…gather the capital, find customers and good suppliers, manage cashflow, keep going, cope with the set backs and failures to establish a thriving business. If the challenges and barriers to any new business aren’t enough to put people off or kill their business in months, consider some of the additional hurdles women can face.
Vision 2020 states that women make up 53% of the population of Rwanda and participate in subsistence agriculture more than men. They usually feed and provide care for the children and ensure their fundamental education. But until recently, girls were the minority in secondary schools, women had little access to the opportunities available to men and they were poorly represented in decision-making positions.
When people think about women entrepreneurs in Rwanda (the likes of which TSM has reported many times) the focus is often on young, twenty-year-old CEOs, running ‘dotcoms’ or pushing up against the international brands. And there’s nothing wrong with that! TSM will always want to celebrate great achievements.
In this article, TSM interviewed a successful businesswoman who represents thousands of women that are the ‘face’ of Rwanda and its ‘engine room’ too.
In 2007, Josephine set up a small business importing clothing material from DR Congo and Uganda, and a few ready-made clothes to resell in Rwanda. She describes life back then as ‘Very poor and filled with stress’. But since then, she’s grown her business slowly, every year. She’s not a multi-national (yet) but is now in a position that, “I’ve much less stress, business is good, and I can afford to buy what I need for my family. I live in a bigger house with some land.”
It’s not as easy as it may sound. Working 10 hours per day, every day, she still has a young family to look after. Her small stall, just 1.2m x 3m displays her stock. Amazingly vibrant fabric material decorates the walls up to 3m high. Mostly fine cotton with some examples of her own clothes designs on show, she’s obviously proud and exudes charisma. There’s a special characteristic that sets Josephine Niyigena apart from her 50 or so competitors on Kimironko market – the great attention and high interest she shows her customers. It’s called Customer Care.
Far from the usual ‘Karibu!’ chant, which sounds almost like a threat to some ears or the grab of the elbow and a desperate plea to examine a stallholders offerings, or an irritating insistence that gets to the point of total rejection from a would-be customer, Josephine has a much more relaxed approach. Unlikely to chase you around the market, just the opposite she’s a natural and should be training her counterparts across the region, at least Rwanda.
She finds it hard to explain her secret, struggling for words she explains, “Well, er, I welcome customers ask what they want and offer them a seat and we chat.” Josephine speaks many languages very well. And apart from demonstrating how easily she can communicate, she shows a cultural awareness that establishes instant rapport and trust. Not many people leave her stall, mostly on recommendation, without buying something.