Firm Foundation works to ensure that women entrepreneurs in some of the poorest communities in Rwanda have the tools they need to successfully run a business and to change their futures for the better 

Since the genocide in 1994, Rwanda has made great strides in its development, matching in pace some of the fastest growing economies in the world. But women in rural communities are too often left behind. Though it's encouraging that women make up over 50% of the MPs in the lower House of Parliament, across most other levels of society, women are still underrepresented and disempowered.

Statistics show that Rwandan women spend, on average, more than three times as many hours on unpaid domestic work as their male counterparts. They are more likely to invest any available money in health or education rather than in business. These factors leave Rwandan women locked in a cycle of working poverty.

The context

Most women living in extreme poverty in the developing world run microbusinesses. They position themselves as sole traders: growing, making or selling generic products in the local market. But this form of entrepreneurship is not a choice - it is the last remaining option facing women with mouths to feed and limited access to paid work opportunities or productive assets such as livestock.

This is particularly an issue in Rwanda, where the majority of rural women are locked in subsistence agriculture, and very few are engaged in paid agricultural work or have businesses larger than that of a basic sole trader.

What these female microbusiness owners need is coaching: close support, advice and encouragement from successful business owners to enable them to transition their basic trade into a profitable enterprise.

We reached out through international networks to identify local coaches and found that there is currently no infrastructure for business coaching in Rwanda. So we developed Firm Foundation, a coaching programme targeted at the women and communities left behind by this development story.

Find out how coffee is transforming women's lives

The project

Firm Foundation links entrepreneurs to a network of national and international business coaches. Applying world-class innovation techniques to local problems, the coaches help the women to grow their profits, develop as entrepreneurs and become community leaders. 

Together with local and international partners, we train enterprise coaches who then enable local micro-entrepreneurs to build their businesses, increase their confidence, and reduce poverty in their communities. 

And because the challenges are different for each entrepreneur, Firm Foundation provides flexible and responsive support to its participants. Each coach-entrepreneur relationship and each coaching session are unique and tailored to address the woman's particular challenge or objective at that time.

The purpose

  • Empower women to become leaders in their communities;
  • Build entrepreneurial mindset and behaviours among microentrepreneurs;
  • Increase profits, business survival rates and business innovation;

  • Establish a network of quality business coaches in Rwanda.

The process

Firm Foundation works with self-employed women who are, by national measures, living in poverty in rural Rwanda. Our initial pilot engages 45 women in Muhanga District of the southern province, with a plan to extend the project to a further 45 women in Gicumbi District in northern province.

In their first coaching sessions, each entrepreneur determines her personal and business goals. In subsequent sessions, she  reflects on progress, considers any challenges and explores options for overcoming them.

In between and beyond these coaching sessions, the entrepreneurs can make changes to strengthen and grow their business. This may include investing in their business, diversifying products or services, or reaching new markets.

Because high quality coaching is essential for the project's success, and due to the scarcity of coaching of this kind in Rwanda, we have designed a rigorous process for the selection, training and development of coaches, ensuring that this project can expand with every year that it runs and reach exponentially more women.

In contrast to other types of intervention, like training, mentoring or consultancy, coaching relies on the existing skills, knowledge and ideas of the entrepreneur. It focuses on their goals and understanding of their situation, considering and deciding on the options available, and putting it into action; it relies on the independence and willpower of the entrepreneur to make change happen.

And the right change will be different for each entrepreneur. Change represents a risk, so coaching will encourage learning and resilience in the fact of this risk.

The partners

We always work in partnership with organisations based in the regions where our projects run, because our partners understand the complexity of the problems far better than we can. Firm Foundation brings together the YWCA of Rwanda, a women's organisation focused on empowering women and transforming communities, and York-based coaching experts Heworth Associates, to tackle the core issues that are leaving women locked in a cycle of poverty in rural Rwanda.

But Firm Foundation offers a unique opportunity for you to partner with us too. 

Our final partner in this project is North Star Coffee Roasters, who are donating £1 from every bag of their Rwandan coffee to Firm Foundation as part of their initiative to support real development work in the countries where they source their beans. You can invest in these women too, by enjoying some delicious and ethically-sourced coffee - at no extra cost to you. And if you are part of an organisation that provides coffee to its staff or members, why not encourage them to buy these beans and make your coffee do more?

Every pound donated through coffee purchases will go to expanding the project to reach more women. Read more about our partnership with North Star or partner with us to support marginalised businesswomen in rural Rwanda:

Buy Rwandan coffee

By enabling women to start and run their own businesses, we will reduce extreme poverty by 20% in the areas where Firm Foundation takes place, creating a ripple effect in the surrounding communities as our trained coaches take their expertise further afield. 

Help us to reach more women.