AWiB Events Event Recap Recap “Learning from Ethiopian Social Entrepreneurs – A Conversation with Kibret Abebe of Tebita Ambulance”
17 April 2017 Written by 

Recap “Learning from Ethiopian Social Entrepreneurs – A Conversation with Kibret Abebe of Tebita Ambulance”

April’s monthly event revolved around the issue of social enterprise in the Ethiopian context, focusing on one social entrepreneur Ato Kibret Abebe. The host for the evening, Meti Shewaye Yilma opened the event by introducing the AWiB board members inviting attendees to visit the AWiB website for more news on current activities.

Ato Kibret Abebe is the founder ofTebita Ambulance the first privately owned pre-hospital emergency aid provider in Ethiopia. One of the top anesthesiologists in the country,Ato Kibret is social entrepreneur passionate about challenging individuals to think about their contribution to society and country.

After travelling to London to provide emergency aid in an airport, Ato Kibret was surprised to see the value given to one individual’s life in the West. He says the outlook among even fellow doctors is to think of Ethiopian lives as expendable; there are, after all, a 100 million of them. He travelled to London showed him ‘one life is worth an entire country.’ He quickly left his job at Black Lion Hospital and the 5 other hospital he worked in, sold his house and car to buy the first 3 ambulances and start the Tebita. He said he wanted to take risk and become a social entrepreneur, not simply own a business.

The call system, he said, is the heart of their operations. The poor die easily in Ethiopia, doctors purposefully avoiding critical patients, in fear that they will die and not pay the bill. Tebita cross-subsidizes their work, serving both the poor and rich. Their purpose is to be socially responsible and make money – to be professional, ethical and human.

With 47 permanent and 28 temporary staff member, Tebita has 3 dispatch centers, 11 ambulances and 2 moto-ambulances. Tebita also offers emergency aid training to individuals interested in gaining this skill. Tebita is able to evacuate patients from Jimma, Hawassa, Adama and other cities.

An Acumen 2015 fellow, Ato Kibret asserted the importance of good leadership. He said Tebita has faced and still faces many challenges, such as a sufficient work space, a fragile supply chain, lack of foreign investors and proficient technical assistance from trained paramedics and emergency care professionals. Tebita, he stated, is able to sustain but not expand. However, Ato Kibret is ready to fight. Following his favorite Acumen quote, ‘leadership that does what is right, not what is easy’.

With the presentation and interview of Ato Kibret over, Q & A with the audience proceeded. The first question asked how Ato Kibret convinced his wife to sell his house. After trying to receive loans from 3 banks and getting rejected, he had decided to consult his wife about the sale of the house. His wife asked how this business he was planning would be profitable. They consulted Elders, ‘shemagles’, who all agreed with her and questioned his sanity. After many discussions and a persuasive dinner, she finally agreed. Then they also sold their car to pay transportation and customs tax. She was then forced to travel to and fro work in an ambulance for the following 3 years.

When asked for advice he would give to other entrepreneurs, Ato Kibret stressed the importance of commitment. “We need to be committed to something. The day you’re born and the day you find what you’re supposed to do are the most important in your life. “He insisted on the relevance of social entrepreneurship with a purpose.

The following question concerned billing of patients which Ato Kibret addressed by stating the price for ambulance transport is 20 birr per km and that no money is accepted at the beginning. Customers are generally well disciple and that if they are poor, they aren’t required to pay. This follows their practice of cross-subsidization. Tebita receives donations from many that see the good they are doing.

Tebita, Ato Kibret stated, shares values with Red Cross with changes to business model – that is not reliant on donations. Sustainability is the overarching theme of the business plan. Offering a human-centered service to individuals in dire need of aid and making a difference in the country. “I want to teach the right thing. Don’t try to be rich in the wrong scenario.” Ato Kibret quoted Daniel Kibret who stated that Tebita wasn’t building a business, it is building a country.

When asked about mentorship and coaching facilitation, Ato Kibret mentioned that he was selected by the Chamber of Commerce as a coach and mentor for entrepreneurs and stressed the significance of networking and grabbing opportunities when they present themselves. He stated that many opportunities are available to young people in Ethiopia and there are many problems that need to be solved. He said he himself had many opportunities so ”how dare I not succeed? We haven’t done anything. We must open our eyes. In Canada, I can’t even wash an ambulance without taking 6 months’ training.”

Ato Kibret was then asked if he would have started Tebita if many coincidences hadn’t led him to his decision to become a social entrepreneur. Ato Kibret responded that events aligned according to God’s plan and the way things fell into place gave him authority to follow his vision. He believed he would be doing exactly what he’s doing now because it was always his dream. “Life is about impact … I am seeing the future” he stated.

Addressing a question on any innovative practices he has employed to solve an obstacle unique to Ethiopia, Ato Kibret stated that Tebita deployed motorcycle ambulances to subvert traffic jams that can easily secure the scene, saving the victim from public interference or vehicle crash or pileup. Tebita give priority to patients in choice of hospital and the aid providers offer advice according to the patient’s ailment. 

Ato Kibret mentioned the significance of explaining social enterprise and policy overcoming the language barrier and the critical role the media plays in this respect. There are government personnel asking young entrepreneurs to bring support letters from other government bodies – deterring us from change/growth. We must all learn the important of creating more social entrepreneurs and sustaining them.

When asked what the biggest lesson he has learned thus far, he affirmed the importance of patience in his life. He described his past behavior as aggressive but has had to learn to listen and understand others intentions. Ato Kibret said his father was a big figure in his life, from his (the father’s) efforts to start a cattle and bee farm while giving 12 children an education, he has been an emblem of persistence and humanity. Ato Kibret tenderly related the story of his father’s passing while being transported in a Tebita ambulance. “I want to give justice. If I believe in something, I want to die with that. That’s because of my father.”

When asked for advice for entrepreneurs facing financial difficulties Ato Kibret said that networking and meeting many influential individuals, entering business incubation programs, and applying for grants are essential. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t expect banks or the government to help – “open up your mind and talk to people” he stated.

Entrepreneurs must understand the importance of an effective business model with clearly outlined revenue streams. Being socially responsible while making money and acting in a professional, ethical and human manner is the core of being a social entrepreneur. The local impression that making money is close to ‘sinning’ is absurd and that there is nothing wrong about being both socially responsible and being profit oriented. Ato Kibret stated that he wants to challenge young people to think about their contribution to the world.

There was a positive buzz in the audience when the event was completed. A general consensus that those that failed to attend this evening’s guest truly missed out. Meti, the gracious host, thanked the audience and closed the event. 

AWiB would like to proudly acknowledge its partners for the year.