Econet founder and CEO Strive Masiyiwa takes his over 903,000 followers on facebook through his thoughts on entrepreneurship and business growth. Here he shares his thoughts on leading women entrepreneurs in Africa who have returned home to contribute to the growth of their country. Enjoy.
AfricanLionessRoar: African women entrepreneurs returning home to help rebuild their country – Joy Ndunguste and Janet Nkubana of Rwanda.
In mid-1994 I stopped at small farming town in Northern Zimbabwe called Karoi, to buy some fishing supplies ahead of a long weekend on Lake Kariba. The headlines of a week-old international magazine on a newsstand caught my attention:
__”There are no more devils in Hell because they have all headed down to Rwanda.” (It quoted a Catholic priest who had witnessed the ongoing genocide in Rwanda).
At a time with no Internet and little access to CNN, this was my first real insight into the chilling developments taking place in Rwanda that year. . . the most tragic event during my lifetime! (I’m 54 years old).
#Over 800,000 Rwandans, almost all from the Tutsi ethnic group, were hacked to death in just 100 days. I was totally gutted beyond consolation at what I read as events unfolded, with the world seemingly unable to stop it.
Fast-forward 21 years, and I am flying over the Rwanda countryside with Sir Richard Branson, in a helicopter, only two weeks ago. It’s hard to imagine that a country can be rebuilt in such a short period! A seasoned philanthropist and investor in Africa, it was his first time to Rwanda, and still he marvelled at this extraordinary little country. And even though I’ve been there many times myself, I too never stop to marvel at the energy and hope of the miracle of Rwanda’s rise from the ashes.
I call it “the country that hope built”…
Rwanda is a remarkable country, and every young African must seek to visit it during their lifetime. It will inspire you!
There are amazing entrepreneurs in Rwanda too, and many are beginning to gain recognition outside their country and continent. At the forefront is an African Lioness sister team — Joy Ndunguste and Janet Nkubana.
I first heard of Joy, not in Rwanda but 10,000 km away at a global business conference in Seattle USA where her jewelry was being displayed and bought by some of the most powerful and wealthiest businesswomen in America, and even by stars like Alicia Keys and Queen Latifah. It was sleek, upmarket, and expensive too!
“This is from Rwanda!” exclaimed one. Another remarked that you could buy the full range of Gahaya Links products in Macy’s of New York, and other leading stores!
What was it King Solomon said about your gift bringing you before kings?
Joy and Janet’s story is “the bittersweet” of Rwanda:
a bitter tragedy caused by hatred on rampage.
the sweet triumph of a people that refused to be cowered by hatred.
Raised in a refugee camp in Uganda, Joy and Janet learned to weave from their mother. Later Joy made her way to the U.S. where she studied and settled for a while as a refugee. Janet stayed with her parents in Uganda, but with hearts rooted in Rwanda and Africa, they returned after the 1994 genocide was over, and soon set up an organization to help women back home.
How did they do it? The genocide left tens of thousands of widows and orphans, (and women trying to raise families who’s husbands were now imprisoned). Janet and Joy saw many such devastated women on the streets of Kigali trying to sell or trade hand-made baskets for food. Their traditional crafts had potential but needed design help, and their market in Kigali was too small to be profitable for anyone! So, together they leveraged their respective strengths in business, design, marketing and networking and founded Gahaya Links.
Starting with about five women weavers, today Gahaya Links is a thriving export business enterprise, providing training and jobs for over 4,000 women weavers across Rwanda! (in 52 savings cooperatives).
People not only travel far and wide to see their amazing work and factory, it’s almost part of the Rwanda must-see tourist attraction. More, they’re shrewd businesswomen who since 2004 have exported Rwandan-made goods to some leading markets in the world!
Joy and Janet’s vision is unique in that it captures so much of the modern entrepreneur that I admire:
# the business model was driven by the desire to respond to a human need;
# they are both social and business entrepreneurs;
# they are uncompromising when it comes to quality;
# they work to mentor and coach young people, especially women;
Joy and Janet, #AfricanLionessRoar.
Lots of respect, ma’ams.
To be continued.
Editor’s Note: This article is culled from Strive Masiyiwa’s facebook page.