Impact Stories

Unlocking Entrepreneurship in Ethiopia

By November 7, 2017March 3rd, 2020No Comments

At Remote Learner our mission is to partner with clients to unlock the power of technology to improve lives through learning. One such partnership is taking place right now, in rural Ethiopia, where access to education has the potential to dramatically transform individual lives and communities.

Dr. Jim Katzenstein is a professor and management lecturer at California State University Dominguez Hills. Right now, he is a long way from home. Katzenstein is currently in Shashamane, Ethiopia, as part of an ongoing project to connect locals with entrepreneurial training. He is working in cooperation with a local college and receiving technical support from Remote Learner.

This is not the first time Katzenstein has worked in Africa, nor is it the first time he’s worked on a project there with Remote Learner. A few years back he got involved with an online education project with a university hospital in Tanzania, a project intended to deliver online training to nurses. Katzenstein worked with local teachers and Remote Learner to deliver a stable, accessible platform that still provides training for Tanzanian nursing students. The experience inspired Katzenstein to look for other projects that focused on improving lives.

His current project started after Tolla Gada, an Ethiopian-American businessman and president of U.S. College in Shashamane, heard about the work Katzenstein had done in Tanzania. Gada wanted to provide business training based on already developed content, but needed to create an infrastructure to deliver lessons. He also wanted ensure that local students would have no trouble accessing online content and navigating a learning site. Katzenstein decided the best way to ensure this was to have locals test out the interface and content in one of his existing classes.

“Rather than leap into tech infrastructure, I arranged I have to some Ethiopian students in my management class at Dominguez Hills,” said Katzenstein. “We had things like a discussion board and things got interesting because we had 10 students in Ethiopia and 40 students in southern California communicating.”

In the past few decades, Ethiopia has been best known in the west for famine and for conflict with neighboring Eritrea. The country is entering a much brighter future. Ethiopia has one of the fastest-growing national economies in Africa and a steadily rising Human Development Index (HDI). This economic growth is fueling a rising entrepreneurial spirit, and the need for essential business training is clear.

Katzenstein said one of the foundations of his past work in Tanzania and current work in Ethiopia was the need to work on equal footing with the local stakeholders. Too often, western investment in African nations involves outsiders taking the lead and assuming that practices that work at home will apply in a different country and culture.

While the business management courses are still in development, they are already getting noticed thanks to innovative advertising. Trucks carrying banners with information about the school are paid to drive through rural areas and small towns. The low cost of the training – about $10 USD a course – means education is open to many households. While personal computers are still quite rare in Ethiopian households, Internet cafes are common and grant easy access to U.S. College’s courses.

Remote Learner is pleased to be involved with this joint project with U.S College. Dr. Katzenstein believes bringing affordable education to the developing world is the logical and moral conclusion of a lifetime of learning and management.

“I spent a career in management and in engineering and in operations and raising a family,” said Katzenstein.  “At that point I figured I needed to do something that made the world a different place.”