On the initiative of Partnership for Change (PfC), the Norwegian enterprise Reflectil AS has turned to Ethiopia as a possible production country. Reflectil, in collaboration with PfC, is currently undertaking a feasibility study funded by Norad, investigating opportunities for reflective production in this African country.
The idea for Ethiopian production of reflectors was born ten years ago, when PfC’s CEO arrived in Ethiopia for the first time.
– The plane arrived at night in Addis Ababa. The car ride from the airport to our hotel was a frightening experience. Outside it was pitch black, and cars share the road with pedestrians, donkey carts, bicycles, and shepherds walking cattle herds. With no street lights, it is understandable that Ethiopia has a very gloomy track record of numbers of deaths from traffic accidents. That was when I realised this country needs reflective products, says Nygård.
In her job at the time, as general-secretary of the Norwegian Women’s Public Health Association, it was not natural to pursue the idea of reflective production for the Ethiopian market. After several visits to the country since 2007, and increased knowledge of Ethiopia and its people, she learned that there is very little, if any, knowledge of reflective products in the country.
Ethiopia annually loses approximately USD 65 million due to traffic accidents. Victims are mainly pedestrians and public transport commuters in the age group 18-30 years old.
Lack of visibility is one of the main reasons for the high frequency of traffic-related accidents. At the same time, there are no regulations or awareness on the use of reflective products in Ethiopia.
– On several occasions, I have brought reflective products as presents on my trips to Ethiopia, and my experience is that almost everyone sees these products for the first time, says Nygård.
In some professions, e.g. traffic police officers, use reflective vests. These vests, however, turn out to be of such poor quality that they provide false safety for those wearing them.
A few years after the first scary encounter with Ethiopia’s night traffic, Nygård started working with PfC.
– Private sector development is at the core of PfC’s development work. So, when I started working there, I finally had the opportunity to investigate if the idea of reflective production in Ethiopia was viable, she says.
In 2015, Nygård reached out to the Norwegian enterprise Reflectil AS, and presented her idea for them: to start producing reflectors for the Ethiopian market.
– Reflectil were positive to the idea, and as an experienced producer, they saw more opportunities than I did. For instance, they were also interested in looking at opportunities for export production, Nygård says.
– Ethiopia is country with significant competence in textile production, an industry that mainly employs females. In other words, reflective production in Ethiopia can potentially create many new and sustainable jobs for women, which is exactly PfC’s mission, says Nygård.
Ethiopia’s comparative advantages have over the past years resulted in several of the leading textile producers, such as Hennes & Mauritz and Adidas, moving all or parts of their production from Asian countries to Ethiopia. (The article continues underneath the picture)
Reflectil, which currently has production sites in China and Portugal, wanted to investigate opportunities for Ethiopian production. The company’s management team visited Ethiopia together with PfC in 2016, to get a better picture of possibilities for producing and introducing reflective products to the Ethiopian market. Meetings were organised among others with relevant Ethiopian authorities who welcomed such production to the country.
Experiences from this visit resulted in Reflectil wanting to run a feasibility study to properly evaluate opportunities for establishing production in Ethiopia.
In 2016, Reflectil Holding AS was granted support under Norad’s grant scheme “Enterprise Development for Jobs” for such a feasibility study. This feasibility study is currently being undertaken in collaboration between PfC and Reflectil, and is projected to be concluded by the end of 2017.
– We are very pleased that Reflectil wants to collaborate with us and take a closer look at the opportunities in Ethiopia, and we think being their appointed partner in this process is both very nice and exciting. This is a great example of the role that NGOs can play in development work. Through a longstanding presence and a solid knowledge of the local context in developing countries, NGO’s have a competence that the private sector can largely benefit from. Arriving in a new country and a new culture with the aim of establishing a business is often very challenging, says Anne-Karin Nygård.
Reflectil produces visibility products to protect people’s lives and health. Production sites are in low-cost countries where many people’s jobs are influenced by choices made. Reflectil is therefore extremely well-positioned to make a positive difference in many people’s lives.
– Ethiopia is an exciting and fascinating country where the government has achieved high economic growth in a short period of time. We see a rapid development in the country, and the textile industry is one of the prioritised industries. Access to labour is great and the price level makes Ethiopia very competitive in the global market. Collectively, this will contribute to creating new opportunities for the poorest part of Ethiopia’s population, says Petter Høgvard, CEO and owner of Reflectil.
The biggest barrier to business establishment, is not having the right people in place.
– PfC has, through their local presence and established network of relevant contacts, made the process of assessing opportunities in Ethiopia run smoothly and effectively. Without PfC’s initiative and local support, Reflectil would not have had access to an exciting new opportunity, or been able to investigate these opportunities in such a structured and effective way as has been the case so far, says Høgvard.