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Meet the inspirational female entrepreneurs of Indego Africa Leadership Academy

This blog comes to us from our partner Indego Africa, a nonprofit that empowers artisan women in Rwanda and Ghana.

Last April, we published a story on ONE.org about the inspiring female entrepreneurs we work with in Rwanda. The piece featured students from the inaugural class of the Indego Africa Leadership Academy—an institution in Kigali, Rwanda dedicated to building powerful businesswomen, entrepreneurs, and leaders across the country.

1st Graduating Class
This April—one year after their graduation—we sat down with these very same women to find out how their time at the Leadership Academy had impacted them. We wanted to know: How had their lives changed? How were they putting the business skills they had learned into action? And what were the results? The answers we got were nothing short of astounding.

But let’s take a step back. First, a few words on our Leadership Academy. The Indego Africa Leadership Academy, launched in October 2014, is a free-of-cost, six-month advanced business training program (the only one of its kind in Rwanda) that enrolls 25 students per semester. The program was created in response to the incredible achievements of some of our artisan partners who, having mastered our basic business training courses, were eager to take their education to the next level.

Students at the Leadership Academy study advanced lessons in accounting, marketing, supply chain management, product innovation, technology and more. They are then able to apply the knowledge they learn to the real-life context of their artisan enterprises, something which the World Bank contends is crucial for the long-term success and viability of business training programs in the developing world.

As one of our Leadership Academy graduates, Annonciatha, said: “Many people have vocational skills but lack business skills. Others have business skills and lack vocational skills. By combining both together, Indego Africa helps us use our knowledge to become truly competitive in the market.”

So, how are our Leadership Academy graduates using their knowledge outside of the classroom? For starters, all of our graduates have used the lessons they learned to improve the management of their businesses. They’ve set up new systems to track and manage inventory (Just walking into one of their workplaces allows you to see the difference—talk about organized shelves!); they’ve developed budgets; built out savings and growth plans; created new marketing strategies; diversified their products; instituted better bookkeeping systems and more.

As one of our graduates, Laurence, said about the artisan cooperative she is a member of, Abasangiye, “Before, we didn’t know much about how to manage a business. At the Leadership Academy, we learned how to organize our financial records, logging our expenses and revenues separately. We learned how to work with banks and opened up our first bank account. We learned the meaning of customer care and have improved the way we communicate with clients. We even created a plan to increase our revenue by 20 percent this year.”

Many students are using their Leadership Academy lessons to help generate new, local business for their artisan products. For example, one of our students, Marie Josee, said: “Before we didn’t know how to market our products. We used to sit around and wait for orders to come to us. Now, we go out into our communities and try to find markets on our own. For example, we started knitting uniforms and brought them around to local primary schools. At one of the schools, the principal loved them so much that she ordered sweaters from us on the spot.”

In addition to improvements made at their artisan cooperatives, many students have gone on to start their own businesses. While most have begun with small-scale enterprises (like selling agricultural goods or breeding livestock), others have hit the ground running with larger operations. For example, one of our graduates, Daphrose, recruited 14 people to band together and start a brick-building business, which now contracts up to 60 laborers per month depending on the project.

Daphrose said that before starting at the Leadership Academy, she noticed that there were a lot of construction projects going on in her community. She thought that there might be a good market opportunity there, but felt that she didn’t have enough money to get a business going, let alone the skills to manage it.

At the Leadership Academy, Daphrose learned how to create a viable business plan and gained the management knowledge and skills she felt she had lacked before. She also gained the confidence to recruit others from her community to set up a cooperative and pool their capital in order to get the business off the ground.

Together, they’ve created a plan to bring in 5 million Rwandan Francs by the end of the year (around $6,400 USD) and are well on their way to doing so, having already secured orders from several primary schools in their community. In Daphrose’s mind, “anything is possible if you set a goal,” and we have no doubt that she will be successful in meeting hers!

Many students also highlighted the way the Leadership Academy connects artisan women from across the country to help them learn from one another and build valuable networks. Since graduating, the Leadership Academy students continue to leverage these networks to support each other in myriad ways. For example, now when tourists come to Cocoki Cooperative and ask about where to buy traditional Rwandan baskets, Cocoki directs them to the sweetgrass-weaving cooperatives, Covanya and Imirasire. (You can find bracelets woven by women of the Imirasire Cooperative at the ONE store!)

Imirasire’s Leadership Academy graduates, recognizing the benefit of diversifying their group’s skill sets, hired the grads from Cocoki to teach their members how to sew. Since then, they have saved up money to buy several sewing machines and have begun a small apparel collection, which they showcase and sell from their workplace.

This spirit of mutual assistance—of collaboration and empowerment—is pervasive among all of our Academy graduates. As Jacqueline, the president of Twiyubake Cooperative and a Leadership Academy grad, expressed: “It’s important to me to use my knowledge to uplift others. It’s a cycle, and I want to give back.”

Today, our Leadership Academy graduates are doing exactly that—using their education to give back to their communities and make a difference in the lives of countless others. They are building powerful networks of skilled, confident, and hopeful women who are creating employment opportunities and economic growth across their country, all while setting new precedents for what women can achieve.

We couldn’t be more proud of the first graduating class of our Leadership Academy and are thrilled to report that the results continue to come in! Of the 25 students in our second Leadership Academy class, 52 percent started a new business, 12 percent expanded a pre-existing business; and the remaining 36 percent plan to start a new business in the near future. These women have employed eight additional people so far, with, we’re sure, many more to come!

As Annonciatha said, “There is where we have come from and where we are going. Twenty-two years ago, Rwanda was in a dark place. Today, our leaders are moving our country towards development, and we are helping them get there.”

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