If there is one woman who is living proof of the power of women entrepreneurs to make a real difference in the world, it is Lydie Hakizimana co-founder of Drakkar Limited in Rwanda.
When Lydie Hakizimana returned to Rwanda after the genocide as a teenager, she found that her generation had lost all hope in the future. But she believed in the power of stories to provide people with not only a source of renewed hope and inspiration, but also escapism. Lydie wanted the next generation to imagine a happier story - not easy when painful memories of the genocide were still very raw. Her own personal love affair with books and literature started early. As a child, she vividly recalls being taught how to read by her mother and reading her first book L’Enfant Noir by Camara Laye in French at Les Etoiles Brilliantes a primary school in Chad. Her mother was in charge of teaching literature at home and her father was in charge of teaching science. Today, she has a passion for improving children’s literacy in the country – that passion sowed the initial seeds of a new entrepreneurial venture that was to change her destiny.
“Ultimately, literacy opens our souls, our minds and our hearts to knowledge to transform our lives, our communities and our country for the best.”
Lydie began by selling her own books from a small store in her spare time. She and husband, Tunga Kalisa, had always been avid readers and collected books from their travels. In 2006, they opened a small used bookstore in Rwanda and started to develop relationships with global publishing companies. She struck a deal with UK publisher’s Pearson Education to resell their textbooks in Rwanda and Burundi. The deal was the making of her company. Rwanda’s goal is to be a knowledge-based economy, and shortly before her deal with Pearson the Ministry of Education had ordered that primary and secondary education be taught in English rather than French, creating a great demand for English textbooks that still remains. Since that time, Lydie’s initial bookstore has developed into a major business, known as Drakkar Limited. Now her company is helping to spread English literacy in schools and is building a culture of reading in Rwanda that will benefit generations to come. Drakkar Limited has added exclusive distributor deals with Longman, Heinemann and Penguin to the Pearson contract.
When you have the interests of the people at heart, you can do anything.
Having identified a real need in the country to get children reading and developing life-long interests in literacy, the bookstore and business today focuses its attention on reselling educational textbooks. Historically, Rwandans do not have a culture of reading and neither schools nor parents have adequate resources to ensure that children are introduced to reading at an early state. In addition, there are very few available children's books by Rwandan authors, a factor that further inhibits the development of a reading culture in the country. As a result, today in Rwanda, there is still only one English textbook for every five children, and readers are still a luxury commodity. The national objective for the country is to have one book for every child by 2015 – a major new goal to be reached. But Lydie and her company Drakkar Limited are up to the challenge. The company now has 45 employees and thirty part-time distributors covering the five provinces of Rwanda. As a successful entrepreneur, she’s building a vibrant business that is helping Rwanda build the knowledge-based economy it needs to fulfill its vision.
“There are still many problems (in Rwanda), but I now see them as opportunities where entrepreneurs like me can thrive and rebuild the country.”
Lydie has an avowed commitment to building up the reading culture in Rwanda, which still remains undeveloped. She hopes to develop libraries in schools and hospitals providing children with free access to books. Drakkar Ltd is also involved in other activities, such as teacher training. Genocide forced her to spend most of her early life outside Rwanda, but as a survivor of that bleak period in the country’s history, she is now firmly committed to the country and sees entrepreneurial opportunities at every turn. She is on a mission to make real change happen through literacy, ensuring the next generation can fulfill its potential.
Why LoA loves it....
Lydie Hakizimana is a real inspiration. She identified the real challenge of building a culture of literacy in her country, following the legacy of the tragic genocide that scarred Rwanda and its people, and vowed to do something to change it for the better. Her efforts are paying dividends in a new generation of young Rwandans that now have hope for a better future. --- Melanie