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FEATURE STORYMarch 12, 2024

Investing in and Empowering Young Destitute Mothers - Ethiopia’s Urban Safety Nets


Harya is a former beneficiary of the UPSNJP’s Urban Destitute Program. Photo credit: Emiliano Ruprah.

Ethiopia’s Urban Productive Safety Net and Jobs Project (UPSNJP) targets society’s most vulnerable members to enable them to become productive citizens.

“I sell here in two shifts: in the morning, from 8 to 11 am, and in the afternoon from 3 pm onwards.” She pauses as she hands a customer a packet of fries.  “At 3 pm, I’m here to catch the students as they pass. They may move on to another vendor if they find me unprepared.”

Only a few years ago, Harya did not have the means to be so industrious. Her partner had abandoned her when she became pregnant with their second child. She found she could not afford her rent, so she moved to the streets with her children, where they lived under a tarp.

At night, I’d hear the slurred voices of drunkards. I couldn’t sleep. I would stay awake to keep my children safe. I was still breastfeeding at the time.
UPSNJP’s Urban Destitute Program beneficiary

Harya took odd jobs, like washing clothes, in the neighborhood to try and make enough to survive. This continued for five years until a woman recommended that she register for the services of Birhan Integrated Community Development, a nearby NGO that, with financing from the government’s Urban Destitute Support (UDS) Program, focused on rehabilitating and reintegrating homeless young mothers and their children.

“[The woman] introduced me to Birhan and informed me about their support. I said I’d be willing to participate if it benefited my children. [She] aided me in the registration process, and I joined the project, where I stayed for three months.”

Implemented by the Ethiopia Ministry of Women’s and Social Affairs, the UDS program partners with local NGOs to target the urban destitute—children, women, men, and elderly people who live on the street. The program falls under the umbrella of the World Bank’s support to the government’s larger Urban and Productive Safety Net and Jobs Project, which, through its various interventions, aims to improve the incomes of the urban poor (e.g., unemployed youth, refugees, and Internally Displaced Persons) and help them gain employment.

The UDS Program marks the government’s first intervention into addressing homelessness at scale - and as a long-term skills investment to help people move from the streets to a job and home.  

Before UDS, only a few small-scale NGOs provided the urban destitute with services. When they did, they tended to focus on providing temporary shelter and food and less on rehabilitation and reintegration.

Under UDS, beneficiaries are provided food, shelter, and soap; psychological and social support (counseling and substance abuse treatment); and livelihood development support (training, education, and business start-up grants).

Ribka Lakew is a social worker who works for Stand for Integrated Development Ethiopia, an NGO participating in the UDS program and based in the northeastern neighborhood of Lamberet in Addis Ababa.

“Life on the street exposes our beneficiaries to a wide range of trauma. We provide counseling and life skills training services to enable them to reintegrate. If they have health issues, we provide health services.”

Once UDS beneficiaries complete the six-month program, they receive a grant to start a small business.

“When they begin to work, we provide business and accounting/bookkeeping training. We also support them in securing a place of business with low rent. We help them [purchase implements] for their new business, for example, if they choose to sell tea, food, injera, or sew textiles. If they want to open a juice bar as a group of ten, our NGO may support them by helping them purchase a refrigerator. Then, we follow up and monitor their activities for one year. We keep a checklist to evaluate their progress.”

As of 2022, after the first phase of the Urban Productive Safety Net Program where UDS had been implemented across 11 cities, the program had successfully reintegrated 16,491 people with their families, communities, or institutions. In the current program phase, UDS is being implemented across 22 cities.  

For Harya, she is grateful for the dramatic transformation her life has undertaken.

“I had a troubled past. Through this program, I became acquainted with others who shared similar hardships and took valuable lessons from them. I continue to face challenges but with renewed understanding and determination. In the future, I want to expand this business and start another side business, perhaps opening a kiosk, I want to make my business profitable and show my children how to run the business.”


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