When we look around the world at countries which are making great strides for gender equality and the empowerment of women, Rwanda stands out to us. Although it endured an horrific genocide in 1994, which saw an estimated 1 million people killed in a 100-day period in a civil war between the Tutsis and Hutus, there was something amazing that emerged from the ashes.
Because the majority of people left were women and children, the women played a major role in building a new government. They successfully managed to implement quotas to ensure at least 30% of government seats, from local all the way to a federal level, are occupied by women. Today, women make up 64% of the Rwandan government, and they the country that can boast the highest percentage of women in government globally.
Oh, and they are a developing country that puts MANY developed, Western countries to shame. However, Rwanda is still a long way from completely recovering from the 1994 genocide. You can often tell the progress of a country by the types of opportunities women and girls have access to, from education and healthcare, to employment that allows them to be financially stable.
Rwanda’s president Paul Kagame has made sure his administration focuses on initiatives that tackle prevailing gender violence and continue the progression of women in politics and the public sector. Girls are getting an education at an equal rate to boys, women are able to own land, and in most cases, it is seen as normal for women to participate in the workforce to help their families. But behind closed doors sexual and domestic violence are still a reality for many women, especially those in the poorest communities.
One woman in particular is a living example of what happens when women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential. Entrepreneur Josephine “Fina” Uwineza is a restaurant owner in Kigali, the capital city. She was the first person to open a Chinese restaurant, in 2000, which became a popular go-to place for tourists and Embassy personnel. And now she is set to notch another “first” on her growing resume of success.
Fina could become not just the first female, but the first person period, to run a craft brewery in Rwanda. There are currently no craft breweries in the country, and it all happened due to an investment in female entrepreneurs.
Fina met Canadian consultant Nancy Coldham who travels the world and throughout Rwanda mentoring female entrepreneurs. Nancywrote her graduate thesis on “The Gendered Enterprise of Nation-Building: Role of Women Rwandan Entrepreneurs” and understands this area well. Fina shared an idea she had with Nancy, who relayed it to contacts at the Ontario Craft Brewers Association. They connected Nancy and Fina with Beau’s All Natural Brewing Co, of Vankleek Hill, Ontario.
After many back and forth conversations, Fina’s idea started to grow legs. Both the CEO Steve Beauchesne and CFO Tanya Beimers traveled to Rwanda to meet with Fina, learn about the business landscape and also talk to city officials about potentially opening a brewery in Kigali. This is how the Rwanda Craft Brewery Project was born.
“Meeting Fina with her passion and confidence, and then also seeing the support from the government, women’s groups and the community, we knew this was a project that we had to be a part of,” Tanya said in a press release about the project.
Their next step was to look for funding. They reached out to British Columbia-based Newlands Systems Inc who agreed to donate the brew house. Globally, NSI are responsible for 500 operational brew houses. Their COO Christian Riemerschmid von der Heide has experience brewing in Africa and joined the project as a consultant. The Beau’s All Natural team and Fina have launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise just over $70,000 to finally get the brewhouse up and running.
The Kickstarter campaign points out craft beer is a growing market in a number of African countries, so this is a great opportunity to get in at the ground level and use it as an opportunity to promote women in business as there is no male-dominated barrier to break like many other industries.
“Craft beer has become a very successful industry in Canada, and since Rwandans drink as much beer as Canadians, this industry would make a positive contribution to the Rwandan business community. The craft brewing industry is taking root in Africa in countries such as Kenya, Botswana and South Africa (with 135 micro brewers) and we believe it is the perfect time for a Rwandan national beer,” said the campaign description.
“There are a few [beer] selections that are the exact same in every single bar, in every single store. There’s this great opportunity for locally owned, locally made craft beer,” Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company CEO and co-founder Steve Beauchesne told Takepart.com.
Fina says this project could be a great opportunity to empower local women especially, as a large majority of the country still live in extreme poverty.
“Rwanda really encourages women to try in any business. My main concern is the women in the village who are going to grow the raw material. Those are the people I’m going to empower, because this is a demand that’s going to be constantly needed,” she told TakePart.com.
The plan is for the Rwandan brew house to become a local hangout but also a producer of craft beer that can be bought and drunk at home. They will be using as many local ingredients as possible from nearby co-ops that provide employment for women who grow and harvest crops, as well provide health services and invest in their education and training.
In September, Fina traveled to Canada to help launch the Kickstarter campaign and learn more about craft brewing from the Beau’s team in Ontario. There is still time to donate to the campaign and be part of history in the making. This is the kind of history that is not just made for a news headline. Instead it is the kind of project that will potentially be the difference between poverty and empowerment for a number of local families thanks to Fina and the Beau’s All Natural team.
You can watch more about the project in the video below: