This is a three-part blog series describing my recent visit to Rwanda. I had the pleasure of returning to Rwanda accompanied by University of San Diego colleague, Karen Henken. We went to Rwanda as preparation for the 2024 launch of USD’s new global seminar. This one-year program in three countries (USA, Spain & Rwanda) is targeted to senior-level professionals who want to learn about proven methods that all three sectors—government, business and NGOs are using to collaborate on “business for good” initiatives.
We visited cooperatives, certified benefit corporations, socially conscious businesses, NGOs with social enterprises (earned revenue streams) and various government offices that support an entrepreneurial ecosystem.
The 1994 Genocide immediately comes to mind when thinking about Rwanda. However, over the last nearly 30 years Rwanda’s economy has grown rapidly – it’s now considered the Singapore of Africa. Here are a few facts about the Africa continent according to Business Insider Africa, May 3, 2023:
- Africa is projected to become the world’s fastest-growing region, with six out of the ten fastest-growing economies in 2023 being African countries.
- The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) presents a huge opportunity for the continent, with a ready market of over 1.4 billion people surpassing that of the EU and other regions.
- Africa’s population is the youngest in the world and projected to grow significantly, and the continent’s natural resources, including critical minerals for renewable technologies, make it indispensable to a green global economy.
Two government documents: Vision 2050 and the seven year plan National Strategy for Transformation describe how Rwanda has already improved life for its citizens and includes future goals.
- Life expectancy increased from 49 in 2000 to 66 years in 2017
- Poverty has reduced considerably from 60% in 2000 to 38% in 2016/2017 and extreme poverty reduced from 40% to 16% over the same period.
- Maternal and child health improved significantly over the last two decades and exceeded the Millennium Development Goals’ targets. Maternal mortality reduced by 80% between 2000 and 2014 while infant and child mortality decreased by over 70% in the same period.
- Free universal basic education was initiated and scaled up to 12 years. This resulted in net enrolment of nearly 100% in primary for both boys and girls. Gender parity was achieved with more girls than boys in primary school.
- Rwanda’s goal is to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and a high-income country by 2050.
Some Impressive Social enterprises
There are many definitions of social enterprises since they can incorporate as for-profit businesses or as nonprofits. Social enterprises have one or more social or environmental objectives. Theyare revenue-generating businesses with a mission. Though these enterprises can take many forms across a multitude of industries, they ultimately exist to serve the common good.
We spent ten days in Rwanda visiting some amazing social enterprises. One fascinating company is Zipline. It’s a successful business using unmanned drones to deliver health care supplies. Their drones bring medical supplies, especially medication, vaccinations and blood supplies to 400 rural clinics and hospitals across Rwanda. Zipline works in several African nations and are now using drone delivery for medical supplies in Arizona.
We also talked with one of the founders of Azzizi Life, Tom MacGregor. Azzizi Life is a fair-trade organization which partners with Rwandan artisans to bring beautifully designed hand-crafted products to the world. They are structured as a for profit in Rwanda and a not-for-profit in the US. Additionally, their Rwandan led team offers adult literacy classes and other practical resources to their artisans who work in cooperatives.
Another fascinating social enterprise is Masaka Creamery. Located in the Special Economic Zone near Kigali, Masaka was started in 2016 and produces a variety of dairy products including yogurt, fermented milk, butter, ghee, and fresh cream. They employ approximately 40 workers – most of whom are deaf or hard of hearing. Before starting our tour, CEO Luke Lundberg, who grew up on a family farm in California, taught us some basic sign language so we could communicate with the workers.
We then had an African massage. Yes, that’s what they call driving on particularly bumpy dirt roads on this continent. We bounced in our vehicle for 7 kilometers and ended the journey at the amazing Abahizi. The visit was worth enduring that road! Abahizi is a certified B Corp, employee-owned, social enterprise handbag manufacturer in Masoro Rwanda. One partner is Kate Spade of New York which invests in and sources from Abahizi (another partner is Coach). This social enterprise employs 250+ women who work full time. Abahizi offers mental health and wellbeing support, trainings and counseling plus healthcare for each employee and her family. We so enjoyed our visit and saw the impact a social enterprise like this can have not only on the employee and her family, but also on the community.
Darius (CEO) and manager Claudine
There are over 6700 certified B-corporations in the world. The B Corps organization awards “Best in the World” –top performing companies- in the categories of Community, Customers, Environment, Governance, and Workers. In 2022 Abahizi was named “Best in the World B Corp” in recognition of its exceptional positive impact on its Workers and Community. This was the second year Abahizi was nominated for ‘Workers’ and the first year for ‘Community.’ Wow!
In our next blog we’ll share our visits to some social enterprises in Musanze a city that Time Magazine (2023) said was One of the World’s Greatest Places to Visit.
Thanks for reading!