Articles, Blog

Building a big, bold, beautiful market | Eleni Gabre-Madhin | TEDxWBG

September 9, 2019

Translator: Denise RQ
Reviewer: Mary Kay What if I told you
that I had a big, bold, beautiful idea to build a commodity exchange that would transform
a billion lives in Africa? You’d probably ask,
what is a commodity exchange? How would I do it?
What would I do to reach a billion people? What would I do differently,
and what would I avoid? Well, before I tell you,
I want to show you a picture of a painting that hangs in my office
in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. This painting was given to me by an Ethiopian-American artist
based in New York, called Zig. And Zig told me that he decided
to make this painting when he heard about
the Ethiopia Commodity Exchange that some colleagues and I
had started in 2008 as a way to connect buyers and sellers
in a reliable, efficient, organized way. In a way, that would bring
buyers and sellers to trade together without having to know
or be related to the trading partner, guaranteed of quality,
quantity, delivery, and payment. And so what Zig saw is that 3,000 years of Ethiopian history,
of age-old farming practices where farmers had been doing
the same thing day after day, year after year,
century after century, not really getting very different results,
and living pretty bleak lives, had changed when this modern,
new commodity trading system came to be. And what he saw was that the hope
that that exchange brought was to him like big, giant,
beautiful, orange stocks of grain reaching up to fill the sky. I think you’d agree with me that this is a pretty cool picture
of a big, bold, beautiful idea. Now why was this Commodity Exchange in Ethiopia
big, bold, and beautiful? Well, first it was big because it reached in four years,
20 million farmers who’re able to use it to connect into a market
that they can now trust. It was bold because, in a country
where the telecom sector is very weak, where the mobile penetration is very low, we set out to deliver market prices to
the entire market community in real time, in less than 2 seconds, using all the technology
we could put at our disposal. And we basically set up
electronic price display boards in a 180 market towns across the country. We fed prices out on SMS
to 800,000 subscribers. For those who may not have mobiles,
who may not be able to read and write, we set up a call-in free service which ultimately had
1.2 million calls a month, largely from rural communities. We fed prices out on the website, on the TV nightly news,
on radio, print news, creating an information
explosion in Ethiopia. It was also bold because, in a country where
the national payment system for banking did not actually have
an interbank electronic fund transfer, we told our market that anybody
could sell to anyone in this country, in any corner of the country, and be guaranteed payment
the next morning. T+1 clearing and payment; the only exchange in Africa
to be able to make this promise. We, in fact, went so far,
as to tell our market that we’re going to create
a zero default market. Meaning that anybody
trading in this market, would be guaranteed quality, quantity, payment,
and delivery on time. Well, what makes this market beautiful, is that five years later, we had traded
annually, 1.4 billion a year. In total, about 5 billion dollars,
hundreds of transactions later, without a single payment
or delivery default. The impact of that was
that when farmers came to the market, armed with the knowledge
of the weight of their commodity, of the quality of their commodity,
and the knowledge of what prices were fetching
in international, national markets, even in their local market, they started to behave differently. They started to negotiate better prices,
they started to think of themselves as people that could function
with this marketing system. An that let them to produce more
and bring better quality to the market. Leading, in fact,
to a doubling of the share of farmers– share of the final export price
in the case of coffee for 15 million farmers
from 38% to nearly 70%. It led to the doubling of the export volumes of sesame
and beans going from Ethiopia. So, this is what we were
able to do in Ethiopia. But the question is
what about the rest of Africa? Is what I’ve described as the payment, and delivery,
and quality problem something unique to Ethiopia? Well, in fact, before I’ve moved back
to Ethiopia, I was a researcher, and I spent about a decade
of my life, doing research, talking to hundreds,
in fact, probably, thousands of small farmers
and traders all over Africa, discovering that these kind of problems
where markets just didn’t work was a pervasive problem
across the continent, and not only, in fact,
has it been a problem all over Africa, but it’s historically been a problem
faced by every region of the world. And if you look at a map
of commodity exchanges across the world, you would see
that every region of the world, with the exception of Africa, is served by modern
organized commodity exchanges. So I think today, now,
is Africa’s time to build those markets to serve the needs of the billion farmers
and consumers in Africa. So the question then
is: what will it take? I would build this market
for the billion Africans, making sure that we’re using
the right technology. It is not about, necessarily, taking the technology
developed for other regions, but ensuring that we have a technology that suits the market conditions
and the stage of development of our own populations. And I would therefore build
a technology in the sky, on the cloud, so that we can easily
and cheaply deploy it. I would also build this technology to link and leverage
on the mobile revolution sweeping across Africa today. So that a billion Africans
can connect to their market in the palm of their hands. Secondly, I would build it smartly. Rather than start off with this idea that we are building
one giant, big pan-African exchange which may seem daunting and unrealistic, I would build these markets
a community and a country at a time, but be able to link them up intelligently. My favorite analogy
is the Star Alliance model, which I’m sure, you’re all familiar with where 27 different airlines, all set up
to serve their individual markets and provide value addition
to their individual customer base, formed an alliance when it made sense
and where it made sense to share customers
and share routes through code sharing. I believe that an African exchange
will come about when we intelligently find
those commonalities and we link up
our coffee countries in East Africa, our cocoa countries in West Africa, our cotton countries
in Central and West Africa our cashew countries
both West, South and North Africa and even across regions, for example, we can link up
our pulses markets with pulse markets in Asia. And this is the intelligent smart build
that we have in mind. Finally, markets are not
just about technology or systems, they are about people. So the most important thing about building the right market for Africa
is to build it with people in mind. So, I want to close
by telling you the story, and before I do, maybe I should mention that the new company that we’ve launched,
is actually doing just that: we’ve embarked on four projects
in both East and West Africa, in Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, and Tanzania. And before I close,
I want to share with you to illustrate the point about people and the importance of building
markets for people, the story of the farmers in Humera,
Northern Ethiopia, who grow sesame. And this part oh the country,
which borders Eritrea and Sudan, has been war-torn for many, many decades. And the people in that area
are all heavily armed. This is kind of the Wild West
of our country. And up in Humera,
we went up there and told them, there’s a new way,
we’ve built the commodity exchange, we want you to bring your sesame
and trade in this market, you could bring your sesame to our warehouse
right here in a town of Humera, and we’ll give you a warehouse receipt, and then you can decide
when to sell your sesame in Addis Ababa, on the trading floor, it’s 1,100 km away, and the next morning money
will be deposited in your bank account right here in Humera. The farmers looker at us,
they said, “Yeah, right.” AK-47s. They said,
“We’ve been there before. We’ve heard every scam.
We’ve don’t get paid on time. We don’t trust anybody. Forget it.” So we went back and forth, negotiating. And we just said, just bring some part
of this cooperative that we’re talking to just bring some of your grain
to our warehouse, and you’ll see how the system works. So, they said, “OK.
But you’d better watch out!” AK-47… So they brought 200 bags
of sesame to our warehouse. It was graded, it was weighed,
issued the warehouse receipt, went itto the warehouse. They decided to trade it, they called their representative
on the trading floor, they told them what price,
they were going to sell it at. The commodity, the sesame,
got sold, just as we told them, that same day, within seconds, the price display board in that town
displayed the prices, they’re watching. Night passed, next morning, hundreds
of the farmers from that cooperative went to stand outside the door
of the one bank branch in the little town. They were ready
if there was going to be trouble. I was very, very nervous,
sitting in my office. I was hoping that this would not be day
when the system would fail somehow. Well, at exactly 11.00 a.m.
– which is the promise we’d given them, that anywhere in the country, payments are deposited
into the sellers’ accounts – they sent in the Head
of their cooperative, Atuwuldu; walked into the bank branch office. He went up to the teller and said,
“What is our balance?” The teller looked it up and told him
the money was there. Phew! He said, “Print it out.”
The teller printed it out. I will never forget Atuwuldu, standing in the doorway,
of that one bank branch, holding up that print
of what the teller had given him, the bank balance, and he said,
“The money is there!” And people starting ululating,
crying, laughing, clapping. And that day their lives changed. And that day they knew they had a market that they could trust,
that they could work with, that would change
their relationship to the market. So, that’s what is all about,
ladies and gentlemen. It’s about transforming people’s lives,
building markets, that serve people’s needs,
aspirations, and fears. Can it be done? Can we build
a market for a billion people in Africa? I believe, so. Stay tuned. Thank you very much. (Applause)


  • Reply Merhawi Fissehaye October 24, 2014 at 10:32 am

    Ethiopia's real great mind

  • Reply Abraham Mulugata October 25, 2014 at 11:26 am

    You are a living legend Eleni! 

  • Reply yonas tefera October 25, 2014 at 6:14 pm

    i am so proud to see you on the world's leading thinkers and there amazing ideas are spread to the world and your great idea is worth of spreading .G-D bless u

  • Reply Addis Ababa Ethiopia February 22, 2015 at 2:14 am

    Congratulation Dr. Eleni Gebre-Madhin Proud of you sis

  • Reply Gebrehiwot Gebru May 5, 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Beautifully don Dr elcni

  • Reply Jamal Johnson June 1, 2015 at 2:09 am

    This lady is a neo-liberal bitch that works for the IMF.

  • Reply luanda cuia July 24, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    A genuine heroine!!!!proud ethiopian!! When words meet deeds!!!

  • Reply ብለሀት ፈጠነ October 30, 2015 at 3:22 am

    nice Speech dear Eleni thank-you

  • Reply Ya kirokose Lej January 3, 2016 at 5:18 am

    woow 😍 it's nice speech I like it 💖 all she talk about meaningful and thoughtful I appreciate your real business girl oh I proud of you good research I learned many things in Africa and ethiopian I expect a
    lot for you good job I a
    m luck by your speech I remember Martin Luther King Jr speech just like that your the hero of all ethiopian people I appreciate your keep it up.

  • Reply kasnif pierre January 10, 2016 at 2:33 am

    You make me so proud. Smart, intelligent and capable woman doing big things in the world.

  • Reply lola mores March 3, 2016 at 7:18 am

    Ethiopian farmer they where handle them self befour , Now your time Eleni you distorted the farmer . may be you can benefit not them.

  • Reply yeet maniac April 29, 2016 at 1:48 am

    vape nashe

  • Reply zarr Sar May 1, 2016 at 5:24 pm

    I think the government got in and Hijacked her work. She wanted grains for food in the country, but they wanted Coffee and other produce for export. They allowed only their own Guna Trading Agency to trade those, an agency that is sucking the blood of Ethiopian poor. I think she ended up being disappointed.

  • Reply ተስፋ ኣሎኒ May 19, 2016 at 3:05 am

    A woman of valor. God bless you.

  • Reply Kiros Aregay September 22, 2016 at 12:37 pm

    A women of the Century!!!! We proud U dr…..

  • Reply selomun hagos December 14, 2016 at 5:50 am

    Smart women

  • Reply GODESTINY March 13, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    shes a fucking idiot

  • Reply Endale Tsegaye April 21, 2017 at 3:29 am

    This young lady had changed the life of poor farmers in Ethiopia, If you need proof go to Ethiopian coffee farmers, they proudly tell you what they earn, if she had done to poor Ethiopian, it is likely to be feasible anywhere.

  • Reply bonbon2know May 14, 2017 at 3:27 am


  • Reply Mrilook Garment September 13, 2017 at 8:44 am

    A superb woman ……
    proud of being Ethiopian

  • Reply Samson Abraha September 26, 2017 at 2:39 pm

    Thanks to your leadership and dedication!!! Smart, intelligent and capable of doing big things Dr. Elleni we Ethiopians are now enjoying the result of the work!!! For sure Ethiopia's near future is bright!!

  • Reply sene hile October 25, 2017 at 7:04 am

    I am soo proud of you DR .

  • Reply Tsehaye Demoz January 23, 2018 at 9:24 pm

    Very intelligent and dedicated Woman. Such an inspiring speech. Thank you Dr. Elen

  • Reply Mr cs93 February 2, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    Interesting and very good approach of idea, but where and how does she gain money, to cost all the expenses? It seems it is mostly spending money on technologies, is it a private company doing this or is it together with the government?

  • Reply مصطفي مصطفي March 27, 2018 at 5:03 pm


  • Reply Michael Sheleme April 6, 2018 at 7:12 pm


  • Reply iayyam May 22, 2018 at 8:49 pm

    This made me cry. I always knew Africa could do it. It begins now.
    Love from your African American brother.

  • Reply iayyam May 28, 2018 at 9:27 pm

    How do you madam monetize the commodity exchange so that it's prlfitable for you?

  • Reply Hana G September 25, 2018 at 12:07 pm

    በጣም ደስ ትይኛለሽ

  • Reply Filiqliq M November 20, 2018 at 2:47 am

    she must be talking about only Tigris area.the rest of Ethiopia is no water no food no life and the Tigre army killing people farmers all over Ethiopia to sale farmers land to investors

  • Reply Daniel Sitota November 29, 2018 at 4:49 pm

    Dr. Eleni am poroud of you and i wana you thought me one day at addiss abeba university developmental economics

  • Reply ZareNew January 5, 2019 at 1:22 am

    Gobez! Korahubish.

  • Reply faith bwire May 20, 2019 at 5:17 am

    Wow amazing would love to see what it has become now ….. Great minds in Africa we appreciate you

  • Reply SF May 27, 2019 at 8:05 am

    You are smart, bold and beautiful person!

  • Reply AbeshaSew June 12, 2019 at 5:05 pm

    Eleni is a role model who put her knowledge where it matters and changed the lives of so many for better. I just wonder why is it when it comes to Ethiopia everything has to be about poverty and famine? Looking in to developing a market or making it better is a necessity to every human being where every they are, you can say the same about the developments conducted on FTSE or NYSE from time to time.

  • Reply Alayt Abraham June 15, 2019 at 4:25 am

    Best internship!

  • Reply zelalem lost June 17, 2019 at 7:51 pm


  • Reply Abiy Ethiopiawe August 10, 2019 at 6:41 am

    ௐௐௐ የወያኔን ፍትፍት በደም ይበላሉ። ௐௐௐ


    ኢትዮጵያዊ ምረር ተረኛ ነህ ነገ፤

    በዘርህ ጠርንፎ ክልል እያረገ፤

    ከፋፍሎህ ሊገዛህ እንደፋሺሽቶቹ፤

    አስተውል በየጎጥ

    ሥልጣን ሲያመቻቹ።

    ህሊና የሚሸጡ እንደ ዕሌኒ ያሉ፤

    የፋሺሽት-ወያኔን በደም ይበላሉ።

    የድሃ ዘራፊው ቸር ነው የምትሉ፤

    ይኼው የደም ፍትፍት፥በዓይናችሁ ብሉ።

    አይገምትም ያውቃል ማንን እንደሚመርጥ ፤

    ምንስ እንደሚያገኝ ለማን እንደሚሠጥ።

    የመቅሰፍት እንጀራም አይዟችሁ ይመጣል፤

    በግድያችሁ ልክ አለዚያም ይበልጣል።

    ግና በሞት ምሳር እስክትቆረጡ፤

    እግዜር ያያችኋል

    የድሆች ደም ጠጡ።

    ሱዳንስ ያውቀናል በቅርቡ በሩቁ፤

    ይብላኝ ለነሐጎስ ለነትግል ብርቁ።

    ከዛሬ በስተቀር ነገን ለማያውቁ፤

    በብረት ጀግነው ለተጨማለቁ።

    የትግራይ ምንደኞች እየተሳሳቡ፤

    በባንዳ አመላቸው ሊሸጡን አሰቡ?

    ኢትዮጵያዊ ስማ ልብህ አያመንታ

    መሀል ዳር ይሆናል ዳሩ ከተፈታ!

    በየጢሻው ሬሳ ተደፍቶ የምናየው፤

    ጉጅሌ በድብቅ የገደለውን ነው።

    አልቋል ዛሬ ሴራው የጉጅሌ ሁሉ፦

    በቃ እንበል!!!በቃ በቃ በቃ በሉ!!!

    ነፃነታችንን አፍኖ ሊገድል፤

    በመሳሪያው ጀግና መሆኑን ሲፎልል፤

    በባንዶቹ ሲያዳልል፤ትንሽ ነውና የቀረው፤

    ባዶ እጁን ማሩኝ ሊል፤ልንወረውረው፤

    እስኪ ለኢትዮጵያችን ዛሬን እንኳን ንቁ፤

    ከእባብ እንቁላል የዕርግብ አትጠብቁ።

    ባገር ውስጥም ሆነ ካገር ውጭ ያሉ፤

    የሕዝብ ደም ለመምጠጥ ዋግምት የተከሉ።

    ለወያኔ ያደሩ፤…በንግድ የሚሰሩ፤…

    በየስም ሙያቸው ፃፉና ዘርዝሩ።

    ለእኛም አሳውቁን እነሱም አያፍሩ፤

    ካለም ፎቶግራፍ መረጃ ጨምሩ፤

    በእጅጉ ይረዳል ሲመጣ የምሩ።

    አትጠራጠሩ እንደ’ነዚህ ያሉ፤

    የወያኔን ፍትፍት በደም ይበላሉ።

    ፖለቲካ አይወዱም ለአገር አያስቡም፤

    ገበያና ሽያጭ አውርተው አይጠግቡም።

    እንደጣሊያን ቅዠት ማውራት ነው ግንባታ፤

    ዶሮን ሲያታልሏት እንዳሞኟት ማታ።

    እናም እነ ዕሌኒ ችግሩን ስታዩ፤

    ምክንያት ከሰበብ ቀራችሁ ሳትለዩ።

    በሰበቡ ጮኸን ውግዝ ብንለውም፤

    በቁም መሞት እንጂ ፋይዳስ አይኖረውም።

    ስንት አባቶቻችን ለመንፈስ ያደሩ፤

    ያለሰው ዋጋ-ቢስ መሆኑን ሐገሩ፤

    ነጻነት የእግዜር ነው ብለው እያስተማሩ፤

    ዘመን አሻግረዋል ሳይፈርስ ድንበሩ።

    አንቺ ብሎ ምሁር የወቸገል አሽከር፤
    ድንገት ትጠፊያለሽ ይህ ጌታሽ ሲታሰር።

    አትጠራጠሩ የሕዝብ ነን እያሉ፤

    እንደዕሌኒ ያሉ፤

    ሕዝብ እያታለሉ፤

    የወያኔን-ፍትፍት በደም ይበላሉ።
    አመንን አላመንነው፤
    ዕመኒኝ ታያለሽ
    የጊዜ ጉዳይ ነው።

  • Reply aron atakilt September 8, 2019 at 9:16 pm

    Both the mind and body of this lady are beautiful!

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