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Up Close & Indego

#new, #inspiration, #handmade, #impact

Our Blog #impact

How this program is fighting youth underemployment in Rwanda

#indegodiaries, #education, #impact, #vocationaltraining

In Rwanda, only 8 percent of young adults go to college. College tuition fees are high and, for many struggling families and individuals, the need for immediate income often outweighs the potential long-term benefits of higher education. Many of Rwanda’s youth go straight from high school and into the workforce. Some go even earlier. When they do, they find themselves without job skills, searching for employment in an economy with few wage-earning jobs on the market. Where does this all lead? A debilitating 63 percent youth under-employment rate throughout the country.

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originally posted on


These challenges are not unique to Rwanda. Countries across Sub-Saharan Africa are struggling to combat high youth un- and under-employment rates, with more than 70 percent of the region’s population under the age of 30.

Given the economic landscape for youth in Rwanda, and across Africa, there is a pressing need to equip young people—and especially young women, as they are less likely to be formally employed than men—with marketable skills to help them achieve sustainable livelihoods. So we at Indego Africa put our heads together and came up with an idea: to create a vocational training program designed to address this exact need!

How does it all work? Here’s the scoop: The program runs on six-month semesters with 45 participants per semester. Three days per week, these young people receive artisan vocational training at Indego Africa partner cooperatives—the artisan businesses responsible for the bright baskets, accessories and apparel you see on our website. There, they learn artisan craft-making techniques from sweetgrass basket weaving to sewing, beading, banana-leaf weaving and more.

The other two days out of the week, the program participants gather at a central space in Kigali (Rwanda’s capital) to take our Basic Business Training course, where they learn fundamental business skills such as bookkeeping, budgeting, quality control, marketing, and technology use for the workplace.

Programs like this, which empower youth to earn their own livelihoods, are critically needed in the communities we work with in Rwanda. While all of the participants in our Vocational Training program graduated from high school, none of them were able to continue on to college because their families could not afford the tuition. The majority now live with their parents (most of whom are also not formally employed) and scrape by on subsistence agriculture.

These circumstances leave young people in precarious and vulnerable situations, without means to provide for themselves or secure their own futures. As Clarisse, a program participant from the Kayonza Province of Eastern Rwanda, said: “[The Vocational Training] program is very important. Right now, it is very difficult for people who finish high school to find jobs—there are no wage-paying jobs, no office jobs. People who don’t get these opportunities are left behind. This program is helping us learn skills so that right after high school, we can earn income and start working.”

Clarisse’s enthusiasm for learning and working is echoed by all of our Vocational Training students. From day one of the program, they have hit the ground running, quickly mastering artisan skills and diving into the business training coursework. Some trainees have even begun to sell their own handmade products locally!

While access to vocational and business training can be life-changing for young people in Rwanda, it also has a wider impact on their cooperatives and communities. For example, most of the artisan cooperatives that we partner with are comprised of survivors of the 1994 genocide. As their members grow older, some cooperatives are starting to face challenges with their production capacity and are eager to train and incorporate younger women.

As Jacqueline, the president of Twiyubake Cooperative in Rwanda, said: “We’re struggling because some of our members are getting older and aren’t able to work as quickly. We are really excited to train these young women and bring a new generation into our cooperative. We believe that this will improve the way our business is run and keep it going far into the future.”

By training and employing young people, artisan cooperatives across Rwanda are able to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their businesses in the long-run. This, in turn, creates opportunities for younger women to rise up as leaders, grow their cooperatives, and help generate economic activity and employment opportunities in their communities.

Through hard work and determination, we have no doubt that these talented young women will, with time, begin to chip away at Rwanda’s youth underemployment problem.

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Bananas for Banana Leaf: Empowering Youth Through Banana-Leaf-Weaving

#indegodiaries, #youth, #impact, #entrepreneurs, #vocationaltraining

Twiyubake, which means “to rebuild ourselves” in the Kinyarwanda language, is an artisan cooperative made up of 27 women in the Kayonza province of Eastern Rwanda. An Indego Africa partner since 2008, Twiyubake specializes in the art of banana leaf weaving—making rustically beautiful handcrafted products using locally grown leaves (that they often pick themselves!)

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While we’ve been big fans of Twiyubake’s work since day one, it took a while for their products to catch on (and we sometimes struggled to get them enough orders because of it.) But that all changed last year when we launched our SS ’16 collection featuring beautiful summer beach bags & floor baskets) handmade by the ladies of Twiyubake! All of a sudden, orders began to pour in, and the artisans of Twiyubake found themselves so busy they could hardly keep up. 

That’s where our Vocational Training students came in. You might remember that earlier this year we launched a Vocational Training program for female youth in Rwanda (more on that here). The idea? Help young, unemployed women in Rwanda enter the workforce and earn sustainable income by training them in artisan skills and business management.

This semester of the program, there are nine young women training at Twiyubake Cooperative, all of whom were recruited (with the help of Twiyubake members!) from the surrounding Kayonza community. While none of these girls had previous artisan experience, they caught onto the craft of banana-leaf-weaving right away. They’re already working quickly to help Twiyubake meet their deadlines and even creating new products of their own! 

It’s been an exciting  experience for the Twiyubake leaders—President, Jacqueline Musabimana and Treasurer, Marie Josee Mukobwa—to train and mentor the younger women. As Jacqueline said:

“It’s good for me to learn how to manage people from different backgrounds and from different generations.  Before, I didn’t have experience in training young girls, only other women. The girls all work at different speeds, but I’m trying to get them to the same  level. I’m also teaching them discipline. I tell them: ‘I didn’t go to secondary school, but now, I’m the President of Twiyubake, and Indego Africa has trusted me to be your teacher. You, you have a diploma. You went to  secondary school. Think about how much you can achieve—you just have to work hard and focus.”

We also spoke with some of the young women to hear their thoughts on our Vocational Training program and on working at Twiyubake. Clarisse, one of the trainees, told us: 

“This program is very important. Right now, it is very difficult for people who finish high school to find jobs—there are no wage-paying jobs, no office jobs. People who don’t get these opportunities are left behind. This program is helping us learn skills so that right after high school, we can earn income and start working.”

Here, Clarisse touches on one of the main reasons we launched the Vocational Training program in the first place—Rwanda’s steep 63% youth underemployment rate. The trainees at Twiyubake describe dire circumstances in their communities—there are few, if any, jobs available for young women, leaving most to survive off of subsistence agriculture. Our Vocational Training is an opportunity for them to build marketable skills and establish a career path that will last them into the future. 

This program is also a great opportunity for our partner cooperatives themselves to gain new, younger members. As Jacqueline said: 

“We’re struggling because some of our members are getting older and aren’t able to work as quickly. We are really excited to train these young women and bring a new generation into our cooperative. We believe that this will improve the way our business is run and keep it going far into the future.”

By training young women and integrating them into their cooperatives, Twiyubake and other artisan businesses across Rwanda are helping to ensure the long-term sustainability of their enterprises as sources of income generation, employment, and artisan creativity for generations to come. 

Further, as young women graduate from our business training programs and improve their artisanal skills, they are building the skills to become future leaders, business-owners, and change-makers.

And guess what?! Through May 31st, we are running a special 30% off  summer accessories sale, featuring Twiyubake’s beautiful banana leaf beach bags! To shop, use code WEEKENDWIN at checkout

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Celebrating Mothers—Mavis’ Story

#inspiring, #impact, #artisans, #mothersmonth

This May, we’re holding our very first Mother’s Month—a month-long celebration of motherhood and the incredible mamas we work with in Rwanda and Ghana! To kick it off, we are sharing the inspiring story of Mavis Adongo—a mother, artisan & entrepreneur who is starting her own bolga basket weaving business in Kumasi, Ghana.

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Mavis is a 28-year-old mother of three from Bolgatanga, the birthplace of Ghana’s well-known & well-loved bolga straw baskets. Based in the north-east of the country, Bolgatanga is a rural area with more than 80% of its population living below the poverty line and a 28% adult literacy rate. It is also an area with a rich cultural history of craft-making: specifically, bolga basket-weaving.

Mavis learned how to weave bolga baskets from her older sister and grew up practicing the craft. The two would pick veta vera straw (known locally as kinkahe)—the traditional straw from which bolga baskets are made—and would practice weaving together after school, selling what they could at local markets.

When Mavis grew up, she moved to Kumasi (Ghana’s second largest city and the home base of Indego Africa’s Ghana operations) in the hopes of finding better employment opportunities. She began working with a broadloom weaving group, where she continues to work today. Despite being employed, Mavis earns a meager salary, which is often not enough to provide for herself and her family. 

Mavis, her three children, and her husband live in a small, run-down home without access to running water or consistent electricity. They live in the precariousness of poverty: any day an unexpected event, like a child becoming ill, can turn their world upside down and threaten their very subsistence.

Mavis ardently wants to start her own artisan cooperative dedicated to bolga weaving (which she considers her “true craft”) and to build her own business, generate consistent income, and employ others. She said:

Bolga basket weaving is the first trade I studied growing up. I love to make baskets and watch people admire, purchase and use them. It has always been my passion to start a group focused on making beautiful and colorful bolga baskets for sale.”

We are committed to helping Mavis make her dream a reality! We began partnering with Mavis in October of last year to help her get her business off the ground, providing raw materials to finance her first orders and helping her to secure a workspace and recruit new members. 

There are very few, if any, bolga basket weaving businesses in the Kumasi area, so bringing people together to practice (and learn!) the technique provides a unique opportunity to produce bolga baskets locally, create employment opportunities, and help build interest and value for the craft in the Kumasi region. 

Since we began partnering together, Mavis has found and begun to train six other women to work with her. She is excited about the opportunity to be a leader of her own bolga weaving group and to be able to provide employment opportunities for others. Reflecting on the qualities that make a good leader, Mavis said:

I believe a good leader has the interests of her community at heart and truly cares about the wellbeing of those around her. To be a good leader, extreme patience is required. People come from varying backgrounds and having patience as a leader can help you deal and work effectively with others to grow a business and enable it to thrive.”

Mavis is also excited about the opportunity to be able to better provide for her children. In honor of Mother’s Month and the incredible moms we partner with across Africa, we asked Mavis some questions about her children and her hopes for their future. Here’s what she had to say:

“My children make me really happy and fulfilled. I had very little formal education, however, through my children, I feel I am studying again. They teach me how to pronounce words and how to speak English. My eldest son is determined to excel in school. I love his attitude towards his studies. My daughter is learning how to weave bolga baskets too and this makes me really happy. I want her to learn this trade in addition to whatever she decides to study in school.

Most importantly, I want both my children to have a good education. With education, they can get good jobs, become leaders in society, and prosper in the world.”

We are so excited to partner with Mavis and to support this incredible young woman, mother, artisan, and entrepreneur as she pursues her dreams. We are endlessly inspired by her dedication to her craft, her love for her children, and her commitment to do whatever it takes to create brighter futures for them. 

Mavis is also excited to partner with us and to begin sharing her products with people around the world. As she graciously said: 

“Indego Africa discovered me. They love me and are willing to help me share my skills.”

To see & shop Mavis’ beautiful bolga baskets for yourself, click here

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Happy International Women’s Day!

#artisans, #inspiring, #indegodiaries, #impact, #entrepreneurs

Happy International Women’s Day! Today we are celebrating one of our newest artisan partners and favorite all-around-awesome woman, Josepha Mujawayezu.

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Josepha is the talented weaver behind our brand-new collection of mini raffia peace baskets. A mother of seven (!) and aspiring entrepreneur, Josepha first learned the art of weaving in the 1980s at a vocational school in Northern Rwanda. Despite her immense skill, for years she worked tirelessly on her own, struggling to scrape by with few customers for her products. 

Without a steady source of income, Josepha often resorted to peddling her products on the street, something which on several occasions got her into trouble with the police. She describes that period of her life as filled with fear—fear that the police would arrest her; fear that she would not be able to provide for her family. 
We began partnering with Josepha in the fall of 2015, and we are so excited to see how much has changed for her since then. For starters, she’s no longer working on her own. With steady orders coming in for her products, Josepha has hired and trained 10 other women to work with her. In fact, they are banding together to form a cooperative, something which Josepha hopes will get them more local (and international!) business down the line. 
Josepha is excited about all these changes too. She told us: 
I’m excited because I have been receiving orders. I no longer have to be scared of the police and am building new skills by working on different Indego Africa sample products. Plus, registering as a cooperative has helped me become more confident because I had to interact with government officials. 
Josepha is also excited to be working with other women. She enjoys training them in new artisan skills and is happy to be able to provide younger women with the economic opportunities she wishes she once had. She says she now feels empowered: 
Being empowered to me means having the ability to provide for my family and myself without having to ask my husband. I earn an income and can pay for my children’s school fees—I can feed them, clothe them and even afford health insurance. 
We are so inspired by Josepha’s years of hard work and perseverance and are happy to see them finally paying off. On International Women’s Day, we are proud to celebrate a woman who has not only overcome a great deal of obstacles in life, but is using her newfound opportunities to empower and uplift others. Her spirit of generosity, collaboration, and mentorship is commendable and a strong testament to the power of women working together and supporting each other. 
Cheers to Josepha and to women around the world working towards better futures and lifting each other up along the way!

To shop Josepha's hand woven products, click here

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Introducing…Vocational Training for Youth in Rwanda!

#community, #impact, #education, #entrepreneurs, #vocationaltraining

In Rwanda, only 8% of young adults go to college. College tuition fees are high and, for many struggling families and individuals, the need for immediate income often outweighs the potential long-term benefits of higher education. Many of Rwanda’s youth go straight from high school and into workforce. Some go even earlier.

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When they do, they find themselves without job skills, searching for employment in an economy with few wage-earning jobs on the market. Where does this all lead? A not-so-great 63% youth underemployment rate throughout the country. 

That’s where we want to help. Given the economic landscape for youth in Rwanda, there is a pressing need to equip young people—and especially young women, as they are less likely to be formally employed than men—with marketable skills to help them enter the workforce. So we put our heads together and came up with an idea – to create a brand-new Vocational Training program designed to address this exact challenge! 

Launched on February 8th, our six-month-semester Vocational Training program provides underprivileged young women in Rwanda with artisan skills training and business education to help them improve their livelihoods and achieve financial independence. 

How does it all work? Here’s the scoop: three days a week, 45 young women learn artisan skills at five of our partner cooperatives. The lucky five this semester? Twiyubake (banana leaf weaving); Ejo Hazaza (beading); Abasangiye (sewing); Imirasire and Covanya (both sweetgrass weaving).  

The other two days a week, the young women gather in Kigali to take our Basic Business Training course where they learn fundamental business skills like bookkeeping, budgeting, quality control, marketing, and technology.

By combining artisan skills training with business education, our Vocational Training program will help young women in Rwanda achieve long-term economic security and prosperity. At the end of each six-month cycle, our goal is for the trainees to have the option to either join the cooperatives as full-time members, having mastered the skills necessary to produce products for local and international markets, or to start businesses of their own.

The young ladies participating this semester were all chosen from the local communities around our partner cooperatives. 89% of them currently do not earn income and the remaining 11% work odd jobs that do not earn steady or substantial pay. While they all graduated from high school, none were able to continue on to college because their families couldn’t afford it.

Therefore, they are eager to take advantage of this opportunity to gain valuable job skills. As one woman, Dancille (Imirasire Cooperative) enthusiastically stated, 

“I hope to learn how to weave baskets and how to run a business so I can start my own one day and employ others.” 

Our Vocational Training program is not only valuable to the participating trainees, but also to our partner cooperatives themselves. Most of our artisan partners are survivors of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and the age demographics of their cooperatives are getting progressively older. They are excited about the opportunity to train and incorporate younger women in order to ensure the longevity and sustainability of their businesses in the long-run. This, in turn, creates opportunities for younger women to rise up as leaders, grow their cooperatives, and help generate economic activity and opportunity in their communities.

We are so excited about the possibilities that lay ahead for these young women as they seek to build brighter futures for themselves and for generations to come. They are motivated, ambitious, entrepreneurial, and ready for action. As one young woman, Olive (Twiyubake Cooperative), kindly noted: 

“Thank you Indego Africa for thinking about the youth and helping us support ourselves by learning new skills. I am ready and excited to put the knowledge I am receiving into practice.”

To support our Vocational Training and provide life-changing opportunities for young women in Rwanda, click here

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We’re in Ghana! Find out why…

#indegodiaries, #education, #impact, #ghana

It’s official! After eight years in Rwanda, Indego Africa is now up and running in Ghana—bringing our mission of economic empowerment and education to artisans in the Kumasi region and beyond. But, you might be wondering, why Ghana? How did we decide to expand there and what has the process been like? Read on to have all your questions answered and be the first to get the inside scoop on our exciting initiatives to come!

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Since the beginning of Indego days, it's been our vision to expand our organization beyond Rwanda and into further countries in Africa. Why? Because we are passionate about empowering female artisans across the continent and committed to equipping as many women as possible with the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential.

However, before we could embark on such an expansion (and do so in a responsible, sustainable way) it was crucial for us to establish a strong foundation in Rwanda—to build out our programs, staff and infrastructure, validate our impact, and develop best practices along the way.

In 2013—with thousands of lessons taught, orders for our artisan partners on the rise, and a strong in-country team in place—we began the first stages of our country expansion due diligence process (much thanks to a grant from the AllPeopleBeHappy Foundation!) We conducted extensive research on ten different African countries, considering a wide range of factors such as infrastructure, governance, levels of corruption, human rights, logistics, pre-existing artisan activity and, most importantly, social impact needs.

We eventually narrowed down our selection to three countries: Ghana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania. It was a tough decision, but in the end we went with Ghana for several key reasons (and Ethiopia and Tanzania aren’t off the table for future expansions!) First, Ghana is a democratic, politically stable country with strong financial institutions, legal frameworks, and ease of doing business—factors which are important as they affect our ability to manage our supply chain, export products, and provide sustainable income for artisans.  

Ghana also has a rich cultural tradition of craft-making, with a beautiful range of artisan techniques and products that differ greatly from those we work with in Rwanda—think brightly-woven kente cloth, intricate wood carvings, rustic bolga straw baskets, handmade ceramic beads, and more. 

The most compelling reason behind our expansion to Ghana, however, was the deep need for social impact there. While Ghana has a higher GDP than Rwanda, it obscures the vast income inequality that affects the majority of its citizens. In Ghana’s poorest regions, women on average earn less than 50 cents per day, almost 70% are illiterate, and up to 50% have no formal education.

Despite these statistics, Ghana is a highly entrepreneurial country with undeniable dynamism—traveling through its busy streets it feels as though there is hardly anyone who isn’t hustling to make a living by selling some sort of product. While the energy is infectious, the overwhelming prevalence of people selling in the street illustrates the serious challenges that many Ghanaians face—lack of markets to sell their goods and lack of education needed to start and run businesses. 

The artisan sector in Ghana is no exception. Despite their incredible talent and skills, local artisans struggle to find customers for their goods and do not earn consistent or sufficient income for their work. We at Indego Africa are committed to changing that!

As of October 2015, we are now partnering with eight artisan groups in Kumasi, the capital of Ghana’s Ashanti Region, to help them improve their livelihoods and succeed as entrepreneurs. We’ve hired two fantastic staff members and are growing our vibrant Ghana product collection (check out the good stuff here.) Our Basic Business Training programs start TODAY, February 2nd, with 50 students participating Tuesday and Thursday (25 students/class) for the next six months. 

While our initial programs closely mirror those which have been so successful in Rwanda, it is important to note that, of course, there are some key differences between the two countries that have required us to adjust and recalibrate our model. For example, unlike artisans in Rwanda who almost uniformly work in structured cooperatives, artisans in Ghana tend to operate in loosely-affiliated groups and often work on their own. The artisan sector in Ghana is by and large younger than that of Rwanda and also more male-dominated, as many of the ancient crafts its artisans practice were at one time reserved for the Ashanti king and chiefs—a distinctly male domain.

While we are excited to support these male artisans, we are also fully committed to continuing our founding and driving mission of empowering women. Thus, we will take on a greater advocacy role in Ghana, educating and incentivizing local groups to employ more women, while also facilitating the formation of new women-owned artisan groups. We hope to better integrate women into the artisan sector, which will both increase its productivity and create a powerful multiplier effect across Ghanaian communities (women in the developing world on average invest 90% of their income in their families.)

The artisan sector is, in fact, the second largest employer in the developing world. Yet, despite its potential, the industry remains untapped as a resource for income generation, job creation, and economic growth. We are dedicated to changing this in Ghana, Rwanda, and beyond (!) by providing artisans with the access to markets, vocational training, and education they need to take their businesses to the next level. We hope you’ll stay tuned as we continue this adventure, creating a vibrant and empowering artisan sector for generations to come!

To support our Ghana initiative, please click here.  

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Inspiration & Impact This Giving Tuesday

#artisans, #impact, #inspiring, #givingtuesday, #ghana

This Giving Tuesday, we are inspired by the incredible artisans we’ve met in Ghana who—against all odds—are determined to create brighter futures for themselves and their families.

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Since the beginning of Indego days, it has been our vision to change the lives of female artisans across Africa. That’s why, after eight years of impact in Rwanda, we are so excited to bring our mission to Ghana and empower more women who are deeply in need of resources and opportunities.

In Ghana’s poorest regions…

  • women on average earn less than 50 cents per day
  • almost 70% are illiterate
  • up to 50% have no formal education 

We are committed to addressing these inequities by providing artisans with opportunities to earn sustainable income, receive education, and achieve their dreams.

In January of 2016, we plan to complete our Ghana launch and bring life-changing economic empowerment and education programs to more than 150 local artisans.

But we need your support to make it happen. Help make an impact this Giving Tuesday.

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Meet The New Leadership Academy Class

#education, #leadership academy, #impact

We are thrilled to welcome the newest class of aspiring leaders, entrepreneurs, and businesswomen to our Leadership Academy! Following a highly successful first semester filled with incredible business innovation, peer-to-peer mentorship & entrepreneurial creativity, we can’t wait for what the next six months have in store.

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Our second group of 25 students began classes on June 9th, 2015 which kicked off with an orientation and Google Chromebook training session. Since technology use is an integral part of our curriculum (and our students’ ability to access international markets!) we have put that at the forefront of our semester this year to ensure that all of our students start at the same level.

The second week of classes focused on inventory management and cooperative organization – lessons designed to help our partners lay the foundation for successful businesses. During Week 2, we sat down with some of our students (at break-time – they’re busy!) to hear more about their thoughts on the Academy and goals for the future. Here’s what they had to say:

Rebecca Ingabire, Advisor at Agatako Cooperative (25 years old)

“I wanted to enroll in the Leadership Academy for the opportunity to work with other women, build my confidence, and open my mind. Education is important because it will allow me to acquire the knowledge I need to compete in the labor market and grow and develop as a person. Someday, I’d like to open my own mini-market as well as a public speaking club where I can practice my communication skills.”

Therese, Cocoki Cooperative (39 years old)

“As a Student Fellow, I want to help other students in the class learn and also to improve my own knowledge about how to run a business. I’m most excited to learn bookkeeping and computer skills.”

Uwase Agatha, Auditor at Imirasire Cooperative (39 years old)

“I want to participate in the Leadership Academy in order to gain the knowledge needed to effectively perform my duties as an auditor. I am most excited to learn about wealth management and recording financial transactions. Education can help you to become a leader in your cooperative because when you are educated, people have more confidence in you to lead them. I want to become more innovative at making products and be a really good entrepreneur by 2017.”

Leonie Mukarukundo, Vice President of the Hope Cooperative at The Ingenzi Knit Union (36 years old)

“Education is important because it gives you knowledge. It will help me to help my children. My goal for them is to attend school through the university level and get the education that I did not have the chance to receive.” 

Chantal Nyirambali, President of Imirasire Cooperative (50 years old)

“I am most excited to learn about marketing and leadership. Education is important because it helps you to get advanced knowledge and allows you to grow. My goal is to be able to fully provide for my family and be a role model to women in my community.”

Aren’t these women just amazing?! We certainly think so! Stay tuned for more insider info throughout the semester on our partners’ progress in and outside of the classroom – there will surely be much to share!

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

Click here to learn more

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Fighting HIV/AIDS through economic opportunity

#inspiring, #impact, #community

More than 200,000 people between the ages of 15-24 live with HIV/AIDS in Rwanda. Even more are affected by the disease – struggling with taking care of ill family, or dealing with the loss of parents, guardians, or other relatives.

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At Indego Africa, we see firsthand the devastating effects that HIV/AIDS can have on individuals and communities in Rwanda. That’s why we are thrilled to partner with CHABHA (Children Affected by HIV/AIDS) to help provide employment & vocational training to the ISANO cooperative – a group of talented young people, all of whom are affected in some way by HIV/AIDS. CHABHA is a nonprofit that partners with community-based organizations in Rwanda and Burundi to support children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS and poverty. The young people CHABHA works with come from the poorest families in their communities, with parents or guardians who are unable to provide for them.

When discussing HIV/AIDS in Rwanda, it is important to acknowledge the 1994 genocide that contributed significantly to its spread. During those 100 days, an estimated 250,000 – 500,000 women were raped, often by known HIV+ men, as a weapon of genocide. Today, survivors and their families continue to struggle with the aftermath of this devastating violence.

While young people in Rwanda, and around the world, are often the most vulnerable population affected by HIV/AIDS, they are also determined to rise above it. The young people of the ISANO cooperative – an Indego Africa & CHABHA partner – are no exception.

ISANO is a weaving cooperative in the Kicukiro district of Rwanda. It was founded in 2013 by entrepreneurial high school student, Celine Mudahakana (in partnership with CHABHA’s Project Independence Initiative) in order to create a sustainable source of income for young people affected by HIV/AIDS. Most of ISANO’s members had dropped out of school because they could not afford to pay the fees. Without education or income-earning opportunities, these young adults and their families were living a life of abject poverty.

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of education and economic empowerment to transform lives. That’s why we are thrilled to partner withISANO to create beautiful woven products – like a loomed linen spring scarf collection – that provide its artisans with opportunities to earn sustainable, fair-trade income and to learn valuable business skills along the way.

Opportunities like these not only help young people affected by HIV/AIDS escape from poverty, but also help them gain something of immense value: hope. By developing useful, life-long skills, and building self-confidence in the process, ISANO’s artisans are now looking towards the future with hopefulness, rather than despair. They are seeking new ways to grow their cooperative, generating innovative business ideas, and – to quote our long-time artisan partner, Emelienne – “dreaming dreams they did not know it was possible to dream.”

We are honored to work with these brave young people who are not only creating brighter futures for themselves and their families but also serving as role models for others – showing them that they too can take ownership of their futures.

Celine, ISANO’s founder, is thrilled at all the progress that the members of ISANO have made. Her dreams for their future? “I want [ISANO] to influence other generations,” she says, “[I want them] to bring more people into this project and other projects like these so that all young people who do not have opportunities can have the chance to become financially independent.”

We couldn’t agree more and are deeply excited to continue to work with and support ISANO and CHABHA in the years to come, helping more young people to develop life-changing skills.

You can learn more about Indego Africa and the ISANO collection here.

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Meet The Graduating Class

#artisans, #inspiring, #impact, #leadership academy, #education, #entrepreneurs

We are so proud of the first graduating class of our Leadership Academy! After six months of advanced business & leadership training, these 25 talented & ambitious artisans are off to do great things (including opening a store together in Kigali!).

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As we welcome in our newest class of 25 students, we want to take a moment to hear from some of our a-m-a-z-i-n-g recent grads about their time at the Academy. Below they weigh in on this past semester, sharing favorite classes, proudest moments, and what they’ll miss the most.

Immaculee, Agatako Cooperative

I enjoyed the class on defining leadership because it helped us understand the qualities a good leader should have, which I believe will enable us to work well with other members of the cooperatives.

Jacqueline, Twiyubake Cooperative

I was so proud when I was able to teach the lesson on inventory to the rest of my colleagues at Twiyubake because I understood the topic so well. Being able to share this knowledge and put it to use was a huge moment for our cooperative.

Annociata, Abasangiye Cooperative

I’ll miss our break times because this was when people shared their stories. I found them all so interesting.

Anne Marie, Cocoki Cooperative

My proudest moment was being able to use a Chromebook for the first time, and use the Internet for research.

Claudine, Imirasire Cooperative

I will miss the teaching most. We got thorough explanations of each topic to ensure that everyone understood.

Lenatha, Imirasire Cooperative

My favorite class was the one on filing and safe-guarding the cooperatives’ records because in my cooperative, we hardly kept our documents but after this lesson, we learned how to file and keep every document especially important ones like our rent agreement.

Immaculee, Ibyishimo Cooperative

My proudest moment was when Rosine {The Leadership Academy’s Head Teacher} told me that I had leadership qualities and that I spoke like a leader when giving a speech.

Epiphanie - Ejo Hazaza Cooperative

I enjoyed the class on working with banks because I learned how to ask for a loan and how to manage the cooperative’s money well.

Illuminee – Covanya Cooperative

I will miss being around the other students. They are like my family.

We hope you’ve enjoyed hearing the inside scoop from some of our impressive Leadership Academy graduates! We can’t wait to share what they do next as they take the lead in their cooperatives & communities. Stay tuned for more insider info soon-to-come on our newest class of entrepreneurial all-stars whose Academy semester has only just begun…

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

Click here to learn more

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Investing In Education With Same Sky!

#artisans, #education, #impact

At Indego Africa, we believe deeply in the power of education to transform lives. That’s why we are so proud {& excited!} to partner with Same Sky to provide their artisans with entrepreneurial education through our business training program!

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Same Sky is a trade-not-aid jewelry company that works to create employment opportunities for women in Rwanda {and the USA} who are struggling to lift themselves out of extreme poverty. Their vision is to give a second chance to all women living under the same sky {hence, the catchy name} and now they want to take their vision even further by providing their artisans with education. We couldn’t be more on board!

The inaugural semester of our Indego Africa x Same Sky business training program began on June 5th with 16 of Same Sky’s artisans in the class, all of whom are also members of Avega Agahoza (Association of Widows of the Genocide). Having faced profound hardships in their lives, these women are eager to further their business education, take their entrepreneurial skills to the next level, and create better opportunities for themselves, their families, and their communities. 

Through our business training program – taught by our very own Education Associate, Modeste Ngabonziza – these 16 students will learn lessons in: cooperative management, growing and expanding a business, budgeting, strategic planning, and leadership skills {the same business curriculum taught at our partner co-ops}. With this valuable knowledge, women will be able to become confident empowered businesswomen and lift themselves & their families out of poverty.

We are thrilled to partner with a company like Same Sky whose mission so much aligns with our own. Here’s to education & empowerment for all women in Rwanda & under the same sky! 

Learn more about Same Sky >

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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


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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Congrats Grads!

#inspiring, #artisans, #education, #leadership academy, #indegodiaries, #impact

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!

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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. 

Click here to learn more

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The Lovely Mama Makers of Umutima Cooperative

#forthebabes, #impact, #artisans, #indegodiaries

The lovely ladies of Umutima {which means “heart” in Kinyarwanda} have played a big role in our brand new collection for little ones by beautifully hand-sewing many of the pattern-happy items on our nursery line – everything from rompers to playmats to turbans & more!

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These talented women – most of whom are also mamas – inspire us everyday with their beautiful artistry, determination, and dreams for the future. We chatted with Umutima’s advisor, Monica Tabet-Gugolz, and a few of the ladies themselves to find out more about this wonderful cooperative and to hear what they had to say about our nursery collection. Read on to find out! 


Originally from Switzerland, Monica moved to Rwanda in 2013 looking to become involved with a grassroots women’s organization. She began volunteering with the Nyamirambo Women's Center – an institution which helps women continue their education and gain better employment opportunities – but soon realized that the Center was too dependent on outside funding and lacked a means to sustain itself. To address this issue, Monica began teaching some of the women how to apply hand-stitches to African wax print fabric. Slowly but surely this dedicated bunch learned how to sew everything from home décor to children’s clothing, with an emphasis on quality and detail. 

Today there are nearly 30 women involved in the project and they have organized themselves into a well-run cooperative known for its beautiful craftsmanship. Here’s what Monica had to say about working with Umutima on our nursery collection: 

We have loved working with Umutima to create beautiful products for our nursery line - what are your thoughts on the collection? 

The collection is so beautiful and we feel that Indego Africa reflects Umutima's spirit perfectly. To see our products in the nursery collection validates all the hard work we have put into creating Umutima and gives us hope for our future. I still cannot believe this is happening!

As a mother yourself, what product from our nursery collection would you most like to give to your little one(s)? 

For me the baby blanket/playmat is the item I love the most. It is Umutima's very first product and I remember how much effort it took to get the final product right and to teach the women to stitch them. 

What is the process like working with artisans to create a product by hand from start to finish?

At the moment I am in charge of design and new ideas. I then introduce the new idea to the women and we work on making the sample. Sometimes this involves looking for external artisans (for example for basketry) and this can take time. Once we are happy with the sample, the women working with me on it will teach the other ladies. 

It takes a lot of patience and understanding, because the products that we make are "luxury" items in Rwanda. They are not products that are necessary to daily life here, so it is sometimes difficult for the artisans to understand why we cannot accept products that are not finished correctly. I put a lot of time and effort into quality control and making sure the details are finished correctly, but they now know that if our clients come back it is because of our attention to detail and so they accept the fact that I can be demanding. 

There is one story that I will always remember. One of our tailors, Francine, when she started working for us found it really difficult to sew straight. The very first products we gave her were our aprons, which have a pocket in the front. No matter how much she tried, the pockets were never straight and each apron had to be done twice or even thrice. But Francine persevered and when she was finally able to make an apron that was perfect the first time, we both ended up with tears of happiness. Today Francine is one of the tailors that made the baby rompers for Indego Africa!

What inspires you about the women you work with? 

The thing that inspires me the most about the women I work with is the fact that no matter what they have gone through in their lives they still have the strength and the passion to learn new things and work hard to earn a living. I respect the pride they put into their work and the fact that from the start they took ownership over Umutima. 

We also interviewed three of Umutima’s talented mama makers to hear their thoughts on the nursery collection and what it means to be a working mom.

Francine – 8 Children 

Which product from the nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's romper, because when I was asked to be one of the tailors to make the rompers for Indego Africa it meant a lot to me. When I first joined Umutima I struggled a lot with the finishing details of the products I was asked to sew. I always had to redo them because there was always something not straight or uneven. But I really worked hard to improve myself and slowly I saw the improvement. To be making the rompers means that I am now considered one of the top tailors of Umutima and this makes me proud.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

Joining Umutima has changed my life forever. I learn so much and I do it with other women, so I do not feel alone. I can now contribute to the finances of my family and this is a huge step for me. 

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

I want my children to be able to have an education and to be able to one day earn a living. 

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

It is important because I can contribute to my family's needs. I can help pay school fees and medical bills.

Houssina – 3 children

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's romper, because I worked with Monica to develop the first sample for this product and in our catalogue we call it the "Houssina jumpsuit". To see the picture in Indego Africa's catalogue made me happy. 

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

I am passionate about being a tailor and each day I learn something new with Umutima. I like being part of a team and not working by myself. I know that I can count on my Umutima friends if I need help.

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

I want to be able to provide my children with a good education so that they can have a better future.

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

I feel proud being an Umutima member. I used to work part time, but now it is a big difference bringing home my monthly salary. With money gained at Umutima I can do a lot of things. I look after my children, I pay school fees, I can pay for rent. I feel independent and proud contributing without asking for help.     

Mayimuna – 7 children

Which product from your nursery collection do you like the most? 

My favorite product is Umutima's playmat/baby blanket. I was one of the first Umutima's ladies and the baby blanket was our very first product. I remember how hard it was to make the stitched straight and regular. I am now considered one of the best hand-stitchers in our group and I can even make bedspreads. I never imagined that something I make with my hands would reach the other side of the world.

What do you enjoy about coming into work everyday? 

I have found great joy being a member of the Umutima. It is a place where I am happy and have found a social community which gives me great support. I earn an income and find peace in knowing that my children will not go hungry.     

What are your dreams for your children's futures?

My children are already grown, but I hope that they can always have enough to live and to always be healthy.

What does it mean to be a "working mom"?

I have a job that I like and I don't have to wait for my husband to do everything for me. Working gives me independence and pride. 


What an amazing group of ladies! We are proud to be their partners and are thankful to Monica and the rest of the artisans of Umutima for welcoming us into their world! Shop the nursery products – hand-stitched and made with love - by the mama makers of Umutima!

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Introducing ISANO - Loomed with Love

#impact, #artisans, #handmade, #indegodiaries

We are so excited about the launch of our spring scarf collection - not only because we love the color & feel of these woven beauties, but also because we are deeply inspired by the story behind them.

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This collection was made by ISANO – a cooperative of 12 talented young people in Rwanda, all of whom are affected in some way by HIV/AIDS. The group was started in 2013 by Rwandan-born teenager, Celine Mudahakana, who was at the time a high school student living in the U.S. In the summer of 2012, Celine returned to Rwanda to volunteer with CHABHA (Children Affected By HIV/AIDS), a nonprofit that partners with community-based organizations in Rwanda and Burundi to support young people affected by AIDS and poverty. Witnessing the difficult circumstances in which teenagers her own age were living, Celine felt compelled to do something more.

The following year, while taking a weaving class at her high school in Vermont, Celine had an idea: if she could teach vulnerable young people in Rwanda how to weave too, she could help them to develop a valuable skill and, in turn, earn an income. From there, ISANO was born.

Over the course of the next few months, Celine worked tirelessly to raise money for her cause, which she did, in part, by weaving her own scarves and selling them to people in her community. Eventually, with the help of friends and family, she raised enough funds to purchase four eight-harness looms for her artisan project and to cover the costs of a trip to Rwanda for herself and her classmates to use their weaving skills to make a difference.

Celine helped to develop a new vocational training program under CHABHA’s Project Independence initiative, from which 12 young people were chosen to participate. All of them were not in school, despite being of school age – most had been forced to drop out after primary school because their parents could not afford to pay the school fees. Without education or income-earning opportunities, these young adults & their families were living a life of abject poverty.

Celine set out on a mission to change that. Over the course of several weeks, she and her classmates taught these students how to weave using foot-looms - a skill which they picked up quickly and with much enthusiasm. Two years later, the artisans of ISANO are masterful weavers, creating beautifully crafted fabrics, scarves, wall hangings & more.

We are so thrilled to be able to partner with a cooperative like this which is not only creating products we love, but is also part of a larger mission to change the future for young people affected by HIV/AIDS. This disease continues to be an epidemic in many parts of Rwanda, and we are honored to work with these brave young people who are showing others that they too can take ownership of their futures.

Celine is thrilled at all the progress that the members of ISANO have made. Over the past two years, she says, they have gone from being shy to exuberantly confident and have developed valuable business and leadership skills along the way. Her goal for them is to: “become economically stable, earn a steady income, and escape from poverty,” she says. “I want them to influence other generations and to bring more people into this project and other projects like these so that all young people who do not have opportunities can have the chance to become financially independent.”

We couldn’t agree more & are so excited to continue to work with and support ISANO and CHABHA in the years to come, helping more young people to develop life-changing skills. We hope you’ll show your support too! 

Shop the ISANO scarf collection and Indego spring here

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Two decades after the genocide, empowering female entrepreneurs in Rwanda

#artisans, #inspiring, #community, #entrepreneurs, #impact, #leadership academy

April 7th, 2015 marks the 21st commemoration of the Rwandan genocide, when more than 800,000 people were killed in 100 days. Indego Africa is a nonprofit social enterprise empowering Rwandan women to lead their country forward.

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originally posted on


“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.

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Crazy for Cowhorn: Indego Africa x Olivia Knox

#artisans, #collaboration, #impact, #handmade, #africa

If you haven’t noticed already: we’re crazy for cowhorn – its versatility, natural variation, and stark, organic beauty. It looks like you love it too because – due to growing demand for our cowhorn products – we recently began partnering with Uganda-based cowhorn supplier, Olivia Knox, to bring you more of this stunning material!

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Olivia Knox, founded by Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox, ethically manufactures products made out of Ankole cowhorn with the dual goal of bringing East African craftsmanship to luxury and lifestyle markets and conserving the indigenous Ankole cow, which is at risk of becoming extinct.

Ankole cows are known for their magnificent horns and are central to the rich culture and history of Uganda’s Bahima tribe, to which Olivia belongs. She says: 

“My people came from the horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Egypt, Somalia – nobody really knows. We migrated with our cows, looking for greener pastures. Our whole life revolved around this cow. It’s a distinct breed - with the largest horns of all the bovine species. We revere it. You find it every aspect of our lives. Our song and poetry. Our dance. If a women has beautiful eyes, you tell her her eyes look like those of a newborn cow – innocent and pure.” 

Despite the historically important role of Ankole cows, Ugandan farmers have begun to crossbreed the species with western cows that produce more milk, and thus, are more economically lucrative. These new cows have increasingly smaller, more brittle horns, and as the crossbreeding process continues, may cease to have horns all together.  

Olivia Knox is working to reverse that. By building market demand for Ankole cowhorn, Olivia Knox is seeking to create economic value for the cows and for the farmers who choose to keep their breeds pure. The stakes of this project are high, Olivia says, “If these cows become extinct, my culture will go with them.” 

Olivia, while raised in Kampala, spent much time growing up on her father’s ranch in Western Uganda where he had 1,500 cows – each of which, she says, he knew by name. While the personal and cultural symbolism of Ankole cows is deeply important to her, so also is the material itself. “It has a natural finish,” she says, “and it doesn’t need be glossed. How many other natural materials can you say that about? The color range is unbelievable – from black to ivory – every piece is different. No one else can ever have the same piece you have.”

We too cannot get enough of cowhorn’s unique and stunning color variations. From pieces that evoke deep amber sunsets to dark smoky nights, the range is striking and truly beautiful. Were Ankole cows to die out it would not only be a loss for Uganda, but for the rest of the world, which would no longer be able to experience the lustrous beauty of their horns. 

Olivia Knox is dedicated not only to conserving the Ankole cow species, but also to empowering the communities in which it works. While at the moment Shanley & Olivia partner with a local factory to manufacture their products, they plan to open up a factory of their own in the near future and to hire local Ugandan women to work there. Olivia Knox's commitment to entrepreneurship, empowerment and cultural appreciation fits right in with our mission and we are proud to betheir partner!

Click here to shop our cowhorn collection and here to learn more about Olivia Knox.

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Thanks Google!

#impact, #leadership academy, #entrepreneurs, #community, #education

As the graduation ceremony for the first class of our Leadership Academy approaches on April 30th, 2015, we want to say a huge THANK YOU to Google for helping to make this first semester such a success!

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Google donated Chromebooks to our Leadership Academy in order to provide students with the critical access to technology they need to become more effective businesswomen. Over the past six months, students have learned how to use these computers to improve the organization, management, and growth potential of their cooperatives. For example, they’ve used the Chromebooks in lessons about budgeting and forecasting, cost-tracking, sales data analysis, and researching local market opportunities.

Given that women in the developing world often experience unequal access to technology, we are deeply grateful to Google for doubling down on their mission to making the world’s information “universally accessible and useful” to all. 

Equipped with new technological skills and six months of advanced business training, our artisan partners will be able to grow their own businesses and thrive as awesome, independent entrepreneurs. Thanks again, Google!

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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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Daphrose’s Cafe

#artisans, #education, #impact, #leadership academy, #inspiring

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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Spunky, ambitious, and larger-than-life, Daphrose is the proud owner of a cafe at a university in Kigali. A member of the Ingenzi Knit Union (an Indego Africa partner since 2010), Daphrose got the idea to start her own business while takings one of our business training courses. She says: "to open up a business, you need to look at demand. There was a new university coming to my neighborhood, and I thought to myself, 'the students will need somewhere to eat between classes, right?' From there, I started to determine what I would need to get my shop off the ground."

Using the lessons she had learned, Daphrose began to put her ideas into action - starting by taking out a loan. While she admits she was once scared to ask for financial help, Indego Africa's training programs taught her "to be fearless." She marched right into her bank and walked out that day with 300,000 Rwandan francs (~440 US Dollars) to cover the start-up costs of her business. One year later, she's paid back her loan and is running a successful shop selling snacks, drinks, and school supplies to around 50 customers a day.

Now a student at the Leadership Academy, Daphrose has big plans to make her business grow. Through the Academy, she says: “I learned that to sustain and grow my business, I will always need to think of new ideas – to be innovative” – and innovative is exactly what she is! For starters, Daphrose plans to sell hot food to attract customers looking for a place to get lunch. She is saving up money to purchase a photocopying machine (always in demand on a college campus!) and will charge students & teachers for use. Last but not least, she’s got plans to expand to another soon-to-opened university in Bugesera, where she will launch a second branch of her shop. 

Daphrose’s entrepreneurial success is not only an incredible feat for her, but also one that has a ripple effect in her family and community. Through income earned, Daphrose is able to support her three kids, and provide them with a life of opportunity. She is also able to provide jobs for others - at the moment employing two women, with plans to grow that number as her business expands. Finally, she serves as a role model and leader in her community, showing other women and girls just how much they too can achieve.

We are proud to partner with such an awesome lady and can’t wait to see what she’ll do next! Whatever it is, we know it will be great. 

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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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#spreadthanks, #artisans, #impact, #inspiring, #community, #hope, #peace

This November, we are taking a moment to pause and reflect on all of the things that we and our artisan partners are thankful for. We hope you'll join in! #spreadthanks

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Immaculee is one of the multitalented artisans of the Ibyishimo cooperative. A warm, kind, and inquisitive person, Immaculee exudes a quiet confidence that inspires those she meets. When she speaks, her eyes fill with a light that infuses everyone & everything around her, spreading joy & delight. 

While today Immaculee is deeply thankful for many of things in her life, her journey to find happiness was beset with painful obstacles to overcome.

When Immaculee was 12 years old, she lost her father, seven siblings, and more than 60 relatives during the Rwandan Genocide against the Tutsis. When the violence ended, and the country reeled to reinstate the rhythms of everyday life, Immaculee struggled to cope with this devastating loss. For years she had trouble concentrating in school, particularly around the annual commemoration of the Genocide. She was shaken by every problem she faced, thinking about what her father would have done and yearning for his advice. Unable to manage the emotional stress and pressures of school, Immaculee dropped out.

Faced with the necessity of supporting herself, Immaculee packed her bags and left her hometown of Gitarama for Kigali. There she found a job at a bar where, as fate would have it, she met her husband {with whom she now has two children}. After her second child was born, Immaculee decided it was time to leave her job at the bar and seek another form of employment. Luckily for us, she was introduced to Ibyishimo through her church and quickly joined the ranks of its talented artisans mastering the art of sewing with ease (and today, friendship bracelet weaving and dreamcatcher making!)

These days, Immaculee tells us that she has much to be thankful for. She is thankful to live in a safe neighborhood and provide a good life for herself and her family. She is also thankful to have earned enough money working with Indego Africa to purchase a plot of land where she will begin to build a home next year. Most importantly, she is thankful for her family and for the feeling of harmony she has in her life.

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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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P.S. - We’re Going Back-to-School!

#education, #psxindegoafrica, #impact, #leadership academy

P.S.- I Made This... supports our Leadership Academy - find out why!

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This summer, we collaborated with P.S.- I made this… on a line of vibrant, fun, & vividly colored hand-embroidered patches! As part of this partnership, Erica Domesek, the innovative DIY brand’s founder, traveled to Rwanda to meet our local team, visit our partner cooperatives, and see Indego Africa’s work in action. 

On her last day in Rwanda, Erica taught a class to fourteen of our artisan partners on creativity, branding, and starting your own business. The lesson was a precursor to the official launch of our Leadership Academy, which will provide advanced business training to our talented, entrepreneurial, and inspirational artisan partners. We were SO excited about how the class went that we wanted to hear all about it firsthand. We stopped by the P.S.- World Craftquarters to chat with Erica about her experiences in Rwanda and put the PSxIndegoAfrica patches to good use! If you donate any amount between today and Friday 9/12, you will be entered to win our signature Back-to-School backpack, decorated by Erica herself! 

When you were in Rwanda, you taught a spirited and inspiring class to our artisan partners on how you built your brand and the lessons you’ve learned along the way. What was this experience like for you?

This was one of the most memorable experiences ever.  It was an honor being in the presence of such talented women who were passionate about their craft. Being a part of their close community and speaking to them about my world was a new experience, mainly because we spoke two different languages. At first I thought it would be difficult to communicate, however there was an inherent sense of business, a shared passion to create, and a desire to learn from one another that made the day a beautiful experience that I will forever keep close to my heart.

When we hear the word education we think of opportunity and empowerment. What does education mean to you and how has it helped you become the person you are today?

The word education means something different to me everyday, as I am always evolving and try to learn something new each day. Having a diverse set of interests, as well as the ability to join a conversation while being open to listening to others, has helped me develop a deeper knowledge and capacity to expand comprehension of subjects into real life learning. Someone once told me: "talk once, listen twice" - meaning you will grow as an individual if you listen deeper and more thoughtfully. We, as humans, want to absorb as much knowledge as we can. Knowledge is power, and the most powerful thing is to pass on this knowledge to others. 

From branding to budgets, our artisan partners are excited to learn the ins and outs of all things business. What was your favorite subject to study in school and why? 

My favorite subjects were always Art and English. Finding an outlet for my creative side was important in my early development. At the time, I had no clue how these subjects would play such a prominent role in my career, however my parents always supported my creative side and encouraged me to take part in the Arts. I'm a firm believer that empowering one's passions from an early age is essential in our personal growth and evolution.

As someone who is deeply familiar with our work in Rwanda {having seen it all firsthand!}, why do you think it’s important for people to support our Leadership Academy? 

For me, it's as simple as the golden rule. We were taught: "One should treat others as one would like others to treat oneself." Spending time in a developing country where there is a lack of resources like education, technology, finances, etc. one can only think how lucky we are to grow up in a country where we are blessed with the fortune of education.  If the roles were reversed, and Americans did not have such prosperous opportunities, we would probably dream to have support, help, and guidance in our day-to-day from others who were successful in these areas.  It is in the spirit of giving and the thoughtfulness of humanity that I whole-heartedly feel a responsibility to contribute to the building blocks of the Leadership Academy.  Seeing actual results from our support and watching these women go back to their cooperatives and apply business practices and implement new ideas is a beautiful thing. 

Donate to our Leadership Academy anytime today through 9/12 – you’ll be supporting an amazing cause & be entered to win an awesome backpack - made in Rwanda and decorated by Erica herself!

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DANNIJO is Going Back-To-School

#inspiring, #leadership academy, #impact, #education

This fall, we are going back-to-school with the launch of our Leadership Academy in Kigali, Rwanda – an institution that will provide advanced business education for the incredible women entrepreneurs we partner with in Rwanda. In preparing to take our education programs to the next level, we wanted to chat with some of the amazing women we know here about what their educations have meant to them. Naturally, we thought of Danielle & Jodie Snyder: the sensational sisters behind one of our favorite jewelry brands {and a long-time Indego Africa partner!} DANNIJO. Here’s what they had to say:

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When we hear the word education we think of opportunity and empowerment. What does education mean to you and how has it helped you become the person you are today?

Danielle: When I hear the word education, I think of Malala, "Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons."  Education should be a fundamental right not a luxury--everyone should have access to it.  My education gave me confidence, passion and a strong foundation to go out into the world and achieve whatever I set my mind to. 

Jodie: Education is the basis for navigating a successful, fulfilling, and influential life. My education gave me structure and focus and motivated me to push boundaries and create greatness.  

From branding to budgets, our artisan partners are excited to learn the ins and outs of all things business. What was your favorite subject to study in school and why? 

Danielle: Psychology because it applies to every person and every profession. Understanding what motivates people and the importance of strong relationships is the foundation to my success. I also loved English and reading about people--especially in the first person. I love the way the mind works and I've always been able to empathize with genuine, honest and sensitive characters. 

Jodie: History. I loved learning about how we got to where we are today.  I also loved Math because there's always a solution. 

To support education for women in Rwanda, donate here!

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We’re Going Back-To-School

#impact, #artisans, #inspiring, #leadership academy, #education

In 2007, we set out on a journey to provide women artisans in Rwanda with access to global markets and education. We were driven by a firm belief that women, with the right resources and opportunities, could lift themselves out of poverty and drive sustainable development in their communities.

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Seven years later, we are deeply inspired by the incredible progress they have made. Despite the fact that most had their educations interrupted by the 1994 genocide {and some never went to school at all}, many of our artisan partners have mastered our current training programs. They are ready to take their educations to the next level and asked us to help them make their dreams a reality.

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

In October 2014, we plan to launch a Leadership Academy in Kigali, Rwanda that will provide free advanced business training to our talented, entrepreneurial, and inspirational artisan partners. Our goal is to provide these women with the tools they need to succeed as independent businesswomen and catalyze economic and social progress across Rwanda. 

But we need your help to make it happen! Donate here and read on to learn more.

Back-To-School-Video from Indego Africa on Vimeo.

Who, What, When, Where and Why

Here’s the who, what, where, when, and why of everything you need to know about the Leadership Academy – starting with the why:


Women have played a central role in Rwanda’s rise since the 1994 genocide.

  • They have taken on unprecedented leadership positions in government, workplaces, and community institutions, contributing significantly to their country’s economic and social progress.
  • Our artisan partners are no exception. They are emerging as inspiring leaders and entrepreneurs, eager to take on larger challenges.
  • In order to sustain this positive momentum, it is crucial that these women receive the advanced training they need to further develop and hone their business and leadership skills.

There are no other organizations currently providing this urgently-needed educational programming in a free-of-cost, easily accessible manner.


25 students from across our 18 partner cooperatives

  • These women were selected based on: commitment to their co-ops, previous leadership experience, and demonstrated business skills. Those who are unable to participate this semester will have the opportunity to reapply next semester.

4 Student Fellows  

  • The Student Fellows were selected from the pool of our 19 artisan partners who graduated from Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women initiative.Based on their previous advanced business training, these women {while still students at the Academy} will play an enhanced role in the classroom, leading weekly small discussion sessions with other students.

2 Teaching Assistants

  • Our Teaching Assistants, Emelienne {President of Cocoki Cooperative} and Modeste {long-time Generation Rwanda trainer} will assist our main teachers with lesson planning & teaching responsibilities.

Talented Teachers

  • Rosine Urujeni, our Country Director, will teach weekly classes along with an incredible group of specialists from a local NGO {more details on that collaboration to come!}


Students will study advanced business topics.

  • These will include market and customer analysis, technology, accounting, inventory, pricing, product innovation, time management and workplace health and safety.
  • The Leadership Academy syllabus was written by an expert team of volunteers including members of our Board of Directors and Regional Boards.

Students will participate in field trips, networking events, and seminars with successful local entrepreneurs.

Students will have access to an onsite Technology Center with laptops.

  • This will also be available outside of class-time for research, record-keeping, and private tutorials.

Students will apply the lessons they learn to improve the management and performance of their cooperatives.

  • This will lead to increased income generation for all of our artisan partners

Classes will take place twice a week Wednesdays {9AM-5PM} & Thursdays {9AM-3:30PM} per six-month semester.

Students will continue to work at their cooperatives all other days of the week and will receive a stipend for class time. 


The Academy will be held in an open conference  room on the 1st floor of our office building in Kigali, Rwanda.

Students traveling from outside Kigali will receive a travel stipend, housing, and meals throughout the duration of the Leadership Academy.

Seven years into our journey in Rwanda, we are closer to achieving our mission than ever before. Please help our artisan partners empower themselves, their families, and their communities now and in the years to come: Donate Now

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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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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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Rebuilding Through Design

#artisans, #handmade, #weaving, #impact

We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives.

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We’re super excited to tell you about a recent collaboration between Judith Haentjes, a Dutch product designer, and the ladies of Twiyubake—one of our first partner cooperatives. Twiyubake specializes in the art of banana leaf weaving, a complex and challenging technique. Judith, who works mainly with organic & recycled materials, embraced this challenge, collaborating with the women to create innovative new products with a distinctly geometric feel.

The women of Twiyubake are especially impressive not only for their exceptional artisanal skills, but also their backstory. The word “Twiyubake” means “to rebuild ourselves” in Kinyarwanda, and this is exactly what these women are doing. Made up of genocide widows working side-by-side with the wives of imprisoned génocidaires, this remarkable cooperative fosters unity and reconciliation in post-conflict Rwanda. Here’s what Judith had to say about working with them:

“I had the honor and pleasure to work with seven women, who are part of the Twiyubake family. I spent two weeks with them in their workspace. Together we experimented with banana leaves and developed some new products for Indego Africa. It was an absolutely touching experience for me, as they welcomed me warmly, were extremely open towards me and motivated to make the most out of the weeks.

It was definitely a new experience for both sides. Me as a European product designer travelling to the countryside of Rwanda to collaborate with women that I don’t share a language with (I had a translator) and that are culturally very different from me. And on the other side seven women from Kayonza that have a designer, a profession that they don’t fully grasp, coming to work with them. We definitely needed a warming up period with each other, but it became such a successful time because we stayed open to each other. In addition these ladies are very distinguished in their craft and have a great group dynamic, which makes it very easy to work with them. After two weeks I had learned so many things about these women’s lives and became so fond of them that it was difficult for me to leave. All of them are truly fascinating, lovely, warm and talented women.”

Photographs from Twiyubake courtesy of Judith Haentjes
Photographs from Twiyubake courtesy of Judith Haentjes
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