Emelienne Nyiramana: A Rwandan Female Artisan Entrepreneur on the Move

Emelienne Nyiramana is the Founder and Managing Advisor of Cooperative de Couture de Kicukiro (Cocoki), a sewing cooperative of 29 women located in Kicukiro, Rwanda.

She is one of two Indego Africa artisan partners traveling to the United States in June for the 2013 Artisan Trip, a leadership, education, and community engagement initiative for emerging women leaders from Rwanda.

This two-week trip is designed to improve participants' export market-readiness, deepen their knowledge of global supply chains and operations, enhance their communications and strategic leadership skills, and facilitate meaningful interactions with partners, supporters, and customers in the United States.

This is her story of determination, drive, and change....

I was born in Nyanza, in the Southern Province of Rwanda, in 1975. As the youngest of seven, I had three brothers and three sisters. When the genocide erupted in 1994, I was separated from my family; throughout the following two months, I hid in fields, jungles, and homes. After the genocide, I returned to my parent's farm to discover that my brothers, my father, and two of my brothers-in-law had been killed.

In 1995, I married, started a family, and relocated to Kigali. For the next several years, I could only find temporary, low-paying jobs. I: assisted at a construction site, cleaned for an electric gas company, and even raised rabbits. None of these jobs paid a daily wage over 25 cents. I took matters into my own hands and started a business selling cosmetics and other small items on the street. Unfortunately, due to my lack of skills, like knowing accounting or managing money, my business failed in 2006.

I then joined a local sewing association called ANGE, and experienced success as a seamstress. Indego Africa placed an order with ANGE in 2007. Production ran smoothly, but we discovered that the association's leaders weren't properly distributing all of the earnings to members. I decided to inform Indego Africa of my discovery, and I worked to dissolve the cooperative. We launched Cocoki in 2008, and my fellow cooperative members elected me as Treasurer.

For the first four months of Cocoki's existence, we operated out of my house. Despite these modest accommodations, our leadership team worked hard to build our business. In 2008, Cocoki's revenue was only RwF 700,000 (~$1,300), but, in 2012, we earned RwF 17.6 million (~$27,500). We have completed several large-scale purchase orders for Indego Africa, including wholesale orders for Anthropologie, DANNIJO, J.Crew, and Nicole Miller. Additionally, we have hosted Nicole Miller and Ambassador Susan Rice, the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations Ambassador, at Cocoki.

As Cocoki generated more income by completing more orders, we also learned how to run a business in Indego Africa's Hand Up training programs. We were the first cooperative enrolled in Indego Africa's business management and entrepreneurship training. Furthermore, Ben Stone, the former CEO of Indego Africa, and Jadot Niyomugabo, the former Operations Manager, successfully assisted me in applying for the Goldman Sachs 10000 Women initiative, which provides business and management education to female entrepreneurs in developing and emerging markets.

The trainings I have received from Indego Africa and Goldman Sachs have been very helpful; they have opened up my mind and allowed me to grow both personally and professionally. With my participation in 10000 Women, I developed contacts with the other women. I acquired a great amount of knowledge, and the manner in which I worked with the other members of Cocoki greatly improved. Furthermore, I learned the importance of customer care, and I began to take note of what was happening in the world regarding markets and customers.

The training I received through 10,000 Women provided a strong foundation for my participation in Peace through Business, a mentorship program for inspiring female entrepreneurs from Afghanistan and Rwanda. Through this program, I continued training in entrepreneurship while practicing my English.

This summer, I look forward to traveling to the United States for the 2013 Artisan Trip in New York and Washington, DC. I have a platform with new thoughts that I will share with clients; some of these I did not share on my last trip, so I hope they will be beneficial for Cocoki. After the Artisan Trip, I will travel to Texas, an opportunity earned through the business plan competition I won in Peace Through Business.

Currently, I support my five children, including one adopted orphan, my two sisters, and their children too. Since working with Indego Africa, my relationship with my family has greatly improved. I have noticed changes within my children, which I feel they have learned from me. They say things like, "Mum, you are so resilient, will I also be able to go to the United States three times?"

We should all revel in the success of Emelienne because her success is our success. When you invest in a woman, you invest in the lives of children, communities, and the world.

"I really want to help even more women, but I have not got quite there yet." Let's help Emelienne get there. Donate today and support Indego Africa in the Raise for Women Challenge.