An inspiring Ethiopian social enterprise has announced plans to launch an Engineering Institute for the Blind.
When Bizuayehu Jembere was at university, he made friends with a young man who was visually impaired, and he learned that getting an education wasn’t as straightforward for everyone.
He was inspired to use this experience to help blind people to get involved in lucrative science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) jobs.
Due to a lack of educational materials, blind and visually impaired Ethiopians cannot take basic mathematics courses which are prerequisites for science courses at the university level, and as such, in higher learning environments, irrespective of their interests and talents, they are only able to study social sciences.
This led him to co-found CIL Promotion Partnership, a social enterprise that produces reading and learning materials for the blind.
Through its Eyes of Ethiopia project, CIL Promotion Partnership converts imported braille, slate and stylus books that are provided to readers through a mobile library.
It also produces unique learning materials so that blind students can access books study mathematics and geometry. CIL Promotion Partnership is also working towards teaching blind students design and craftsmanship skills so that they have vocational skills that can help them earn a decent living.
CIL has been able to capitalize on a gap in the market: the lack of locally produced braille materials. The product costs substantially less than imported materials, and as such, he is a fierce competitor for the foreigners selling materials from abroad who cannot match his pricing.
It was his vision and innovative problem-solving that helped secure Bizuayehu’s spot in the Reach for Change incubator. In the incubator, he received a grant that helped him make a deposit and access financing and has opened doors for him with numerous government stakeholders.
He has been able to work with the ministry of education, which expressed its commitment to expanding the opportunities available to the blind, especially within STEM fields. Bizuayehu comments:
Reach for Change provided me with training and capacity building programs. They told me where to go and who to ask to establish my enterprise. They also helped me to navigate government institutions. So it’s not only the grant; the experience sharing, the capacity building, the trainings were vital for me.
I would like to see blind architects, blind engineers, blind scientists in the near future in Ethiopia.
Bizuayehu is now lobbying banks to install braille ATM machines and plans to develop digital maps to help with navigation of Addis Ababa and other Ethiopian cities. He even plans to establish an Ethiopian Engineering Institute for the Blind (EEIB) and has already starting to develop the design of the building.
The Rooftop is reporting from the Social Enterprise World Forum thanks to support from the British Council.
Image: Reach for Change