Rwanda still has scars from the 1994 Genocide, but the country has bounced back remarkably from that horror. The nation of 10 million people has enjoyed relative social and political stability in the intervening years. Nevertheless more work needs to be done: many of its people still live on subsistence farming, and annual per capita income hovers just over US$500.
Social enterprise can help leverage many of Rwanda’s traditional crafts, one of which is knitting. One success story is Indego Africa, an organization that matches workshops to retailers abroad. The funds earned by the organization go to further local women’s training in Rwanda. One group of women’s knitters hit a bonanza, just in time for the holiday season: their scarves will be sold at a major women’s clothing retailer across North America.
Anthropologie now sells scarves produced by a cooperative based in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali. The Ingenzi Knit Union, which employs about 40 women, knitted the accessories, which on average retail for about US$48. The added bonus: 100% of the proceeds will go towards additional skills training in Rwanda.
The Anthropologie deal is another success story for Indego Africa, which currently partners with five cooperatives that employ 250 women throughout Rwanda. Prior to landing employment through Indego Africa’s programs, most of these women lived off of less than US$1 a day. The work, carrying water, was difficult and unreliable, too.
Indego Africa partners with other organizations as well as it works to improve the lives of women and their families. In the case of the Ingenzi Knit Union, women there benefit from U.S.-based NGO Rwanda Knits, which provides knitting machines as well as technical training and business classes to ensure the women’s success.
For Rwandan women, the opportunity to work in one of these workshops is a steppingstone to a better life. Indego Africa guarantees cash flow by not only paying a fair wage, but paying 50% of the costs in advance. Funds that accrue from partnerships like that with Anthropologie provide classes in computer training, literacy, financial management, and entrepreneurship. Women also not have only more time to spend with their children, they are engaged with their communities—and the world, as they now have the tools to develop a lucrative export business.