The Columbia Business School eagerly embraced Bpeace's four visiting Rwandan Fast Runners when they shared their personal stories on a panel titled, “Doing Business Our Way: Voices of Rwanda Female Entrepreneurs.”  The event was moderated by Murray Low, director of Columbia's entrepreneurship center, and sponsored by the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business.

The panel provided a platform for the women to share their unique business experiences. They all had to build or rebuild a business after the genocide and all have a unique set of accomplishments to show for it. The women were all dressed in traditional imikenyero (sari-like silk drapings translated as “elegant dress”) and used the panel to talk about their achievements and successes over the last ten years rather than harp on the past.

Soline, who owns a nursery and landscaping business, admitted that “friends thought I was foolish, but I was determined to try gardening, something I was passionate about” even though “landscaping is not a usual business in Rwanda.” She began by planting gardens for clients in the evenings and during lunch breaks from her nursing job. Today, many of these once-skeptical friends are Saintpaulia clients — as is Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s president. Soline’s business employs 14 workers.

Languida, who owns a funeral home, faced special challenges. “In Rwandan culture, the topic of death is not easy to talk about,” she said. She started her business, Pompey Funebra Twifatanye, after witnessing the trouble that her community was having preparing funerals for loved ones. “But by providing cars, caskets, and flowers all in one place, I can help mourning families,” she said.

Symphrose launched her 25-room hotel with the help of a loan from the Rwanda Development Bank. Le Petit Prince Hotel’s manager, Consolata Mukabera, who also spoke at the event, remarked that “entrepreneurship is not part of our nation’s culture — commerce is for foreigners, and most women still rely on agriculture.” However, when the genocide forced women into head-of-household roles, the government implemented systems to help women and men become entrepreneurs, she noted. Today Le Petit Price Hotel employs 40 people.

It was an evening of learning and insight for everyone in the audience and we are grateful to the Rwandans for allowing everyone to share in their personal accomplishments.

You can find clips from the panel here:

Symphrose reveals where she got the money to start her hotel.

Consolata describes a culture hostile to women business owners.

Symphrose reveals why she chose a site zoned for sewage for her hotel.

Bpeace would like to extend a very special, 'thank you' to the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business for their generosity.

All photos and videos belong to Columbia University. Some content from this blog post was taken from the Jerome A. Chazen Institute of International Business' website.