Across Rwanda, women farmers and entrepreneurs are driving the country’s economic growth and poverty reduction. A new competition aims to put the spotlight on ordinary women doing extraordinary things in their communities, and get the public to vote for Rwanda’s first female entrepreneur champion.
Over 1500 men and women turned out for the launch of the competition in western Rwanda. Organised by Oxfam and its partners YWCA and Duterimbere, villages in two rural districts – Nyabihu and Rulindo – will select their candidates. A panel of judges will choose the Top 24 women entrepreneurs who have set up the most innovative and sustainable projects, who will then proceed to a national training camp. Broadcast daily on national radio and TV, the public audience will then vote by SMS for their Top 10, before crowning champions from three districts in late March.
Speaking at the launch of the competition, Maggie Carroll, the head of Oxfam in Rwanda, said:
“Women in Rwanda still carry out the majority of agricultural work, but have limited access to land, credit and control over the income that they create. Women also receive less extension and other support services from private sector and authorities. This competition will demonstrate that women can be successful entrepreneurs and with the right support, can access new types of financing appropriate to small farmers developed by Oxfam’s partners. We want banks, companies and communities to see that investing in women makes sense and to get recognition for the achievements that they are making.”
Merciana is one such woman. A farmer and mother of three, she lives with her husband in Nyagatare district of Rwanda. In 2010 she received training from Duterimbere in seed multiplication techniques. Since then she has trained more than 40 women to develop small pineapple nurseries and, using planting material imported from Uganda, she has developed innovative ways of multiplying the pineapple seedlings. Today she owns a nursery of over 80,000 seedlings.
“I have been recognised as knowledgeable in this technique because even agronomists from Bugasera and Gitarama travel here to learn from me,” Merciana said. Her husband, initially sceptical about the business, has also shown great trust in her leadership abilities. “In my family my husband sees me as an equal contributor and can’t take any decision without consulting me.” He has now even agreed to shift the family’s home closer to Merciana’s nursery and small farm.
The winners of the new competition will receive prize money equivalent of up to $500 and all the projects to be nominated for the training camp will be submitted to receive funding through micro-loans from the Duterimbere Micro-finance bank. The competition – known as Umugore Indatwa mu Iterambere (‘Women Entrepreneur Champions’ in the Kinyarwanda language) – builds on the success of the “Female Food Hero” competition in Tanzania, which celebrated women food producers in the country and saw 10,000 people vote by SMS to crown Ester Mtegule as the nation’s first champion.
The launch of the Rwanda competition – which coincides with a month of events in Rwanda around International Women’s Day – was also attended by the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, representatives from the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion, and the Mayor of Nyabihu district.
Oxfam and its partners are supporting small and medium enterprises that can provide employment and better returns to small farmers, particularly in niche markets where women can play leadership roles that elevate their social as well as economic status. As a result of Oxfam’s work over the last two years, more than 2,500 women have been engaged in farm-level enterprises including directly accessing more than $50,000 of loans to build viable livelihoods for their families.
The selected Top 24 will undergo a three-day training camp to share their experiences and enhance their entrepreneurship and community leadership skills. Broadcast on national radio, the women will improve and fine-tune their projects and present them live on air each evening.
We will be following the selection process, training and finals over the next 3 weeks so stay tuned to find out more about Rwanda’s Women Champions!