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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #inspiration

#FirstFriends: Emelienne Nyiramana

#inspiration, #indegodiaries, #firstfriends, #community

We sat down with some of our earliest artisan partners to find out what education means to them and why they are so passionate about their work with Indego!

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Emelienne Nyiramana
Founder of Cocoki Cooperative & current Indego Africa Education Associate
Emelienne Nyiramana is one of Indego Africa’s first artisan partners (yes, from way back in 2007!), the founder of Cocoki Cooperative, and an inspiring testament to the power of education. Ten years ago, Emelienne was struggling to lift herself and her family out of poverty, but today - thanks to education and determination - Emelienne is a full-time Indego Africa staff member, a Teaching Associate at our Leadership Academy, and an influential mentor and leader in communities across Rwanda. 

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When I was first introduced to Indego’s mission to empower women through education programs and business training, I was really interested. I wanted to partner with Indego to fulfill that mission for myself and other Rwandan women in my community. 

My life has changed a lot since working with Indego. Ten years ago, I had no education, but since 2007, I’ve founded Cocoki Cooperative and learned how to manage a business, I graduated from the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women Initiative and won the Peace Through Business competition, and I passed Rwanda’s national examination to earn my Senior 6 Certificate which allowed me to continue attending school at the university level.

One of my ongoing professional goals is to mentor other women and help people in my community run their businesses and earn an education. I am very proud to say that several women I have mentored over the past few years have now started their own businesses, decided to go back to school, and continued earning income and working at their cooperatives- just like me!

My personal goals for the future have a lot to do with my education. Something I worked really hard for in the past was completing my secondary school education. I not only achieved that goal but am now in my first year of college and planning on earning a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and Cooperative Management. Indego Africa has been incredibly supportive over the years and has helped me achieve my goals!

My partnership with Indego Africa has impacted my life in numerous ways. In terms of professional development, I have grown so much. Since I began working at a cooperative in 2007, I have developed the skills and ability to work for an international NGO- which is an opportunity I would have never received if it wasn’t for my partnership with Indego!

I am also continually learning from the work I do and it feels good to know that other people are learning from me. Since working with Indego, I started having a more open mind and thinking outside the box. I now tell the women I mentor that anything is possible if you have a purpose and goals to achieve.

Before partnering with Indego, it was difficult to earn even $1 a day. I was entirely dependent on my husband, but now I am financially independent and a full-time Indego Africa employee! One of my most memorable moments was when I signed that employee contract. I am now able to pay my own school tuition fees and create more goals for myself in the future. I still have a long journey ahead of me but I move forward every day and look to the future with confidence.

One of the things I enjoy the most about my job with Indego is standing in front of trainees and sharing my experiences with them. Most of them have become motivated to pursue new job opportunities and go back to school. Some of them continue to stay in touch even after the class to ask for advice that might help them accomplish the kind of success I have earned over the past years. I am proud to be a part of Indego’s Business Training programs because even when I am teaching, I am always learning.

In the future, I am most looking forward to completing my degree and having all of my family members earn an education. This is the biggest personal goal I hope to achieve. Indego Africa helps women help their families and I believe someday, this may pull a huge part of our world out of poverty.

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Entrepreneur Spotlights!

#back-to-school, #artisans, #indegodiaries, #education, #inspiration

Many of our artisan partners are becoming entrepreneurs—pooling their resources (like income earned from Indego Africa orders!), getting creative, and using the knowledge and skills they have built in our education programs to start new businesses in their communities.

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With myriad challenges facing entrepreneurs in Africa and across the developing world today—such as lack of access to capital and business training—we wanted to know how our partners are overcoming obstacles and generating economic growth in their communities. We were curious to hear how they are thinking about their businesses, products, and services and what they are doing to make their entrepreneurial endeavors a success.

Keep reading to see what they had to say and please consider contributing our Back-to-School Campaign to support education programs that are making entrepreneurship possible in Rwanda & Ghana! 

Felicité, Leadership Academy Graduate (Rwanda)

Owner of a clothing shop in Bugesera, Rwanda.

“I have a small shop where I sell clothes. I started the business in March 2015. Through Indego Africa orders, I was able to earn money that I saved up in my local community’s savings group and later I decided to invest it in my business. The Leadership Academy helped

me get the knowledge I needed to run my business. I learned how to source materials and how to record transactions

properly and to calculate profit and losses.

While at first I was just selling kitenge (traditional Rwandan women’s clothes) the items I offer have evolved over time. I now sell men’s clothes like shirts and trousers, and I keep increasing the inventory and the variety of products when I get extra income.

It’s important for me to keep evolving. In the future, I want to carry different household items because they are needed in my area and not many people sell them so I will be able to profit.”

Noah Opoku,

Basic Business Training Graduate (Ghana)

Sells handwoven slippers made from kente cloth

“I first learned how to weave from my brother, and I decided to start making woven shoes out of kente cloth. I design and make the shoes myself, and I try to make them different than the traditional slippers you might find at the market. For example, I make customized shoes with buyers’ names on them, which students love in particular. 

When I first wanted to start my business about a year ago, I faced some challenges. I did not have enough money to buy my raw materials in bulk and my skill of making kente slippers was not perfect, and thus I was slow and the quality of my work was not the best. But now, I have really improved and have begun using new strategies to make a profit.

The lessons I learned at Indego Africa’s Basic Business Training program were really helpful for me. Learning about quality control, samples, and customer requests has helped me package my products nicely so that my customers are satisfied with what they purchase from me. The program also helped me to be more innovative, and now I have added keychains and bracelets made from kente thread to my product line.

I also started adding pens as part of my product packaging and this makes people more interested in buying from me so that they can get a pen as a freebie. I opened an account on Facebook to help me with marketing my products.

In the next five years, I want my business to be well established with several branches in the region and across the entire country.

I would also like to train other people and employ them to work with me.”

Bahizi Emmanuel,

Technology Training for the Workplace Graduate (Rwanda)

Aspiring entrepreneur 

“I would like to start a catering

business. I grew up seeing my mother do that and it allowed her to pay for me to go to school. I want to start it because I have experience with this kind of business and have worked with my mother baking cakes and other kinds of food. Here in Kigali, we do not have a variety of restaurants downtown and people have to leave their offices for lunch, which can be difficult sometimes. My food would also always be fresh which is different from what many businesses serve. 

I can use the Technology Training for the Workplace skills I learned from Indego Africa to help me manage my business. I now know how to use MS Word and Excel to keep records of my business. I will use Word to write a business plan and Excel for projection calculations of future profits or losses. I can also use the PowerPoint skills to make presentations of my business to potential investors.

I think a successful business owner is a good planner, implementer and manager. He or she is the one who is able to attract clients, understand their needs, and deliver.”  

We are excited to see our partners using their education—whether it’s Basic Business Training, the Leadership Academy, Technology Training or another one of our programs—to start and grow new businesses in their communities. We love hearing what lessons stick with them the most and how they are using skills learned to be more strategic, innovative managers and business owners. 

As we seek to build more entrepreneurs and business leaders in communities across Rwanda and Ghana, we hope you’ll consider supporting our Back-to-School Campaign to keep our education programs going strong!

To donate, please click here

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A Day In Asbury Park

#indegodiaries, #inspiration, #summer

On a sunny Friday morning, we took a break from busy city life to spend a day at the beach in Asbury Park—the quirky New Jersey surf town known for its good food, live music, and A+ shoreline.

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We brought some of our favorite warm-weather products with us—from pom pom hats to handwoven bags, patterned summer prints and more—and snapped pictures along the way, making stops at classic Asbury haunts like the Wonder Bar and Stone Pony (a favorite of New Jersey native, Bruce Springsteen.) 

Check out the sun-kissed pictures from our day at the beach below and get inspired for your own summer of color, style, and fun!

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Chloe Fleury Goes Indego

#funwithfriends, #indegodiaries, #inspiration, #indegokids

Our favorite illustrator, paper artist, prop stylist & mama of two, Chloe Fleury, did the cutest (and most colorful!) photoshoot featuring our print-happy baby clothes and her whimsical paper art collections.

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We love the way Chloe creates bright, magical worlds out of paper, creating inspiring spaces for kids and grown-ups alike. Scroll down to see the photoshoot and learn more about our partnership with Chloe here.   

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A Day at The Beach in Accra

#indegodiaries, #inspiration, #summer

We are summer-loving folks here at Indego Africa, and we recently spent a sun-soaked day at the beach in Accra, Ghana taking in the country's magical coastline

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Walking down the shore, we couldn't get enough of the bright pastel homes, breezy palm trees, and beautiful waves we spotted along the way. We snapped some pictures to share with you and get you inspired for summer too! Cheers to a summer of color, surf and sun. 

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New Year, New Desk

#inspiration, #getorganized, #handcrafted

A New Year, a new you, and a new desk to go along too! When January comes around and the holiday buzz dies down, it’s the perfect time to get organized and set your intentions for the year ahead. Our favorite first step? Reorganizing our desks!

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At Indego, we love to surround ourselves with beautiful objects that not only inspire us but also help us keep our odds & ends in order (that’s what we call a win-win!) From brass pen stands, to eyelash fringe baskets, tin elephant boxes & more, here are a few of our favorite handmade items to give you the awesome desk you deserve. Cheers to a creative and fulfilling year ahead!

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Chill.

#collaboration, #inspiration, #funwithfriends

West-Africa-born, NYC-based fashion & lifestyle blogger, Fráncia Cooper, radiates global chic. Her blog – frannycoop.com – is a treasure trove of inspiration featuring gorgeous style images, beauty tips, travel diaries & more. We were thrilled to team up with her to photograph our new fall collection of wide-brimmed felt hats, cozy handmade knits, Ghanaian brass jewelry & more. Scroll down to see the shoot images and read what Franny had to say about Indego Africa, global women’s empowerment, and the fashion industry.

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originally posted on frannycoop.com

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“I am beyond excited to share this powerful collaboration that I did with Indego Africa for the launch of their Autumn/Winter 2015 collection. The entire collection is an absolute gem - cozy knits to warm you up, wool hats to complete boring outfits, capes to shield you from winter’s shiver along with the cutest brooches for a more refined look. What’s even more charming about this brand is that all items are handmade in Ghana and Rwanda. 

It was such a pleasure working with the Indego Africa team. Indego Africa is a non-profit social enterprise and lifestyle brand that supports women through economic empowerment and education - confronting poverty by helping female artisans become independent business women. All of the profits from sales are used to fund educational training programs for these women. 

In today’s world, why women should support women in business goes without saying. What’s understated, however, is why women in the fashion industry are lacking in positions related to design. It is a little unnerving to think about how many male designers have positions of power: think Olivier Rousteing, Raf Simons, Marc Jacobs, etc. Of course their talent warrants the merit of their success, however, isn’t it a little counter intuitive how the male gender rampantly controls the design of women clothing? You would think that since our clothes are made for the female form, female desire, and overall female experience they would be designed by us. Patriarchy has its place even in the garment industry and this is something that should not be overlooked. I support brands like Indego Africa because I’d like to see more women empowered in design positions in hopes that the fashion industry can become equal.” 

We love Franny’s passion for women’s empowerment & the way she rocks all things Indego! To check out her blog, click here.

Shop our Fall 2015 collection

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#MakersMonth: A Creative Love Note

#makersmonth, #indegodiaries, #inspiration

From NYC to Rwanda and back again, our design process is all about global collaboration. We love to create pieces that blend the traditional crafts of Rwanda with modern pops of color, elegant shapes, and innovative designs.

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We went behind-the-scenes with our Creative Director, Deirdre King, to give you an up-close-and-Indego look into her creative process and daily inspiration. Press play!

"I usually describe my design process as a bit like fitting beautifully crafted puzzle pieces together. We have groups of artisans in Rwanda that we work with.. with all different skills, knowledge and expertises. We have materials - locally grown, imported or donated, available on the market in kigali and other parts of africa. Then we have our customers and clients in the US and the aesthetic we've built for our brand: colorful, playful, wellmade and handcrafted, each piece one-of-a-kind with its own story to tell. I always want to tell that story and honor the importance of the artisans' work and really show the care and detail that goes into each of these products. Its a collaborative process of fitting these pieces together to develop beautiful things. My goal is to present a thoughtful selection of products that are made with love and dedication and that people think are really great."

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How You Can Change the World by Shopping!

#impact, #inspiration, #artisans

While many of us wish to make a positive difference in the world, it can be hard to figure out how to do it. As individuals, how can we drive change in our communities and around the globe? Where is a good place to start? One answer – which may surprise you – is…shopping.

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Originally posted on one.org

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Yes, that’s right – from the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make everyday about what and what not to buy can profoundly impact the world in which we live. This line of thinking – often called “conscious consumerism” – is on the rise as buyers are becoming increasingly invested in the way that products are made and the effects they have on people and the environment.

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of ethically made products that empower the people who create them. That’s why we partner with more than 800 female artisans across Rwanda, providing them with opportunities to earn fair-trade, sustainable income for their beautifully handcrafted products. We sell these pieces around the world, and pool 100% of the proceeds from sales, along with grants and donations, to fund education programs for the very same women.

While we are just one of a growing number of socially responsible brands, we want to share with you why we love what we do and hopefully inspire you to jump on the shopping-for-a-cause train too!

  1. Each product provides a woman with a real, living wage. We believe in paying our artisan partners fairly, honoring the incredible skill, patience, and creativity that goes into their work (some products, like our colorful plateau baskets, each take 2-3 days to make!)
  2. With increased income, women are able to care for themselves and their families. Most of our artisan partners are mothers, and like all moms they want nothing more than to create beautiful lives for their children. We are deeply inspired by their determination and proud to see them earn enough not only to provide for their families’ basic needs – like food and housing – but also to invest in their children’s futures by sending them to school.
  3. All proceeds go towards education. We believe that education is the key to empowerment. That’s why we provide our partners with a range of educational opportunities – both at our Leadership Academy and onsite at their workplaces – to help them develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to thrive as confident businesswomen, creative entrepreneurs and powerful community leaders
  4. There is something distinctly special about a product that is handmade. We love to shop products made with love and care – to feel the soul and craftsmanship in every stitch. It is a way of connecting with artisans around the world – of sharing in their culture and traditions and celebrating their remarkable crafts.

As you can see, empowering women through artistry and education is a cause we are deeply passionate about. But now we want to turn it over to you: what causes are most important to you? What companies are out there fighting for them too?

As Olivia Wilde, actress and co-founder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say: “your dollar is your vote.” By choosing to direct the money we already spend towards products and companies we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world but also send a powerful message to corporations that we will not support products that are harmful to humanity.

It may sound simple, but as consumers we have more power than we think. By introducing a little bit of passion and purpose into our purchases, we can make a whole lot of difference.

To see more of our products, made with love by women in Rwanda, please click here.

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Indego Africa x Eileen Fisher

#artisans, #inspiration, #education, #community, #collaboration, #indegodiaries

We are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Eileen Fisher on a collection of scarves, beautifully hand-knit by the artisans of the Ingenzi Knit Union (IKU)! These one-of-a-kind lightweight pieces are the perfect way to welcome in the early days of spring and can be found at select Eileen Fisher stores across the country.

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Our partnership with Eileen Fisher is part of the brand’s larger (and, may we add, deeply admirable) commitment to sourcing handmade goods and investing in socially responsible and sustainable business practices. Eileen Fisher works with artisans around the world to handcraft one-of-a-kind pieces that help to sustain traditional crafts and cultures. They have worked with artisans in a range of inspiring locales including India, Ethiopia, and, of course, Rwanda, not only creating beautiful products, but also investing in the well-being of the communities in which they work.

In late 2013, an Eileen Fisher team featuring representatives from their creative, human rights, production, and design departments traveled to Rwanda and spent several days with our staff, visited our partner cooperatives, and learned more about our operations and social impact. Feeling inspired, they followed up with a second site visit in 2014 as the knitters worked to fill their first (of hopefully many!) Eileen Fisher order!

At the end of 2014, we were honored to have the opportunity to apply for and receive an Eileen Fisher Human Rights Grant to help our partner cooperative, IKU, build a socially sustainable future. The Eileen Fisher Human Rights Grant Program is dedicated to elevating the livelihood of the people who make Eileen Fisher products and to help them achieve long-term happiness through social and economic empowerment. We are confident that this grant will help IKU to achieve these goals.

IKU’s artisans will use this money, in part, to invest in improved handlooms, which will increase the volume, quality, and diversity of products they produce. Further, they will be able to hire a consultant to help them with quality control, design innovation, and implementing better organizational systems at their cooperatives.

These opportunities will make a world of difference for IKU – a union made up four different cooperatives and over 150 women. Many of IKU’s artisans are HIV+ and most often struggle to provide for their families’ basic needs. With the increased production capacity, product quality, and market opportunities the Eileen Fisher’s Human Rights Grant will help them develop, the artisans of IKU will be able to build brighter futures for themselves and their families as empowered artisans and businesswomen.

We are so grateful to be able to work with brands like Eileen Fisher whose values and beliefs so wonderfully align with our own. Here’s to more partnerships & positive change in the years to come!

You can find out more about Eileen Fisher's great work around the globe here.

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How You Can Change The World With Every Dollar You Spend

#inspiration, #impact, #community, #indegodiaries

Our Development & Communications Associate, Hayley Doner, published an article in Elite Daily! Read on for her thoughts on conscious consumerism and how you can change the world with every dollar you spend.

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In the age of corporate bailouts, companies “too big to fail,” global worker exploitation and industry-driven climate change, I admit to at times feeling helpless as an individual seeking to make a meaningful difference in the world. 

How could I drive positive change in the face of systems rigged to favor profits at the expense of human health, well-being and dignity?

How could I, a 5’4″ girl who loves musical theater and little to no resources to speak of, take on the biggest and baddest corporations of the world?

After duly indulging these feelings of hopelessness and despair, I decided it was time to put on my big girl pants and figure out what I could do to make a difference.

While today I am lucky enough to work for a company that has values that align with my own, I realize that not everyone can do the same. What we all can do, though, is think about the decisions we make every day, and how we can make them better.

We all share something in common; we’re consumers.

From the groceries we eat to the clothes we put on our backs, the decisions we make about what and what not to buy impact the world in which we live.

As Olivia Wilde, actress and cofounder of Conscious Commerce, likes to say, “Your dollar is your vote.”

By choosing to spend money on products we believe in, we can not only make a difference in the world, but we can also send a powerful message to corporations that we don’t support.

This line of thinking, popularly referred to as “conscious consumerism,” is on the rise, especially amongst Millennials. We, more than any generation before us, care deeply about where our products come from and the effects they have on our society.

Study after study shows that young people (ages 18-34) are more willing than other generations to spend extra money on products and services that support good causes.

We are also more likely to research a company’s business practices before making a purchase. These trends pressure corporations to adopt socially-beneficial practices and create an environment where socially-responsible companies can thrive.

Even so, maybe this whole conscious consumerism thing is a little bit new to you. Where should you start?

Here’s my easy, three-step guide to becoming a feel-good, socially-conscious consumer:

What are you passionate about? What keeps you up at night? For me, that’s women’s equality and empowerment. I love to support companies that create opportunities for women around the world.

1. Know Your Cause

(Full disclosure: this is what the company I work for, Indego Africa, is all about.)

Once you know what you care about, it’s time to do the research. What companies are out there, supporting causes you are passionate about?

2. Do Your Research

How are they doing it and are they doing enough? (If not, looks like you just got the next big startup idea…) There’s also due diligence to be done on the companies where you already shop.

How are their products made? What (if any) socially-responsible programs do they invest in and how serious is that investment?

You may have to dig deep, but finding out answers to these questions can help guide your purchasing decisions in whatever way makes most sense for you.

Now that you have this knowledge, be a pal and share it with your friends. As the social media generation, we have the unique ability to spread information quickly and to large groups of people — good or bad.

3. Spread It Around

We can use these platforms to amplify our voices when we want to, amassing our collective power to promote companies we love or call out corporations for their sub-par actions.

By 2017, Millennials will have more spending power than any other generation (totaling more than $10 trillion over the course of our lifetimes).

But, with great power comes great responsibility. What issues do you care about? What kind of world do you want to leave to your children?

By simply asking ourselves these questions, we’re already one step closer to making a difference.

Let’s spend that $10 trillion wisely, friends!

This article was originally published in Elite Daily

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Meet The Entrepreneurs

#artisans, #inspiring, #inspiration, #impact, #entrepreneurs

In honor of International Women’s Day, we are celebrating the incredible entrepreneurs we partner with – their innovation, creativity, perseverance, and resourcefulness. These ambitious ladies are capitalizing on newfound opportunities, determined to create brighter futures for themselves and their families. They’re saving up money, taking out loans, and using the business skills they’ve learned to take a risk and start something new. We’ll be sharing their stories all month long – hope you enjoy them!

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Immaculee, Shikama Ukore

Tie-dye maven and block-printer extraordinaire, Immaculee used the money she saved from Indego Africa orders to install a water tank at her home where she now runs a successful water business. On any given day, you can see more than 20 people lining up to fill their jugs with the good stuff. 

Daphrose, Ingenzi Knit Union

Daphrose owns a cafe in a university building in Kigali where she sells snacks and school supplies to students. She got the idea to launch her own business through Indego Africa's education programs, which she says taught her "to be fearless." Now a student at the Leadership Academy, Daphrose is developing innovative ideas to help her business grow.

Juliet, Imirasire

In addition to being a farmer, master weaver, and mother of ten (!), Juliet sells fruit from her garden at a local market twice a week. Bananas, mangoes, avocados, and pineapples…she’s got it all.

Vestine, Ejo Hazaza 

Vestine is an aspiring entrepreneur eager to use the lessons she’s learned at the Leadership Academy to make a difference in her community. She says: “There is a water problem in my neighborhood. At the Leadership Academy, I learned how to identify a need and create a business plan to fill it. I am now saving money to start selling water to help people in my village.”

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A Day at the Leadership Academy

#inspiration, #education, #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!

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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.

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The Leadership Academy - Week One

#leadership academy, #education, #artisans, #inspiration

On the first day of school the air always feels different – suffused, somehow, with the excitement of the occasion. Sights, feelings, and sensations are heightened as you take in new surroundings, relishing each moment and preparing for the journey ahead.

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​Wednesday, October 1st was the first day of school for 25 of our artisan partners as classes launched at our brand new Leadership Academy in Kigali. Students, selected from across our partner cooperatives, gathered in our Academy classroom promptly at 9 AM, overflowing with excitement and enthusiasm for what was to come.

After a detailed orientation and question-and-answer session, the students got to work studying the advanced-business-topic-of-the-day: inventory management. The goal of the lesson was to help the students develop effective strategies for tracking products and materials at their cooperatives. Rosine Urujeni, our Country Director, began the session by defining key vocabulary terms and reviewing some tried-and-true methods of inventory management. Once the lecture was over, she turned it over to the students to put what they learned into practice.

The students broke into small groups to complete inventory-tracking exercises based on the kinds of scenarios they experience everyday at their cooperatives. The class ended with a lively competition between the students over which group could get the most answers right. They were, of course, all winners in our eyes.

Day two’s lesson topic was communications with buyers and donors. The goal of the session was to understand the motivations of buyers and donors and hone methods for communicating with them. The class went through several example buyer and donor profiles and brainstormed methods for communicating with them. Rosine then led a discussion on communication best practices, emphasizing the importance of empathy, honesty, accuracy, responsiveness, and enthusiasm. At the end of class, students got to put these methods to the test through a series of role-play exercises - which many took above and beyond, challenging their scene partners with particularly tough characters.

At the end of the session, many of the students expressed how much they appreciated that the lessons were tailored specifically to them and the kinds of challenges they face at their cooperatives. Moving forward, we are confident that they will use the lessons they learn to grow and improve their businesses, leading to increased income and prosperity for all of our artisan partners. We cannot wait for what the rest of the semester has in store, and neither can they!

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A Note From Our CEO

#education, #leadership academy, #impact, #inspiration

Passion for education runs in my family. My parents were both teachers and from a young age they instilled in me a deep love of learning and a strong work ethic. As I grew older, I began to understand the powerful opportunities that education offers those lucky enough to receive it – for me: career choices, financial independence, and a sense of self-empowerment. I also became acutely aware of the uneven distribution of these opportunities around the world, particularly for women.

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I left for college with this awareness top of mind. While afterwards I decided to go to business school and pursue a career on Wall Street, I always knew that one day I would work to provide women around the world with the educational opportunities I had had.

Fast-forward to 2011 when, after 24 years working at Merrill Lynch, I decided it was time to make a change. After exploring a range of organizations working towards social good, I came across Indego Africa. A nonprofit that was seeking to empower women in Rwanda through business and education? I was sold. 

Three years later, and now as CEO, I have seen firsthand the power of this model to make a deep impact in the lives of women in Rwanda. Today, 64% of our artisan partners are the primary income earners in their families, 77% are able to send all of their children to school, and 90% can afford medical insurance. These are only a few examples of the ways in which these women are lifting themselves out of poverty and creating brighter futures for their families.

Spending time in Rwanda and meeting the incredible women we partner with, I have been deeply moved by their resilience, determination, and sheer ingenuity in the face of trying circumstances. Despite the different contexts in which we live, it is inspiring to be able to relate to one another over what it’s like to provide for a family, be a working mother, or make sacrifices for one’s children. One of the things I am most inspired by is just how far they have come with their educations.

With only a few years of basic education training, many of these women are “dreaming dreams they did not know it was possible to dream” (to quote from one of our artisan partners, Emelienne.) They have already begun to start new businesses and take on leadership roles in their communities. I am deeply proud that today, many of these women have asked us to help them take their educations to the next level.  

That is why, this fall, we are launching a Leadership Academy to provide them with the advanced business and leadership training they need to thrive as successful, independent businesswomen and entrepreneurs. By empowering these women with the confidence and skills to assume enhanced leadership roles in their communities, we hope to grow the next generation of female leaders and change-makers in Rwanda.

I encourage you to think about what your education has done for you, and how much your support could do for these incredible women in Rwanda. The possibilities are endless.

Make their dreams a reality by donating to our Leadership Academy!

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7 Years Later

#inspiration, #impact, #education, #community, #artisans

They asked; we listened. That’s why we’re going “back-to-school.”

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On September 2nd, we will launch our Back-to-School campaign to raise $12,000 in support of our Leadership Academy: a ground-breaking initiative – beginning this fall – that will provide advanced business training to some of our talented, entrepreneurial, and inspirational artisan partners.

Yet as we prepare to take our education programs to the next level, we want to fill you in on what we’ve been up to for the past seven years. Here’s what you need to know: 

The Program

  • Since 2007, we have been providing our artisan partners with training programs in business management & entrepreneurship, computer skills, English, and Kinywarwanda literacy.
  • These courses were designed and written by our organization’s founders – father and son duo extraordinaire, Matt and Tom Mitro, along with a team of expert volunteers. They compiled the course materials themselves in order to create a cohesive curriculum uniquely tailored to meet our artisan partners’ specific learning needs.
  • In addition to our standard training programs, we also provide workshops for our artisan partners in Sexual Health and Wellness, Breast Cancer Awareness, Occupational Health and Wellness, Savings and Loans, and Domestic Violence.

The Teachers

  • All of our training programs are taught by top Rwandan university students through a partnership with Generation Rwanda (GR) – an incredible NGO that gives merit-based scholarships to orphans and socially vulnerable youth in Rwanda.
  • Each GR trainer has a specialty and teaches his or her course of choice at each participating cooperative once a week.
  • These talented trainers are also given the opportunity to participate in professional development programs with our Country Director, Rosine Urujeni, so they can graduate ready to enter the workforce. 

The Impact

  • Despite the fact that many of our artisan partners had their educations interrupted by the 1994 genocide (and some never went to school at all), they are excelling in our courses.
  • In fact, we are deeply pleased to report that some of our artisan partners have mastered and surpassed the current level of our programming. They are eager to take their educations to the next level and have asked us to help them make their dreams a reality.

That’s why, this fall, we are going “back-to-school.”

This October, we are launching a Leadership Academy in Kigali to provide talented female entrepreneurs with the tools they need to succeed as independent businesswomen, confident leaders, and effective change-makers – catalyzing social and economic progress across Rwanda.

But we need your help! Stay tuned for more updates on how YOU can help our artisan partners reach their full potential. 

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The Peace Basket

#artisans, #inspiring, #inspiration, #new, #weaving, #handmade, #community, #peace, #hope

We recently added traditional Rwandan peace baskets to our home decor collection. In addition to being unique and beautiful items, these baskets also have a poignant history that make them all the more special.

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Following the genocide in Rwanda, women were left to pick up the pieces of their shattered country. In order to provide for themselves, their families, and the countless orphans left in the destruction's wake, many banded together to form artisan cooperatives {like the incredible ones we partner with today}.

Women who had been caught on both sides of the country’s violence – both Hutus & Tutsis – came together to make traditional Rwandan baskets, which have since earned the title of “peace baskets.” By working and weaving together, these women were able to overcome their tragic pasts and foster peace, hope, and reconciliation in the face of enmity and despair.

To this day, peace baskets are a powerful symbol in Rwanda. They represent the generosity, compassion, and forgiveness that have helped this country to rise from its ashes towards a brighter future.

Shop Peace Baskets >>>

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P.S - A Conversation with Erica

#inspiring, #inspiration, #psxindegoafrica, #collaboration

On Erica Domesek’s recent trip to Rwanda she visited our partner cooperatives, worked side-by-side with the women artisans, wandered and shopped the vast markets, immersed herself in the rich Rwandan culture, and instantly it was a match made it patch heaven! Inspired by her love of fun colors, quirky objects, and gallant animals—the #PSxIndegoAfrica Patch sets were born. Here is more about what inspires her and how our colorful mission for good began:

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How would you describe your personal style and how does that influence your business?

Colorful. I love mixing funky patterns, colors, and textures to create new styles and fun outfits. Reinventing things in your wardrobe is fun and allows you to be creative. At P.S. – I made this… we call it comfort with a twist—taking things people can identify with and adding a twist to it. It is one part customization and one part personalization. 

Walk us through your creative process for a new DIY project. 

Everything starts with inspiration—traveling, window-shopping, shopping in boutiques, walking down the street, and reading magazines. Finding something that pops out and you can identify with is key. It is the eye-catching moments that help shape the creative process—I see it, I like it, I make it. Craft Math was born through this process. We divide the steps it takes, create an easy formula to design the product and show the simplest way to make it. 

Why does Indego Africa's mission resonate with P.S.- I made this...? 

Indego represents everything I am passionate about—art, education, women, sustaining life, cooperation, and community. The idea that these artisans can create beautiful goods and sell them and sustain a life for their families and communities—at the most basic and pure form—is beautiful. Their workmanship and skill is phenomenal. The sheer detail and time they spend on each stitch, design, and product is remarkable. My passion to help others and spotlight talent is also represented through Indego’s mission. From the onset it was clear we had a shared ethos—creating a dynamic synergy.

photos by Ryan Gall
photos by Ryan Gall

What new projects were inspired by your trip to Rwanda?

So much inspiration! I fell in love with the beautiful vistas, the plants and wildlife, and the rich culture. Our trips to the imaginative and vibrant markets provided for new product inspiration and ideas. I purchased colorful fabrics that I plan to use and incorporate into designs and new products back in New York. 

What is the significance behind the designs of the 

patches

?

I have always had an affinity for topography, wildlife, and rich landscapes. Our trip in Rwanda provided for an opportunity to see the picturesque landscapes, animals, and vibrant countryside. The Crowned Crane is hands down the most gorgeous animal on the planet—and seeing it up close provided for so much inspiration when thinking about designs. The patches are comprised of colorful animals, playful fruits, and vivid objects—encompassing our love for color and the happy moments we experience in life. 

You, like many of our artisan partners, started your own business. What do you think it takes to be a successful entrepreneur?

You have to LOVE what you do. Show PASSION for what you do, be real about what you create and be TRUE to yourself. If you create a product to sell a product, then that is great, and it works for some; for me, it takes heart and soul to run a company and in that success is created and illustrated. I am my own customer speaking to my own audience. 

photos by Ryan Gall

At Indego Africa, we are all about empowering women. What in your life has empowered you to become the person you are today?

I was always encouraged to follow my interests. I did not think that I would be able to “craft a career” out of P.S. – I made this…, however I always had an extremely supportive network of people who believed in what I did. Having the right people in your life is important and helps shape who you are.

Why do you support Indego Africa? Inquiring minds want to know.

Indego Africa manifests our motto of doing well by doing good. I believe in their mission to empower women through sustainable business. I think we all have a responsibility to give back where and when we can. Some people have the means to give money, where others can only give their time and energy. It is important for us to give wherever and whenever we can. In this and age, everyone is able to find and do something - small, medium or large - to make a difference. We should constantly strive to find other passions outside of our normal confines. Indego Africa exemplifies doing well by doing good and they exhibit this each day from Rwanda all the way to New York City.

Get your #PSxIndegoAfrica patches! >>>

 

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Summer of Dreams

#inspiring, #inspiration, #summer, #new, #artisans, #africa

We are thrilled to announce the launch of our collaboration with Spoke Woven on a beautiful collection of textile dream catchers!

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To bring this dream to life, we sat down with Genga – the wildly creative designer behind the iconic oversized dream catchers of Spoke Woven. Over the course of one marvelous day, we learned all about the inspiration behind her craft and filmed an instructional video for our artisan partners so that they too could learn the art of dream catcher weaving.

IA x Spokewoven from Indego Africa on Vimeo.

Once the video was complete, we sent it along to the artisans of Ibyishimo who quickly mastered the new technique – handcrafting an array of gorgeous textile dream catchers that we are thrilled to now offer on our website. 

One of the {many} things we love about this collaboration is the deep cultural history and mythology surrounding dream catchers. A longstanding Native American tradition, dream catchers are meant to protect sleepers from bad dreams, allowing only positive ones to enter the minds of those at rest. The belief is that bad dreams will get caught in the dream catcher’s web and vanish when struck with the first rays of the morning sun. Happy dreams, on the other hand, will float through the hole in the center of the dream catcher and gently glide down the feathers or fabric to reach the sleeping person below.

We were delighted to bring these traditions across the globe to our artisan partners in Rwanda and we hope that you too will be inspired by the unique blend of Native American and Rwandan traditions encompassed in these textile wonders. As Genga likes to say: All dreams spin out of the same web.

Shop the Dream Catcher Collection >>>

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so you want to be an entrepreneur

#artisans, #education, #inspiration, #leadership academy, #impact

So you want to be an entrepreneur…

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How do you do it?

We recently collaborated with Duterimbere – a Rwandan NGO that promotes female entrepreneurship – to address that very question.

Since partnering with us, many women are now earning enough money not only to support themselves and their families, but also to invest in entrepreneurial and income-generating projects of their own (for more information see our 2013 Social Impact Report).

However, building a successful business is no easy feat, and in recent feedback, our artisan partners asked for help in learning the tools of the entrepreneurship trade. So when our Rwanda Country Director met representatives from Duterimbere in Kigali, we knew we had found just the right people for the job.

Duterimbere seeks to integrate women into economic development by stimulating female entrepreneurship and providing education and resources regarding savings, loans, and economic rights. We partnered with them to provide an interactive 5-day workshop for 30 of our artisan partners, addressing the fundamental question: just how do you start and run a successful business?

What we love about Duterimbere’s approach (among many things) is their focus on real-life examples and open discussion. This ensures that workshops serve as useful and practical lessons, rather than abstract thought exercises. In that vein, they kicked off their first session by posing the following questions:

  • how can you be an entrepreneur and also work at your cooperative?
  • what are the challenges that entrepreneurs face?

  • how can you overcome these challenges?  
  • what are the opportunities that entrepreneurs have in Rwanda?

With these questions as a driving framework, participants spent the next four days learning the ins and outs of business creation and management. They worked in small groups to create mock budgets and business plans; heard real-life examples about the value of saving money; and even met with a representative of a local microfinance institution to talk about why and how to take out loans. Participants walked out of the final session feeling well-informed and enthused about taking their cooperatives and outside businesses (+business ideas!) to the next level.

We were thrilled about the outcome of this workshop, particularly because its format closely mirrors that of our soon-to-be-launched Leadership Academy, which will provide advanced business training to emerging artisan leaders through bi-weekly training sessions over six-month cycles. Through this program, women will develop the knowledge and skills they need to flourish as entrepreneurs, drive economic growth at their cooperatives, and become engines of change in their communities. Stay tuned for more information on this exciting initiative! 

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SUMMER MANIFESTO

#inspiring, #inspiration, #summer

The days of summer are upon us, when time slows down and the world is set aglow. When nature fills us with rapture and warmth infuses our souls.

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It is a time to pause—to breathe in fresh air and breathe out your wildest dreams. To dig your toes in the sand and hum along with the trees. To put a flower in your hair and chase the radiant sun. To celebrate laughter and revel in effervescent fun. 

Summer is a time for reflection. For imagination. For adventure. For love. For creativity. And for finding inspiration.

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Good Bye Yves!

#community, #inspiration

We are sad to say goodbye our team member, Yves Ndashimye, as he leaves Indego Africa to pursue a new job opportunity…in Singapore! Yves has been with Indego since almost the beginning, starting out as Generation Rwanda trainer and transitioning in 2011 to work full-time as Indego’s Accounting and Operations Associate.

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Here's what Yves had to say about his favorite moments at Indego:

"The Anthropologie order was one of my favorite moments at Indego because it helped some of the women buy their own property and brought them to a new level of financial success.

I loved being in front of the women when I was a Business Management trainer. I liked the way we shared our life stories and gave advice to one another.

I also loved working with people from different backgrounds and cultures throughout my time at Indego."

From balancing the books to managing our {many} shipments from Rwanda to the U.S., Yves has always greeted every task with a smile. We greatly appreciate his unwavering dedication to Indego Africa, and wish him the best as he continues on in his professional journey as a bright young leader! 

Bon Voyage Yves! 

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