Rwanda has recently been ranked the Best Place to be a Woman in Africa, according to the Global Gender Gap Report, and ranked 6th overall in the world in terms of closing gender gaps. It is also one of the most encouraging and supportive places to be a woman entrepreneur in Africa. Rwanda is highly progressive in seeing entrepreneurship as a key driver for transformation, economic development and business growth in the country, particularly for women.
All this month at Lionesses of Africa, we have been profiling a number of the leading women entrepreneurs who are building great businesses, brands and social enterprises, helping to put the country firmly on the pan-African and global map. Here are 20 of the inspirational women entrepreneurs in the country who have captured our attention.
Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana, co-founders of the truly inspirational Gahaya Links Cooperatives, empowering Rwanda’s craftswomen.
Shortly after the Rwandan genocide ended in 1994, inspirational sisters Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana had a vision to turn ancient basket weaving skills into a source of livelihood for thousands of rural women. Many of the women, like Janet and Joy themselves, were returning refugees or survivors of the genocide. The women started weaving baskets in exchange for food. Initially bringing together about twenty women, the sisters taught them how to weave and how to enhance their weaving skills with new design techniques. Today, Gahaya Links manages a network of over 4,000 weavers across the country, organised into around 72 cooperatives that help provide much needed income and stability. The sisters have successfully opened the business to international markets, partnering with the likes of Macy’s, Walmart, Oprah Magazine, Anthropologie, Crate & Barrel, and Kate Spade. Today, Gahaya Links "Peace Baskets” are sold and admired the world over. Read more about Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana.
Lydie Hakizimana is co-founder and Managing Director of Drakkar Limited, a game-changing company in Rwanda’s education environment.
For entrepreneur and passionate educationalist, Lydie Hakizimana, a specialist reseller and distributor of educational textbooks, it all started back in 2006 when this avid bookworm decided to follow her passion and opened a small bookshop. Before long, her entrepreneurial instincts had her developing relationships with numerous publishing companies. Eventually, she struck a deal that was to be the making of her company with UK publisher, Pearson Education. Drakkar rapidly evolved into a leading educational textbooks reseller in Rwanda, becoming an important enabler of her country's vision for building a knowledge-based economy. Today, Lydie manages 45 employees and thirty part-time distributors covering the five provinces of Rwanda. Lydie has also added exclusive distributor deals with Longman, Heinemann and Penguin to her Pearson contract. She also opened her first school in 2015. Read more about Lydie Hakizimana.
Sonia Mugabo, founder of exciting Rwandan fashion brand, Sonia Mugabo (SM).
Sonia Mugabo is one of a new generation of talented fashionpreneurs Rwanda, building an exciting and unique fashion brand which she established back in 2013. It was born out of Sonia’s strong interest in design; and the desire to tap into the existing local artisan talent to make high quality men and womenswear. Sonia Mugabo develops 2 collections each year, and all year round makes bespoke items for its clientele. A pioneer of Rwanda’s fashion industry, Sonia is setting the standard for Rwandan fashion in global and local markets. Read Sonia Mugabo's startup story.
Bernadette Umunyana, founder of handcrafted accessory brand, Dokmai Rwanda.
A passion for handcrafted accessories, combined with a sense of pride for Made in Rwanda products, inspired Dokmai Rwanda founder, Bernadette Umunyana, to create a company and a brand that would celebrate the skills and raw materials of Rwanda. Today, her company is producing a range of high quality leather fashion accessories that are proudly made and designed in Rwanda, and custom tailored to meet the needs of the brand’s discerning customers. Read Bernadette Umunyana's startup story.
Kevine Kagirimpundu and Ysolde Shimwe, co-founders of beautiful handcrafted shoe brand, Uzuri K&Y .
In the world of beautiful handcrafted shoes, there is an exciting new brand emerging on the global scene. Kevine Kagirimpundu and Ysolde Shimwe are co-founders of Uzuri K&Y in Rwanda, a company creating beautiful handcrafted shoes with a unique Rwandan aesthetic. These two former college classmates shared a passion for fashion and a desire to start a business venture that would create much needed jobs for their community. Despite little means, they decided to kickstart their business whilst still studying, launching Uzuri K&Y back in 2013. Today, it is an exciting Rwandan shoe brand, tipped to win new fans globally. Read Kevine Kagirimpundu and Ysolde Shimwe's startup story.
Linda Mukangoga Ndungutse and Candy Basomingera, co-founders of Rwandan fashion and interior design brand, haute | baso.
haute | baso in Rwanda was founded by Linda Mukangoga Ndungutse and Candy Basomingera, two creative women who joined forces with a common vision to make Rwanda the go-to place to find quality leather products. They share a common belief in the strength of their country’s unique aesthetic, drawing inspiration from Rwanda’s dynamic and culturally vibrant history while adding a modern touch. Their designs successfully merge different artisan skillsets and creative processes that produce unique and marketable pieces. Their mission is to translate their passion for fashion, art and design into a vehicle for positive change, providing a creative outlet for local and regional artisans while promoting job creation. Read Linda Mukangoga Ndungutse and Candy Basomingera's startup story.
Teta Isibo, founder of Inzuki Designs, a highly creative jewellery, accessories and interior decor brand in Rwanda.
Teta Isibo is the creative mind behind Inzuki Designs, a dynamic young Rwandan brand specializing in jewellery, accessories and interior decor hand-made from local materials by local crafters. With no initial background in fashion or business, Teta quit her job as an urban planner with the city of Kigali to start her own business, which today is hugely successful. The brand Inzuki (the name means ‘bees’ in the local language) is part of a wider Rwandan cultural Renaissance, seeing talented and innovative women entrepreneurs, particularly millennials, launching exciting new businesses that celebrate and embrace a traditional design aesthetic but with a contemporary flair. Read Teta Isibo's startup story.
Gloria Kamanzi Uwizera, founder of Glo Creations, a fashion and home decor brand celebrating the art of batik in Rwanda.
Gloria Kamanzi Uwizera is a rising star on the Rwandan design and entrepreneurship scene, founding Glo Creations in Rwanda back in 2008. This exciting and distinctive textile design company produces fashionable clothing and home décor items that celebrate batik art, using a uniquely African hand dyeing and printing technique. In 2012, she was awarded the Best Young Entrepreneur award in Kigali by the Ministry of Labour and Public Service. In the same year, she was the 1st runner up (tailoring cluster) in the HEAP (Handicraft Excellence Award Programme), a national competition for handcrafts organised under the Ministry of Commerce. She was also recognised for her work and entrepreneurial approach on International Women’s Day on 8th March, at a prestigious Gala Dinner in Kigali. Read Gloria's startup story.
Natacha Nduwimana, founder of a world-class event management and brand marketing company, Jelim Premier Events.
In the highly competitive world of event production, understanding the experiential brand and marketing needs of customers is key, and if there is one company that understands this fact it is Jelim Premier Events. Founder Natacha Nduwimana is an entrepreneur with a keen eye for detail and a comprehensive understanding of the power of brand positioning through event activation, delivering innovative and high quality event experiences in the countries she works in. Read Natacha Nduwimana's startup story.
Sandra Idossou, founder of The ServiceMag, an innovative media company on a mission to improve customer centricity in the country.
Good customer service is so critical to success in all aspects of entrepreneurial life, and therefore the concept and ethos behind Sandra Idossou’s company, The ServiceMag, couldn’t have come at a better time. The ServiceMag is a Rwandan based company created six years ago with four different offerings: firstly, it is an educational print and online, free magazine targeted at people working in the service industry. It deals with issues on Human Resources; Customer Service; Sales & Marketing; Finance; Entrepreneurship, etc. The ServiceMag is an insightful, colourful magazine in English, French and Kinyarwanda, with a 5000 copy print run and a dynamic online version. The company also has a range of social media platforms, consulting services to providers, anda corporate business event service that aims to offer highly conducive knowledge building sessions and networking platforms. Sandra is passionately committed to helping companies and organisations to improve their customer centricity and, as a result, helping to make the continent more customer focused in its entrepreneurial approach. Read Sandra Idossou’s startup story.
Mireille Karera, founder of Kora Associates, a passionate advocate of coaching and personal development in Africa.
Mireille Karera is passionate about the power of coaching, mentoring and leadership development, and has built a company on a mission to provide bespoke consulting and coaching services to clients around the world. KORA Associates is a Consulting and Coaching company headquartered in Dubai, U.A.E, with operations in Africa, including the latest subsidiary which has recently opened in Rwanda, East Africa. KORA provides bespoke consulting and coaching services to clients around the globe, specializing in three core areas Consulting, Coaching and Community. Solutions focus on: Personal Development: (Life Coaching, Mentoring, Leadership, Motivation, Executive Coaching, Talent Management); Business Development: (Growth Strategies, Sales & Marketing, Customer Services and Relationship Management, Negotiation Skills); and Community Advisory: (Rural Community Advisory, Economic Empowerment for Women) and are delivered in multiple ways, depending on clients' preferred methods. Read Mireille Karera's startup story.
Denise Umunyana and Celine Uwineza, founders of Right Seat, a company on a mission to help organisations find the best talent in the marketplace.
The challenge for any company or organisation is finding the right people and building great teams, and one entrepreneurial team is making this process a whole lot easier. Right Seat is a specialist talent management company in Rwanda, spearheaded by two young women entrepreneurs, Denise Umunyana and Celine Uwineza, who are focused on building a strong HR pipeline in the country. The company supports organisations in helping them to maximize their business performance through strategic Human Resource management. Right Seat further connects professionals to their matching interests across all industries in Rwanda. As a team and company, both are also passionate about identifying and mentoring young people to untap their hidden potential. Read Denise Umunyana and Celine Uwineza's startup story.
Carine-Zoe Umutoni, founder of Onyx, is building a proudly Rwandan fashion brand that celebrates great African textiles with a contemporary twist.
Developing a distinctive fashion brand which celebrates African fabric and inspiration with contemporary design that reflects the uniqueness of Rwanda, is what makes ONYX as a brand stand out in the marketplace. Founder Carine-Zoe Umutoni has a passion for her country which is only matched by her talent for creating must-wear garments which the fashion conscious want to own. Read Carine-Zoe Umutoni's startup story.
Christelle Kwizera, founder of Water Access Rwanda, is a socialpreneur on a mission to provide affordable, durable and simple water solutions in East Africa.
Water scarcity in Africa is a huge challenge today, but one young woman socialpreneur is building an enterprise that is looking to bring an answer that is both affordable and durable. Christelle Kwizera, founder of Water Access Rwanda (WARwanda), a company providing essential water filtration solutions, is already making a difference in her country. WARwanda is a social enterprise that is providing simple, affordable and durable water solutions in East Africa. The company provides water filtration devices, products and services aimed at finding and exploiting underground water, as well as providing full community water development schemes and training programmes. Read Christelle Kwizera's startup story.
Mary Miner and Kate Woska, founders of Atikus Investments Incorporated.
First time entrepreneurs and the inspiration behind Atikus Investments Incorporated, Mary Miner and Kate Woska chose Rwanda as the perfect place to start their business because the country is serious about financial inclusion and developing at a rapid pace. Atikus develops meso-level interventions committed to democratizing opportunity and improving financial inclusion for un(der)served demographics, among which women, youth, and rural/agricultural workers are core groups. Their aim is to achieve these goals through a suite of products that leverage technology, data, and risk transference in an effort to reduce lenders' investment constraints and facilitate the introduction and acceptance of more un(der)served clients to the formal financial services industry. Read Mary Miner and Kate Woska's startup story.