilderness Foundation, South Africa
The Wilderness Foundation, founded in 1972, integrates conservation programmes with social and educational programmes. It has trained thousands of youth to be community leaders and national park rangers. Through its social intervention projects, young people are empowered to become financially independent entrepreneurs andbreadwinners for their families. Under the stewardship of the Wilderness Foundation, over 200 000 hectares of African wilderness has been rehabilitated and expanded in the interests of conservation and environmental protection. More than 100 000 disadvantaged/vulnerable youth have benefited from the Wilderness Foundation through our social intervention and environmental education programmes.

Seri Youlou and Thomas Granier, Co-Founders, Association la Voute Nubienne, Burkina Faso
More than a decade ago, Seri Youlou, a farmer from Burkina Faso, and Thomas Granier, a French mason, built a Nubian vault home in Burkina Faso that inspired them to establish the Association la Vaute Nubienne. By training farmers in the construction of homes with vaulted earth-brick roofs they are providing an affordable, ecologically sustainable housing alternative and source of income during the off-seasons. Today, more than 200 masons have built over 1,300 Nubian vault homes in West Africa.

Related:
Balancing Economic Growth With True Sustainability (The Huffington Post)
World Economic Forum on Africa Goes Social (Voice of America)
Addis Ababa Hosts World Economic Forum & Ethiopia Investment Summit (TADIAS)

1 Response to “WEF Africa 2012: Bethlehem T. Alemu Named Social Entrepreneur of the Year”


  1. 1 derrick May 13th, 2012 at 4:13 pm

    I think we’re seeing a convergence of several perspectives on what it means to be a for profit business. For years nonprofits have been increasing applying alternative approaches in donor development and public awareness. Now there is a whole generation of young entrepreneurs that see a nonnegotiable connection between being personally successful and being relevant in social issues, especially issues that are related to their industry or audience.

    It’s important to continue highlighting the pioneers in this new way of taking care of business..and each other. Great article.

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