“Light is coming out of my city,” says 20-year old Abonesh Dejene, referring to the success of a UNDP training and business development initiative in southern Ethiopia.

Dejene, of Wolyta Sodo town, is the sole female in a group of young people who were once unemployed after dropping out of school, but have now completed a training course in entrepreneurial skills and set up a thriving business.

After receiving training in business planning and management, marketing and leadership, and basic accounting, the group opened a cafeteria and youth recreation centre. They did so using a loan equivalent to US$15,000 that they received from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-supported Local Economic Development (LED) projects.

Designed as part of the Ethiopian Government’s efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, LED projects cover start-up costs to help communities grow new businesses and generate income.

The LED initiative in Wolyta Sodo town – involving local government, the private sector and civil society – has paid off, especially for those like Dejene who could not afford the fees to stay in school. In the last few months of 2010, her group’s cafeteria turned a profit of US$1,400, some of which they used to repay their loan and reinvest in their business.
Before she started working at the recreation center, Dejene was financially dependent on her parents, who had to support three other children on a meager income. Now, after studying during the day, she works evenings at the center, earning the equivalent of US$30 a month.

Some of her colleagues also use the center’s facilities to build furniture and organise sporting events.
The LED programme, implemented in partnership with UNDP, operates in seven towns across four regions of Ethiopia, and mainly targets vulnerable groups, including women and young people. So far, it has helped up to 5,000 people gain new skills and find work.

In 2009, the LED programme approved an initial loan of about US$243,000 to the local authority of Wolyta Sodo town.
Meanwhile, in Nekempte, in southwestern Ethiopia, 637 beneficiaries from youth groups and community associations (including 128 women) have been trained to start their own businesses in enterprises such as road construction, grain and cereals trading, and grinding mills operations. As part of this development initiative, local institutions also received IT equipment, such as laptops, desktop computers and printers.

The LED programme’s overall goal is to double the number of jobs and the level of income of poor and vulnerable residents by 2014, while increasing revenues through developing local enterprises and infrastructure.
The projects are aimed at supporting some 6,000 young people and women directly, though their overall impact will benefit about 100,000 people in total.

Micro-credit projects like the LED programme, which has a total budget of US$10m for the 2009-2012 period, are an important part of Ethiopia’s five-year national development strategy for accelerating progress towards achieving the MDGs.
They have certainly helped to brighten Dejene’s prospects, enabling her to return to school and add to her family’s income. They have also provided her with a vital support network.
“I am grateful to my colleagues who work with me in the cafeteria. Even though I’m the only female, they give me support and also escort me home at night after we finish work,” says Dejene.