Innovative Practice 2021 on Inclusive Employment and ICT

First deaf-run social enterprise selling paper bags to fight plastic pollution

Teki Paper Bags is an Addis Ababa-based social enterprise that produces and sells paper bags as a replacement for plastic bags. Teki was developed for and by the deaf community and employs mainly young deaf women to design and produce the bags. The organization’s official language is Ethiopian sign language, which is used during production, distribution, and awareness-raising for the company. Since 2016 the organization has employed 18 deaf people and produced over 1.1 million paper bags.

“The shortest road to a more inclusive society is summed up in three words: Lead by example!”

Clement, Inclusion CatalystTeki
About the practice at a glance
Name of Innovative Practice:Fighting plastic bags in Sign Language
Organisation:Teki Paper Bags
of Implementation
Ethiopia – Addis Ababa
Start Year2016
Sub-CategoryA project of the Business Sector


  • As of 2020, 18 of the 27 staff employed by Teki are deaf
  • Bags are sold for between US$0.05 and US$0.50 each


Organizations that focus on disability employment can struggle to achieve sustainable long-term goals, while environmental projects often have great long-term goals, but less immediate impact.


Teki was developed to provide employment for young deaf women in Addis Ababa and to create paper bags to reduce plastic use. Tools and production tables have been designed to meet the needs of deaf employees. The majority of hearing staff are fluent in Ethiopian sign language. Sign language posters and two interpreters support visitors in communication with staff. Bags are sold to a variety of professional clients, such as hotels, restaurants, and private businesses. Teki has produced over 1 million paper bags since 2016.

As of 2020, 18 of the 27 staff employed by Teki are deaf. Teki provides fair wages, and ensures that employees are supported to spend time with their families and to continue their education. It also covers transport expenses as part of its fair wage approach, easing problems for employees who would otherwise need to travel by bus, which is challenging as drivers often indicate stops by shouting out nearby landmarks.

Three women sit wearing clear visors in chairs spaced apart in an office facing each other. Behind them on the wall are examples of the paper bags that Teki produces.

Mimi, Elsa, and Yeaynwaga meet to discuss work in the Teki offices.


Teki is self-funded from the sales of paper bags. Depending on the type required, the bags are sold for between US$0.05 and US$0.50 each.
This income has made it possible for the organization to expand, but Teki is now looking for external funding to create an additional 150 jobs and to purchase machinery to create the world’s largest deaf-run company within three years.

Teki’s will continue to promote the bags by giving away free samples to focus groups. Moreover, it will be eligible for a VAT reduction, which will help sales growth.

Teki aims to replicate the model in other countries with similar contexts.


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