Rwanda: Pathways to Transforming Business and Community

June 26, 2023 Masoro Rwanda Paula Cordeiro

About 30 minutes outside Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali is the dirt road to Masoro, a small mining town in the mountains.  Some colleagues and I are developing a global seminar for executives to learn about businesses ‘doing good’ and we plan to visit Rwanda since this landlocked country in East Africa has some amazing companies that are profitable while taking care of people and the planet.  I’m grateful to colleague, Carter Crockett, who started a business in Rwanda and connected us with several ‘business for good’ companies.

This blog highlights one company he suggested that we visit–Abahizi. The focus of the University of San Diego’s Kroc School global seminar for executives will be on different types of ‘business for good’ models including certified B corporations and worker-owned organizations. Abahizi is certified as a community benefit corporation and has a form of worker-ownership—it’s a co-op.

The dirt road to Abahizi is about five miles long and we had what Rwandan’s call an African massage. My USD colleague Karen Henken and I kept thinking, how can we take a van of executives to see a factory via this road?  So, when we finally saw the Abahizi C.B.C. sign, I was thinking “This is one site visit we should pass up!” And, wow, was I wrong. The rough ride was worth it!

We were greeted by Darius Habamenshi, Abahizi’s Managing Director and Claudine Umulisa, Product Development and Quality Control Manager. They explained that Abahizi manufactures high quality handbags and fashion accessories for the global fashion industry, including international brands Kate Spade, New York and Coach, among others.  Darius and Claudine explained how Abahizi has a social commitment to empower their employees and transform the local community. We saw significant evidence of the company reinvesting in the Masoro community to further these goals.

Darius, Karen, Claudine talking with product engineer Subramanian Madasamy

The factory is owned by over 300 artisans of the Masoro Community Vendor Facility Cooperative (MCVFC) – approximately 90% of whom are women. Along with ongoing technical trainings on product design and development, Abahizi provides a customized “Life Skills Empowerment Program” which includes counseling, financial literacy, English, computer literacy, health, and leadership skills to all employees.

The factory has outdoor seating and welcoming spaces that reflect the community.

B Lab Global has five categories in which a certified company can achieve “Best For the World”. They include: community, customers, environment, governance, and workers.

Below is a screenshot from the B Labs Global website that shows two categories in which Abahizi has received this recognition.

The B Lab global website recognizes Abahizi as “Best for The World ’in the “Community impact” area and they comment: “success should be shared, and Abahizi scored in the top 5% of their size group for their efforts in the community, including charitable giving, investment in diversity, and educational opportunities.”

For the category of “Workers”, B Lab states: “Companies can make a large impact on the lives of their workers well beyond work hours. The Best for The World B Corps in the Workers Impact Area – including Abahizi – achieved a top 5% score by putting in place exemplary employee-friendly practices, such as ownership opportunities, job flexibility, and fair-chance hiring policies.”

So, despite the (super) rocky road to the Abahizi, C.B.C. factory, we’ll be taking participants in our Global Executive Seminar to see this amazing company firsthand and meet the worker-owners who are proud of investing in their community.