Update from Rwanda

My time working with women’s cooperatives in Rwanda through my internship with Hands of Mothers (HOM) is going by quite fast. Each cooperative has made significant progress since the beginning, although many challenges (including the issue of dependency addressed in my last post) remain. Here’s an update on each cooperative’s growth and improvement so far:

Ejo Hazaza: Recently, the HOM team helped Ejo Hazaza apply for a grant from the US embassy in Rwanda to start a project to grow and sell oyster mushrooms. In order to build their capacity, we involved them in the grant writing process by asking them questions from the grant form and using their responses to answer the questions. This is an exciting opportunity for Ejo Hazaza because they told us they are interested in switching from jewelry making to growing and selling mushrooms. The jewelry business has not been very profitable for Ejo Hazaza because they are having trouble finding consistent customers. While this is a great opportunity for Ejo Hazaza to start a different project and generate income, it is vitally important that this project is done in a sustainable manner. During our weekly cooperative meeting we stressed to Ejo Hazaza that if they receive the grant money they will be fully in charge of implementing the project. We told them that HOM is here for advice and support, but it is up to the women to take full ownership by organizing and managing the project, delegating tasks and responsibilities, finding customers, and selling the mushrooms on their own. I think this presents a timely opportunity for HOM to fundamentally change the way we interact with Ejo Hazaza in order to break the dependency HOM created and foster sustainability.

Twiyubake: Over the past couple of weeks, Twiyubake has been able to improve the quality of the sandals they make. They were able to accomplish this by implementing a series of trainings where cooperative members more skilled in sandal making helped other members improve their own skills. The HOM team also began to set up visits at high-end hotels in Kigali so Twiyubake cooperative members could meet with the hotels in order to gain permission to sell their sandals in the hotel gift shops. The HOM team set up the appointments for Twiyubake because they do not have access to email. However, the Twiyubake marketing team members are responsible for going to these client visits and presenting their products. Before going on the client visits, we did a series of trainings with Twiyubake in order to teach them about sales techniques, appropriate pricing, and how to market their products. In addition, we went with the Twiyubake marketing team on the first couple of client visits in order to build their confidence; however, going forward Twiyubake will be attending these meetings on their own. The next challenge Twiyubake is working to address is updating their cooperative rules and regulations. As it currently stands, there are no enforced rules surrounding cooperative attendance or achievement of tasks and responsibilities, culminating in a lack of accountability for cooperative members.

Baho: The HOM team has been working with Baho to help them make a profit on their egg sales. Through a cost assessment we determined that Baho was selling their eggs for too little – only 100 francs. In order to cover their costs and make a profit, Baho needs to sell their eggs for 150 francs. We talked with Baho about appropriate pricing and worked with them on how to take more responsibility for cooperative tasks. Baho only began selling eggs in April, and unfortunately HOM had previously been doing tasks for the cooperative such as buying chicken feed and medicine, leading to issues of dependency (similar to the problem we had with Ejo Hazaza). In order to change this relationship, we trained Baho in how to do these tasks on their own and explained that our role is to support the cooperative, not do tasks for them. Since then, the women have been buying supplies and managing the cooperative on their own. The next challenge they face is finding a sustainable market to sell their eggs at a price of 150 francs. So far this has been challenging because the Rwandese customers they already have are used to a price of 100 francs and do not seem willing to pay more. However, we believe we can work to connect them with new clients who are expats that can afford to pay a higher price for the eggs. Baho also told us they are interested in purchasing 50 more chickens in order to increase their egg sales and generate a larger profit.