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Back-to-School Success Stories

This September, we’ve been taking you behind-the-scenes of the back-to-school, giving you the inside scoop on our Leadership Academy and the incredible successes of our graduates. Today, we have even more amazing stories to share about our students and all they are achieving – read on for more!

To help our partners achieve their dreams, please donate to our Leadership Academy today

Vestine’s Water Business

During the Leadership Academy’s “Introduction to Finance” lesson, Vestine from Ejo Hazaza cooperative said that while she had always wanted to start her own business, she was too scared to take out a loan. Other students in the class, eager to change her mind, immediately chimed in with personal stories about how loans had positively impacted their lives. 

Rose from the Ingenzi Knit Union talked about how she took out a loan to expand her business, which became so successful she was able to buy her own home (and pay the loan back in full.) Anne Marie from Cocoki cooperative discussed the time that she could not afford to pay her children’s school fees, but took out a loan to make sure they would be able to continue their studies. She is now paying it back in installments with the income she earns at her cooperative. 

Armed with these empowering stories, and the lessons she learned at the Leadership Academy on banking and finance, Vestine has since taken out a loan which she is using to open a water business in her community, where many people do not have access to clean, affordable drinking water. We think this is only the beginning for this inspiring social entrepreneur!


Mentorship, Networking, & Skill-Sharing 

One of the primary goals of our Leadership Academy is for students to use their knowledge and skills to mentor and uplift others. We are thrilled to report that each and every one of our Academy graduates led mentorship workshops at their cooperatives last semester – creating a ripple effect of empowerment for all of our artisan partners.

Another goal of our Academy is to create networking opportunities for women from different cooperatives in Rwanda to exchange ideas, best practices, and – thanks to our recent grads – artisanal skills! Last semester, students at the Academy arranged to go to one another’s cooperatives and teach their members new artisanal techniques (inspired by Academy lessons on market competition and product innovation!) 

For example, Lucy from Covanya cooperative taught the seamstresses of Ibyshimo how to weave, and Jacqueline from Cocoki taught the weavers of Imirasire how to sew. We can’t wait to see the awesome new products (and market opportunities!) that these skills bring about.

A New Business in Kigali

At the graduation ceremony of our first Leadership Academy class this April, our students made an exciting announcement: they are banding together to open an artisan craft store in Kigali! They came up with the idea after taking an Academy lesson on market and customer analysis, which focused on understanding local customers and preferences. Based on what they learned in class, they realized that there was a market for artisan-made goods in Kigali and that by opening a shop, they could create additional sources of income for their cooperatives.

The students worked together to draft a business plan for the project, which will cost about 5 million Rwandan Francs (close to $7,000 USD) to get off the ground. The students plan to pool these funds from each of their cooperatives and are in the process of identifying an affordable shop space with a good amount of foot-traffic to bring in customers. Look out for them next time you’re in Kigali!

We hope that these stories give you a firsthand sense of our Leadership Academy and the impact it is having on women across Rwanda. As students become empowered as entrepreneurs and leaders they are using their knowledge to uplift others, create employment opportunities, and drive economic growth in their communities. 

In order to sustain this momentum and empower more women through the power of education, please donate to our Leadership Academy today!

To donate to the Leadership Academy through the Ann B. Zeis Scholarship Fund, click here