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A Day at the Leadership Academy

On October 1st, 2014, we opened a Leadership Academy in Kigali, Rwanda, dedicated to building powerful businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and leaders. What is a day like at the Leadership Academy? Read on to find out!

It’s 8AM on a tranquil Wednesday in Rwanda. Though class doesn’t start until 9, students have already begun to arrive, hugging and laughing as they greet one another. Some have traveled from far away – like Jacqueline from Twiyubake Cooperative or Elizabeth from Agatako – and are eager to set down their bags and get ready for the day.

At 8:30 tea is served and students gather together to sip and enjoy rolls of bread. Though many of these women met for the first time only a few short months ago, they have become fast friends – leaning on each other’s shoulders, playing with each other’s hair, and grasping hands as they share stories and exciting news.

When Robertine, our Head Teacher, signals it’s time for class to begin, students rush to their seats and pull out pens and papers while Teaching Assistants distribute notes on the lesson. Today’s topic is “Planning For Your Cooperative’s Future” and the enthusiasm is palpable. 

The goal for this class is for students to understand how to improve their cooperatives’ functioning through the use of a core mission, shared values and visions, group objectives, and long and short term strategies. Robertine’s teaching style is dynamic and interactive. After introducing the topic and defining the terms, she shows the students mission statements from a range of other companies – from international NGOs to major department stores - and asks them to weigh in on why or why not these statements are effective. Students’ hands shoot into the air and they stand as they are called on to respond – being sure to practice their public-speaking skills (like eye contact and projection) as they go.

Spirited dialogue and questions continue until noon when lunch arrives and students line up to enjoy a range of traditional Rwandan food options like sautéed cassava leaves and roasted yams. When they are finished, they take a few minutes to enjoy the sun and quintessential Rwandan views outside – the greenest hills speckled with red-roofed houses rolling on into the distance.

Class picks up again and it’s time for the students themselves to take the lead. They work together in small groups led by Student Fellows - Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women graduates who are mentors in the classroom – to create their own mission statements, values, visions, objectives, and strategies for their cooperatives, which they then share with the class. Example visions include: “Improve the lives of our members and our customers” and “Develop women in Rwanda through beautiful crafts.”  

The goal of lessons like these is to help women develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to grow their own businesses. No topic is taught in isolation. Throughout the day, students discuss how the lessons they are learning apply to their cooperatives, talk through challenges they are facing, and work together to find solutions. The results are powerful. Already, Leadership Academy students have made significant improvements to the management of their cooperatives – instituting new inventory tracking systems and better bookkeeping; creating annual budgets; and identifying new market opportunities, as just a few examples. They are becoming powerful mentors and role models for their peers – passionate about what they are learning and eager to share it with others.

As class comes to a close, students end the day with their parting ritual, rubbing their palms together and shooting their hands into the air shouting “Bravo!” Indeed, there is much to celebrate.

The Leadership Academy is generously supported by the Ann B. Zeis Scholarship Fund. Click here to learn more

To learn more about our Leadership Academy, click here.