Ethiopia Series 2: What Does it Take to Find Success?
As a previous post discussed, aid isn't enough to sustainably overcome poverty. What we need is large-scale efforts: from far-reaching Microfinance to big businesses. This blog focuses on the Verdant Frontiers family of companies -- Verde Beef, Verdant Consulting, and Verdant Ventures -- and their efforts to reach scale in extreme conditions.
Verde Beef Processing PLC produces premium grain-fed beef for export from Ethiopia to the Middle East. The founders of Verde Beef, Scott Friesen and Levi Benkert, have worked with the poor in Ethiopia for years. They started Verde Beef as a way to invest in the country and its people by growing the indigenous economy and creating jobs. From a fully integrated facility with irrigated feed production capacity and a new state-of-the-art abattoir production facility underway, Verde is on track to become the largest cattle feedlot operation in Northern Africa with a targeted capacity to feed, process, and export more than 130,000 carcasses per year.
Verde supports the local community by purchasing young cattle and inputs for feed and by creating jobs that teach skills that are vital to competing in the global marketplace. They are also demonstrating how a professional business can employ, train, and invest in skills with local communities through a focus on creating new local jobs and skills.
What amazes me about this company is the crazy amount of effort that has been put into creating something out of nothing in the middle of the Ethiopia countryside. Our new friend Arnold moved his family of six from Canada to start the ranching operations. As we sat in their spacious kitchen, Arnold's wife finished a batch of home-made butter and reminisced about the work it took to build their farmstead BY HAND. Literally. They actually built their home themselves. She churns her own butter after her son milks the cows because there are no stores from which to buy butter. From my perspective as a frequent Amazon Prime and grocery delivery user, I cannot imagine accepting that kind of commission. But Arnold and family do it joyfully for the work allows them to minister among people who need the chance to earn a living and hear the hope of the Gospel.
Starting and growing a business is challenging anywhere. Those challenges multiply exponentially when doing so at scale in a developing nation. Verdant Consulting exists to leverage their learnings for the sake of other businesses in Ethiopia. They specialize in solving business and social problems in tandem. Serving leaders and entrepreneurs, Verdant Consulting desires to see a robust community of purpose-driven businesses that accelerate Ethiopia's industrial, agricultural, and technological transformation.
Verdant Ventures is an emerging markets real estate development and management company with a special emphasis on diplomatic and consular real estate projects. Working closely with the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia, Verdant Ventures has broken ground on a large apartment complex built to U.S. standards for security, earthquake safety, family-friendliness, and convenience. It promises to be a unique project and is already 70% leased before the walls have even gone up.
Having spent a week with the Verdant team on the ground as an outside observer, we saw three key drivers of success: (1) Strong personal connections throughout the country and government, (2) Tenacity—they will sit in the government official’s office for days until they get the right paperwork, (3) Calling—each of their senior leaders does this work from a true sense of purpose and draws strength from their relationship with Jesus.