In a busy, rural community in Medebay Zana, Alsa tests the heat of the straightening iron as her client looks through the hairstyles on the adobe wall. Another customer sits under a new hair dryer in the corner. Light and the sounds of the road filter in through the open door as the women laugh and chat about their plans for the week.

Alsa’s appointments have doubled in the past six months and so has her income. She has built up her savings and is making plans to add on more services. She credits the success to her new salon equipment, purchased with a microfinance loan as part of Glimmer’s work in the area. A new electric iron and hair dryer mean she can work on two hairstyles at once, and produce the sleek look her customers request.

Women in a salon
Portrait of a woman

The new tools are just the latest additions to Alsa’s growing business. It has become a gathering spot for women in the town to share and support each other. As a single mother of two, Alsa has drawn on that support. Although driven by both passion and necessity, Alsa faced many obstacles to become self-sufficient.

Ethiopia ranks in the bottom five countries for female economic opportunity. Establishing a small business in rural Ethiopia is a challenge for any business owner, but women must also overcome educational, social and financial inequalities. Without good job opportunities and access to loans, it is difficult for women to move out of poverty.

“It is good to generate income by myself. I don’t expect others to give me what I need. I am happy. I support my children.”


Yet, studies have shown that investing in and empowering women business owners like Alsa produces ripple effects, both economically and socially, across entire communities. Women are more likely to save and invest in their families. They also pay back loans at a higher rate, creating a revolving fund that benefits other women borrowers.

Perhaps most importantly, women like Alsa become role models for a younger generation. “She is a strong woman," says Alsa’s daughter, Luwam. Alsa’s perseverance has inspired Luwam to pursue a degree in agriculture, despite it being a male-dominated field. Alsa and Luwam are part of an emerging group of empowered Ethiopian women who have more career options and decision-making power.