BBC World News launches new series, The Ideas Exchange, with LEGO Group CEO and Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, founder of soleRebels

I came from a small village called Zenabwork, there are 5,000 people living there, but people don’t have enough opportunities to work. People need opportunities, people need to be part of something.” Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, CEO and founder of soleRebels
Date: 30.08.2012     Last updated: 18.03.2014 at 18.01
Category: BBC World News
On 1 September, BBC World News launches a new eight-part series, The Ideas Exchange, which pairs up business leaders from around the world to debate today’s business landscape and their secrets to success

Travelling to cities such as Paris, Madrid, London, Addis Ababa, São Paulo and New York, and highlighting expertise in industries from pharmaceuticals to telecom, The Ideas Exchange will offer viewers a unique insight into the minds that shape global business.

In the first episode, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, CEO and founder of Ethiopia-based shoe company soleRebels, travels to Billund in Denmark, to meet with Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of the LEGO Group. The programme explores what a young fair-trade entrepreneur can learn from a man who has kept one of the world’s most iconic toy brands alive and equally what he can learn from a business model in which production focuses as much on its environmental impact as the style and content of the product itself.

Knudstorp took over the LEGO Group in 2004 from Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen, whose grandfather founded the company in 1932. Knudstorp returned the failing family business back to profit. Today, it’s estimated that there are 80 LEGO blocks for every person currently living on Earth.

Knudstorp says: “For kids across the world LEGO had become something of the past, a bit old fashioned and my challenge was to reconnect with the vitality and energy that is in something that is endlessly creative. The key I found was two words put together - systematic creativity - because building with LEGO is really a very logical process and it teaches you how maths and science is constructed.

“It was our aim to reposition the brand and in that process, also make the brand cool in the opinions of the kids around the world. I would say we have really succeeded in that new, fresh identity of the LEGO brand.”

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu was born and raised in an impoverished area of Addis Ababa. Inspired by the crafts and artisans of her native country and determined that trade not aid would be the future of Ethiopia, she launched soleRebels in 2005 to utilise the skills of her local community and create an eco-sensitive product.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, who was selected by the World Economic Forum as a 2011 Young Global Leader, said: “I came from a small village called Zenabwork, there are 5,000 people living there, but people don’t have enough opportunities to work. People need opportunities, people need to be part of something.”

soleRebels has now grown from just five employees to involving nearly 300 in the local community. The products have become sought after across the world and available through high street and online retailers.

The Ideas Exchange, sponsored by HSBC, airs weekly on BBC World News on Saturdays at 02.30 and 15.30 GMT and Sundays at 09.30 and 21.30 GMT. Visit: www.bbc.com/exchangingideas.

For more information contact:

Jessica Culshaw, BBC World News at Jessica.Culshaw@bbc.co.uk