Empowering Women through Waste Collection: Transforming Lives and the Environment in Addis Ababa

Discover how Halima Awol's waste management journey is transforming lives in Ethiopia. Empowering women through recycling, the LIWAY program creates jobs, promotes environmental sustainability, and fights poverty. Learn about regenerative business and its impact on communities and the environment.

Woman collecting waste materials in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia for recycling and community empowerment

The sunlight beats down on green trees along a street in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. Below them, lie several heavy bags full of garbage. 

A woman walks a path through these huge plastic bags and loose cardboard pieces, picking up loose pieces as she goes. To some, her work may not seem glamorous. But it’s all contributing to a better future for her family – and the planet.

Meet Halima Awol, a woman on a mission to transform her community and environment in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Through her inspiring waste management journey, Halima is empowering women and youth, creating jobs, and promoting environmental sustainability. Explore how the Livelihoods Improvement for Women and Youth (LIWAY) program, supported by TechnoServe and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), harnesses regenerative business principles to tackle pollution and poverty while fostering cleaner, greener communities.

Building Sustainable Livelihoods through Waste Collection and Recycling

Like many cities around the world, Addis Ababa has struggled to manage pollution from plastic, paper, and other contaminants. The amount of solid waste generated by the city’s growing population is increasing by 5% every year, risking contamination of waterways and other environments.

Ethiopia–like eastern and western sub-Saharan Africa–is also highly affected by air pollution. In Ethiopia, the main source of air pollution is the open burning of trash. This causes harm to both human and ecosystem health. The effects of air pollution on human health include eye irritation, coughing, breathing difficulties, worsening of existing lung and heart problems, asthma, and increased risk of a heart attack. 

However, with this challenge comes an opportunity for enterprising people. 

From Tailor to Environmental Pioneer: Halima Awol’s Journey to Empowerment

Halima Awol transforming lives through sustainable waste management and recycling initiatives

Halima Awol is one such person. A former tailor, Halima was unable to return to work after giving birth to her first child, leaving her family to rely solely on her husband’s low salary. But that changed when she discovered a new business training program.

TechnoServe trains young people and women like Halima through the LIWAY program, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), helping them create better economic opportunities through environmentally sustainable means. One of these opportunities was a regenerative business solution to the litter problem in Addis Ababa: waste collection and recycling. Altogether, TechnoServe has helped women and youth to start 117 waste-collection micro-enterprises, which collect solid waste to sell to larger recycling firms. 

Halima joined seven other women to start the Aman and Halima Recycling Association. “Initially, it was hard to actively engage in the business,” she says. “The household role as a woman and mother, and the perception, attitude, and practice of the community regarding waste management was very challenging.”

But she and her business worked with TechnoServe to connect to recycling companies, schools, and public institutions to source waste in an organized way. Her business is now a “well-known waste collector and supplier,” she says. They are buying from more than 400 individual collectors, supporting these individuals’ livelihood–and making roughly $130 a month–once an almost unimaginable sum. “I am now able to support my family,” says Halima.

The Power of Regenerative Business Combating Poverty and Environmental Degradation

 LIWAY program participants sorting recyclables, promoting environmental sustainability in Ethiopia

“I rented a house conducive to my family’s needs and fulfilled our basic needs without fear of losing my job,” she says. “It is a sustainable and environment-friendly business with a huge opportunity to shift to a recycling industry. My vision is to have my own waste recycling firm.”

Her association has been able to save more than $4,500 towards investments and business expansion and has hired hundreds of young people to collect plastic waste, giving them the opportunity to improve their incomes on a daily basis. 

Altogether, the program has helped create nearly 6,000 new jobs and to strengthen over 8,000–half of which are for women. It’s another way that regenerative business approaches are helping fight poverty and environmental degradation at the same time.

“I am so proud that I introduced the waste collection business to more than 12 housewives in my neighborhood,” Halima says. “This makes me feel more valuable and responsible to my community.”

Empowering Women and Youth: The LIWAY Project’s Success in Job Creation and Skill Development

LIWAY program participants sorting recyclables, promoting environmental sustainability in Ethiopia

The LIWAY project supported by TechnoServe helped strengthen 8,039 jobs and create 5,739 jobs in 2022. The project provides training on waste management and business skills to women and helps them form recycling cooperatives. Through the project, women are earning income by collecting and selling recyclable materials. TechnoServe’s support is also providing equipment and containers for storage. Our goal is to improve the livelihoods of women and their families, while also promoting a cleaner and more sustainable environment.

Will you join us as we try to create a more sustainable world?