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Congrats Grads!

We are so proud to announce that on April 30th, 2015 the first class of students graduated from our Leadership Academy – an advanced business education program dedicated to building Rwanda’s next generation of powerful leaders, businesswomen, and entrepreneurs!

The Leadership Academy opened its doors for the first time last October to welcome 25 eager students from across 9 of our different partner cooperatives. The goal? To provide these ambitious women with the knowledge and skills needed to bring their businesses to the next level {for more on the launch & selection process, see here}

Six months later, we could not be more thrilled about how well the semester went. The students approached each lesson with incredible curiosity and enthusiasm, paired with a steadfast determination to master all of the material, even at its most challenging. The results? They’re already making sweeping changes at their co-ops – turning them into better-run, more productive & creative businesses that, in turn, will generate more income for all of our artisan partners. They’re also paying it forward by educating and mentoring other women along the way, creating a powerful multiplier effect in communities across Rwanda. 

We held a graduation ceremony at the Academy on Thursday, April 30th to recognize these students’ incredible achievements, and were joined by proud family members, Rwandan government officials, NGOs, and media representatives there for the occasion. We were especially excited to welcome our guest of honor – Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Commerce, Francois Kanimba, who delivered the event’s keynote address.

Mr. Kanimba congratulated us and our artisan partners on what he called “a brilliant initiative” (!!!) and spoke about the central role women have played in rebuilding Rwanda over the past 20 years, noting that most of Rwanda’s small- and medium-sized enterprises today are run by women. Despite these impressive numbers, he recognized that women continue to face substantial challenges in bringing their businesses to scale, with limited skills and lack of access to markets, finance, and technology – validating the critical importance of programs like our Leadership Academy. 

Rosine Urujeni, our Country Director, and Karen Yelick, our CEO, spoke about the inspiration and vision behind the Academy, noting that the idea came directly from our artisan partners who were eager for opportunities to further advance their education. The curriculum was built by Indego Africa staff and Board members to address the topics most relevant to successfully running an artisan cooperative in Rwanda, incorporating English lessons and technology use throughout. 

Karen described the personal salience of the Leadership Academy for her. As someone with a life-long passion for education, she is driven by a deep desire to provide women in Rwanda with the same kind of life-changing educational opportunities that have done so much for her. She, and the rest of the Indego Africa team, are thrilled to see this dream coming to life.

Two of the Leadership Academy students spoke to the group as well, showing firsthand the powerful impact the Academy had had on them. Rose and Daphrose (the President and a member of the Ingenzi Knit Union, respectively) praised the depth and intensity of the Leadership Academy’s classes, as well as the transformative role that technology is already beginning to have on their businesses. 

They also made a very special announcement: the 25 students of our first Leadership Academy class are banding together to open up a store of their own! Using the skills they have learned, they will go into business with one another, seeking to build a market for their diverse handmade products in Kigali! We could not be more proud to see these empowered, independent entrepreneurs taking initiative and working together to create more opportunities for themselves and their families. We look forward to sharing more about this exciting venture!   

As these students go back and take the lead in their co-ops and their communities, and as a new Leadership Academy class begins this June, we are so excited for all that lies ahead. Thank you so much to all those who have helped make our Leadership Academy such a success – from our team members, to our Boards, to our amazing community of supporters – none of this would be possible without you.

And, most importantly, congratulations to the first graduating class of our Leadership Academy!

The Leadership Academy is generously supported by the Ann B. Zeis Scholarship Fund. 

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