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An In Depth Interview with Eyob Bekele of Desta Garments
As soon as the pandemic broke out, the major challenge was the cancellation of orders. The second was the stability of workers. Everyone was nervous about how to be in the work environment. We ended up closing the factory for 2 weeks and then came the government policy that said we could not let go of workers. No terminations were allowed. All of that added up to big challenges. Revenues were done. Workers were not stable. And the government policy said that we had to pay salaries.
I focused on our expansion in Butajira. We are trying to finalize and organize the Butajira factory. We currently have eight production lines and we are moving to 11. We have a canteen for employees where we make and provide bread and tea. We currently employ 500 in Butajira, making us the largest employer in the area and another 700 at our factory in Addis. This year, we hope to add at least 300 more employees to the Butajira factory.
During COVID, we believe that between the Butajira and Addis factory, we have reached more than 200,000 people and communities with COVID-related education and provided more than 150,000 masks to the community free of charge.
2020 was a challenge all its own. We had to come up with solutions on a day to day basis. We learned how to survive a pandemic including hand washing training and temperature tests for workers. Some of the health efforts will likely remain with us in our factory health practices. It is still not business as usual. Out of the box solutions have helped us survive with production. Flexibility is important. The pandemic has caused us to think differently.
For me, I do not believe we have not seen the full impact of the pandemic yet. Whatever is happening in the rest of the world, we are yet to see in Africa. So unfortunately we may feel the impact in a year, and we should be prepared for it. Ethiopia is not only experiencing COVID, it has other challenges with economic impact, including the slow devaluation of the currency. We have to prepare for the worst.
One thing we decided is that we need to keep our workers. Maintaining the work environment is key. Our employees are the lifeblood of the factory. It may eat into our profits now, but it is key that workers who have been trained stay with us. That is our priority right now.
What we have done in 2020, we will continue to do. Our vision is to be the #1 garment facility in Ethiopia, and the preferred partner for garment makers. We continue to be committed to compliance with many different standards. In 2020, we achieved ISO 9000 certification. We are the only one in East Africa with STeP OEKO-TEX certification.
Disclaimer: The information included in this blog is provided as a recounting of the IAN’s interactions with Desta and the happenings at Desta. It is not intended as performance data related to the IAN’s investment in Desta and is not indicative of other companies in the IAN’s portfolio, their social impact or the performance of investments in them. Any discussion of Desta’s achievements or social impact is no guarantee that such outcomes or impact will be realized by Desta in the future, or by other IAN portfolio companies or other investments managed by RENEW, now or in the future.