JOY NDUNGUTSE & JANET NKUBANA
Sisters Weaving for Peace & Profit
Founders of Gahaya Links
Sector: Traditional Handcrafts | Basket Weaving
Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana, co-founded Gahaya Links Cooperatives shortly after the Rwandan genocide ended in 1994. These inspiring sisters 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.
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Joy & Janet's Startup Story
In November 1994, Janet Nkubana returned home to Rwanda having been in exile as a refugee in Uganda. She was running a hotel in Rwanda’s capital Kigali and kept noticing all the women hawking baskets in front of her hotel. Her first instinct was to convince them to move their business elsewhere as she felt they were pestering her clients for sales. Yet, she noticed that her hotel guests were among the few people with money to spend and the main source of sales revenue for these women. She approached the women and told them she would set up a shop in the hotel itself to sell the baskets directly to hotel guests, and added that she would also take their baskets to sell at flea markets when visiting her sister, Joy, who lived in the United States.
Janet and Joy came from a long family tradition of weaving. Their mother was a master weaver and used to do all the beadwork and basket weaving in the refugee camp in Uganda. Basket weaving is an old tradition among women in Rwanda, in fact today the basket is on the Rwandan national seal and currency and is known as the peace basket....
Gahaya Links, and the inspirational sisters Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana who are responsible for its success, are living proof that individual women entrepreneurs can change a country and the lives of those who live there. These two remarkable women had a vision and the tenacity to realize their business on a grand scale, as a result, giving life and hope to a whole generation of women in their country. True Lionesses of Africa. --- Melanie Hawken, LoA founder and editor-in-chief
What's Gahaya Links all about?
Gahaya Links is for-profit Rwandan handicraft company based on the simple principle of women economic empowerment through fair-trade.
"The vision of Gahaya Links is to empower rural communities to become entrepreneurs and earn better incomes to live with dignity among their communities."
The Agaseke is Rwanda's oldest traditional basket now called the "Peace Basket" a symbol of unity. Gahaya Links success is based on traditional weaving techniques to empower the women of Rwanda and the country's socioeconomic development.
“If everyone owned a Rwandan Peace Basket it would mean a lot to the people of Rwanda.”
- President Bill Clinton
Today Gahaya Links is a growing network of over 4,000 weavers across the country organized in 52 savings cooperatives.
Awards & Accolades
Joy & Janet's recent awards and honours include:
- 2015 - Joy Ndungutse receives the prestigious Artisan Hero Award for 2015 from the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise, Aspen Global Health and Development, and The Aspen Institute.
- 2009 - Gahaya Links receives Employer Award 2009 from Rwanda Ministry of Labor
- 2008 - Gahaya Links awarded 'Gold Exporter of the Year' by Rwanda Development Board
- 2008 - Gahaya Links awarded Best Corporate Social Responsibility
- 2008 - Gahaya Links was awarded a Legatum Pioneers of Prosperity Award which saw the company walk away with a US$50,000 prize
- 2008 - Gahaya Links receives The Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger (The Hunger Project)
- 2008 - Gahaya links was honoured with a letter of recognition from former US First Lady, Laura Bush
- 2006 - Gahaya Links was awarded Best Taxpayer of the Year by Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA)