Thomas McCormack, Country Representativ, MEDA

MACIG Connect Series

MEDA is a Canadian not for profit organization that has taken up the task of developing Ethiopia’s gemstone industry.

MEDA is a not for profit organization that is based in Canada, with Mennonite roots that works on business solutions to poverty through a number of different strategies. What is your current activity in Ethiopia?

We made a proposal to the Canadian government, that has funded us for a six year activity, to take a look at three different value chains and what we can do to support business growth and employment opportunities in vegetables, rice, and gemstones. We take a look at the entire value chain with an eye towards figuring out which dynamics are missing and what is not working and why is it not working. We look to see if there are meaningful things we can improve so businesses can work better, especially micro, small and medium size enterprises.

How did MEDA come to identify gemstones as an important value chain to support in Ethiopia?

Identifying gemstones as an important value chain in Ethiopia was a shared priority among the Ethiopian government, the Canadian government and MEDA. We aim to focus on the key issues that have been raised by the Ethiopian government. With regard to the mining industry, they are trying to fill certain gaps that have been identified, and the whole gemstone sector is one of those areas. MEDA has a lot of experience in value chain development — we were not approached as experts in gemstones, but as a business organization that could apply its knowledge to the gemstones sector to make some meaningful impact.

What does MEDA believe are the most critical challenges that need to be tackled in order to drive the development of the gemstones sector in Ethiopia?

MEDA did critical research and brought in experts to develop a rather elaborate implementation plan around our findings. We submitted that plan to the Canadian government and to the Ethiopian government, and both sides were pleased with our recommendations. Critical to this analysis was identifying gaps. Because the industry is so new, the awareness of Ethiopian gemstones is low, especially within the country. Things are beginning to regularize here, but international competition is another fairly large gap. We have to figure out how Ethiopia is going to compete with gemstones that have been known for their quality and attractiveness for a long time.

How much funding does MEDA have and what are your objectives for Ethiopia’s gemstone sector?

We have a large grant from the Canadian government that is matched by over $1 million in private funding. We have completed all of the gemstones value chain preparatory work, the research, and hiring of the staff, and now we are beginning the implementation phase. We are working  now to promote skills building through a few different strategies. One is to conduct workshops where we bring in designers — local and from abroad — that know how to create jewelry. We are working with financial services to encourage commercial banks to make lending available to smaller borrowers. To stimulate business growth and entry into this market we are also implementing a grants program. This is an interesting tool that will give us the ability to accept applications from small businesses that are showing innovations, especially if they can demonstrate environmentally sensitive ideas that simultaneously affect employment — particularly for women. Environmental sensitivity and women’s employment are two key, cross-cutting themes that are extremely important to MEDA, as well as the Canadian government.

 Why is the Canadian government interested in funding the development of the Ethiopian mining industry?

In the non-profit management world, Ethiopia receives a lot of donor assistance from the U.S. government, as well as Canada and others. Governments see this as an island of relative stability in a relatively troubled part of the world. Ethiopia has a very large and diverse population, and the government has been able to hold things together quite well. Governments look at donor recipient countries as clients, partly because they are emerging markets. With regard to mining, that is a very important part of Canada’s economy and it is natural for them to look for a country that has a convergence of three or four of their major priorities.

Do you have a final message for our local and international readership, particularly those who are interested in the mining sector, about the opportunities here in Ethiopia?

This is an exciting time to be working on this type of project in Ethiopia. People are just beginning to learn about the gemstones sector here and to realize its potential. MEDA wants to see the value of this resource be reinvested in human returns in Ethiopia, because this resource is something that should be shared by the country in a much larger way, and our project is designed to allow people to enter into this market, profit from it and employ each other. Gemstones are a colorful part of this countries attractiveness, just like its heritage. If MEDA can assist in a manner that promotes legality and participation among stakeholders that want to access the opportunities in gemstones, then our project will have been a success

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