Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Visiting Rwanda: Observations from a Class of GraduatesPublished: August 16, 2011
Sharolyn Arnett is executive education program manager at William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan, which partners with the School of Finance and Banking in Kigali to teach women entrepreneurs in Rwanda business skills through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Women initiative. During a recent trip to Rwanda, Arnett spent some time with the program scholars. The sixth group graduated at the end of June 2011.
A 10,000 Women graduation ceremony can be a reflection of the creativity and enthusiasm of the participating program scholars. Arnett's visit with the latest group of grads was no exception, she says. During the ceremony, women from certificate classes over the past few years performed a skit to demonstrate the various industries in which Rwanda's 10,000 Women scholars work.
"Placidie Murebwayire [the owner of a fashion business] wore a suit created by her business and used a computer bag made by another graduate, Emelienne's, cooperative," says Arnett, who manages the 10,000 Women program for William Davidson Institute. "She also used a water cooler produced by Immaculee," who graduated at the beginning of the program in 2009, "and was served lunch by graduate Esther Karefuru, who owns a restaurant." A dance troupe, operated by previous graduate Betty, performed for the graduation crowd. The 10,000 Women scholars held a min-expo to show off their products and services -- everything from hand-woven baskets to fruit juice -- to Rwanda's minister of Trade and Industry, who attended the ceremony.
Prior to the graduation, Arnett visited two of the program's most recent winners of the business plan competition, which awards cash prizes to the women scholars who write and present the strongest plans. "They caught my attention because they are both working in male-dominated industries," notes Arnett. She shared what she learned about these non-traditional women entrepreneurs:
Taking On the Industrial Sector
Aimee Claudine Tuyisenge, who runs a metal works business, is an only child who was raised alongside her boy cousins. She makes doors and windows and repairs cars and machines. She admits that she chose this industry because it is virtually a male-only field. She finished welding school in 2007 and worked at a metal works shop until she was able to open her own business in 2008. Although she was the first in her family to enter this field, Tuyisenge says that other family members have seen her success and have started working with metal. While she enjoys the challenge of competing in a male-dominated field, she says that it is difficult to overcome customers' initial preferences to work with men. She adds that the customer service and marketing sessions from the 10,000 Women training at the School of Finance and Banking helped her strategize to expand her business. She also knows her competitors' pricing and payment plans, and thus can offer competitive rates.
Agnes Umumaranyota owns a housing construction company, part of another male-dominated industry in Rwanda. "Being a woman in this industry means having to work harder to build a reputation and trust," she says. Umumaranyota decided to go into the housing industry in 2004 after working at a bank. She noticed that customers from the housing industry seemed to be doing well financially, and decided to try it for herself. Umumaranyota admits that it was difficult to get contracts at first. She had to do a lot of talking to convince clients to work with her. Most of the homes Umumaranyota has built are outside Kigali, in the outer provinces. She purchased a truck to transport supplies, equipment and workers to the sites.
Umumaranyota compares her management style to that of most of her male counterparts. She tries to create open communication to solve issues, as well as work around sick leave, which she says is rare in the construction field. Umumaranyota sees women business owners as more concerned with the overall well being of their employees. "Firstly, in the housing construction business, if you are sick for more than a day or two, you can expect to lose your job. This is a hardship on a family, especially when an employee can be sick for several weeks," she says. Umumaranyota tries to be more understanding of her employees' needs. She first asks them to suggest a substitute to work in their place. If they don't have one, she uses temporary workers. By being loyal to her employees, they are loyal to her. Instead of her employees trying to hide their mistakes or concerns from her, "we have the trust to work it out together," notes Umumaranyota.
The Next 33So many of Rwanda's 10,000 Women graduates have amazing stories to tell, concludes Arnett. And the next group of scholars is already poised for business growth. The seventh Goldman Sachs Entrepreneurship Certificate program, which started classes in late July, involves 33 women selected from more than 220 applicants. Their first lesson? Studying the story "Stone Soup," a folk tale in which hungry strangers persuade local townspeople to give them food as a way to better understand the entrepreneurial spirit.