Turning trash into treasure to create jobs and opportunity

Benyam Lalago knows it is all too easy for trash to pile up. Papers become clutter, old clothes are stashed in the back of closets, plastic refuse takes over space.

When Benyam looks at trash, he sees something different from most people: he sees treasure. He sees opportunity. He sees the beginning of his journey as an entrepreneur.

As part of his participation in DOT Ethiopia’s youth entrepreneurship program, Benyam developed practical skills and learned how business and social innovation can create opportunities and transform communities.

“My business skills, digital skills, self-esteem, and public speaking skills grew significantly because I joined DOT,” says Benyam.

He put these skills to use when it came time to generate a business idea. Benyam and a team of four other DOT youth brainstormed creative ways to tap into the opportunities around them. That’s when their minds turned to the idea of turning trash into treasure.

The team noticed that joniya could be found everywhere. Also known as sisal, this is a fiber that is used to make sacks for crops and seeds. The material is cheap and plentiful, and is often incorrectly disposed of, posing an environmental issue.

The team saw an opportunity to take the discarded sisal sacks, as well as denim scraps, and turn them into unique bags and jewelery. They launched Hagerigna Cultural Jewelries and Bags, producing the products in their homes and selling them in boutiques and store in Hawassa.

“We saw that we can create value from the seemingly valueless items around. And Tinsae, one of the team members, knows how to make the bags. So we tapped into the opportunity and the talent in the group and developed the idea,” says Benyam.

The team creates uniquely Ethiopian bags and jewellery using raw material purchased from local women, which supports their small businesses, all while reducing the amount of waste from sisal and denim.

“Before DOT, we would never have imagined that sisal and denim scraps could be assets. Today, we call ourselves eco-friendly entrepreneurs with pride,” says Benyam.

The team continues to benefit from DOT’s support and its partners as they look for a physical space to establish Hagerigna Cultural Jewelries and Bags and expand its operations. They intend to create job opportunities for many youth and women and one day make export-standard products to break into the international fashion market.

His experience with DOT and launching Hagerigna Cultural Jewelries and Bags has changed the way Benyam thinks of innovation. Now he knows anything – even trash – can be provide the spark of an innovative idea.

“Innovative ideas do not need to be groundbreaking big things,” he says. “The small things can make differences.”

Before DOT, we would never have imagined that sisal and denim scraps could be assets. Today, we call ourselves eco-friendly entrepreneurs with pride.