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Women Build Nations

Brenden Chaney @brendenchaney


Nov 27, 2012


Guest post by Karen Sherman

Interim Africa Regional Director, Women for Women International

Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is the world's largest celebration of entrepreneurship – engaging 7.5 million people each November through tens of thousands of activities around the world. GEW is held to inspire entrepreneurs to embrace innovation, imagination, and creativity in their businesses. Rwanda is marking this annual celebration for the second time. 

Entrepreneurship is a key driver of economic growth, and while Rwanda has taken major steps toward poverty reduction and supporting sustainable economic growth, poverty and economic inequality still represent big challenges for the nation. An estimated 63% of Rwandans are living on less than $1.25 per day. Women are among the most dynamic entrepreneurs in Rwanda today, in large part due to economic necessity.  

Nearly one-third of all Rwandan households are headed by women, 62% of these households live below the poverty line. Women for Women International (WfWI) targets this demographic through its integrated social and economic development program. The 50,000 women trained since 1997 are among the most marginalized in Rwanda; 65% of the women have attended primary school while only 5% have attended secondary school. The organization measures changes in women's income, assets, and savings over time as components of one of its key outcomes.

Through the program's focus on transformative learning, women come to see their role in society and the economy differently, using entrepreneurship as a means to effect change across all aspects of their lives. "When women are economically empowered, the family is economically empowered," says Gisele Uwizeye, Kayonza District's point person on gender. 

Empowerment of youth and women is this year's theme for GEW. As such, WfWI held competitions for the top women entrepreneurs across four districts where the organization works. Open to both individual entrepreneurs and group enterprises formed by program graduates, women competed on levels of business creativity, impact, and innovation.  

An average of 450 women per district competed for cash prizes with businesses across multiple sectors ranging from agriculture and food processing to handcrafts, trade and services. The panel of judges included representatives from the district, Private Sector Federation, National Women's Council, and Nike Foundation’s Girl Hub. Site visits were conducted with semi-finalists to verify business records and activities prior to announcing the winner(s) in district ceremonies. 

Khadidja Nibabyare was voted top entrepreneur from Kayonza. Selling bananas by the side of the road, Khadidja used to earn about 5,000 Rwandan francs – less than $10 – a day. She invested the program's monthly training stipend in a business making delicious banana pancakes. The business has grown substantially; Khadidja now has five employees and sells her pancakes in three communities. She makes the equivalent of $100 a day during weekdays and almost double that amount each weekend day. Like most entrepreneurs across the globe, Khadidja works nearly non-stop and is frustrated by sourcing and distribution challenges, but is determined to grow her business.

More important than the cash prize is the recognition and motivation that comes with the award. "This competition is important because it makes us visible," says Khadidja. All of the winning entrepreneurs were honored at a national celebration co-sponsored by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, UN Women, and Nike Foundation's Girl Hub among others.

Patricie Mukamazimpaka, the winner from the Gasabo District, used to survive on less than a dollar a day through seasonal work sorting coffee beans. She now has a successful import-export handcrafts business with partners in Kenya, Uganda, and Rwanda. Patricie handles $500 in transactions per week and has 25 employees. In accepting her prize, Patricie urged other women to "have the courage of working for themselves."

With economic empowerment comes heightened confidence and dignity as women overwhelmingly invest their income in improving the health, education, and nutrition of their families. Groups like Bloomberg Philanthropies understand that investing in women is in fact the gateway to economic growth and prosperity for families, communities, and nations.

Global Entrepreneurship Week is about unleashing ideas and doing what it takes to bring them to life – capturing opportunities, taking risks, solving problems, building connections, and learning from failures as well as successes. All of the competing women entrepreneurs embody these attributes and so much more. Each one is a role model and an inspiration – literally translated as “positive jealousy” in Kinyarwandan -- for women everywhere. 


tags: Africa, Rwanda, women