originally posted on one.org
---“Inventory, bookkeeping, budgeting, accounting…”
She pauses to catch her train of thought.
“…marketing, saving, taking out loans…I am learning to be a businesswoman.”
Elizabeth is a student at Indego Africa’s Leadership Academy – an innovative six-month training program in Kigali, Rwanda dedicated to building the next generation of the country’s powerful female entrepreneurs and leaders.
While just over two decades ago Rwanda experienced a brutal genocide, today it is one of the rising stars of Africa – thanks, in large part, to its women. Women have been at the forefront of Rwanda’s development, playing a crucial role in the country’s economic, social, political (and physical) reconstruction.
Indego Africa – a nonprofit social enterprise founded in 2007 – works at the heart of this development. We partner with more than 800 female artisans across 22 different cooperatives – a form of enterprise promoted by the Rwandan government after the genocide to drive economic growth. However, despite the government’s support, for many years artisans struggled to make end’s meet – lacking markets in which to sell their goods and the education needed to effectively run their businesses.
At Indego Africa, we seek to address these issues of access and opportunity. We provide female artisans with sustainable income by selling their beautifully handcrafted products around the world. We help them to become empowered businesswomen through our education programs – the hallmark of which is our newly established Leadership Academy.
Launched on October 1st, 2014, our Leadership Academy is the only free-of-cost advanced business training program for women in Rwanda. Class meets twice a week for a full day and consists of practical and interactive lessons, developed by our own staff and Board of Directors members.
An experienced and passionate team of Rwandan teachers leads the class through each lesson, facilitating student-led group projects, field trips, and guest lectures from successful local entrepreneurs and visiting global thought leaders. The goal of these courses is to help women develop the life-long knowledge and skills they need to grow their own businesses and become successful entrepreneurs and leaders.
Let’s look at Vestine’s story for an example of what the Leadership Academy can mean for women in Rwanda. Vestine was 11 years old when the genocide erupted, and when it ended, she was forced to drop out of school to support her remaining family members. For many years she struggled to survive, and when she was diagnosed with HIV in 2007, she began to lose hope for her future.Now a member of Ejo Hazaza (an Indego Africa partner cooperative since 2012) and a student at our Leadership Academy, Vestine is emerging as an inspired entrepreneur – not only building a brighter future for herself and her family, but also for her community. She says: “There is a water problem in my village. 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 neighborhood.”
Vestine is one of many women using her new knowledge and skills to make a difference. Another student is using the lessons she’s learned to grow her business – a café – and hire three new employees. Yet another plans to become a consultant and offer advice to other business-owners in her community. All of our students have begun to make improvements to the organization and management of their artisan cooperatives. They are creating better-run, more productive businesses, which, in turn, enable all of our partners to take on more clients, receive more orders, and earn more income.
As we approach the graduation ceremony of the Leadership Academy’s inaugural class on April 30th 2015, we are thrilled and proud to see just how far our students have come. Not only are they driving economic progress in their communities, but they are also emerging as powerful mentors and role models for others – setting new precedents for how much women can achieve in Rwanda.
When asked why she believes the Leadership Academy is important, Elizabeth says: “It has to do with the history of Rwanda. In the past, women couldn’t run businesses or have the same jobs men had. Today, we are confident and ready to take the lead.”
We believe that our students will do exactly that: take the lead in their communities and spread economic growth, social progress, and hope across their country.