Category: SMEs, Home & Micro Industries

6 Remarkable Ways That Cooperatives Empower Women

Nshuti cushion

I have had the great privilege of working with a number of co-operatives every month in the market. Interestingly enough, all have been run by women for women, and it has been very uplifting to see these women empowering each other every day to ensure a better life for themselves and their families.

Nshuti By Dushyigikirane

In my previous blog, I wrote about 7 proven steps to start a successful business. That post was written with an individual in mind. This blog addresses the benefits of working with others to achieve not only your goals, but a collective goal that can shape your community for years to come.

Actress Phylicia Rashad once said, ‘when women come together with a collective intention, it’s a powerful thing.’

Many people say that women are their own worst enemies, however, if as a woman you walk around with this attitude in your head, you are doing a great disservice to yourself. You might ask why and might even rationalize that you’ve done well for yourself without help from anyone let alone women but, hear me out. From experience (and I’m very certain many women out there can agree with me) thinking like this not only closes you to a very resourceful network and support group that could do more for you than you thought imaginable but, you also lose out on life in general because fear is your driver.

According to International Labour Organisation (ILO) recommendation No. 193 on the promotion of cooperatives (2002), a cooperative is ‘an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned, democratically-controlled enterprise’. That’s a spot-on description that defines what you see when you come across women who are working towards their goals and visions with tenacity.

Nshuti by Dushyigikirane is a cooperative that creates opportunities to learn, grow and develop towards more employment and a better standard of living for all in their group and in their community. They do this by designing, producing and selling high-quality handicrafts. They started one year ago with a group of 11 women. Nshuti and Dushyigikirane are Kinyarwanda words meaning ‘friends’ and ‘support each other’, respectively.

Members of Nshuti: Ndayambaje Adrien, Uwamariya Beata, Nisekanabo Beata, Nynawumuntu Siphora, Ingabire Prisca, Kuzwa Rosette

I took time to visit their workshop located in Nyarutarama – Kibiraro, to bond and learn how their cooperative has empowered them. I went there excited to learn more about this group of women who have supported the market by attending each month for the past 4 months and I left there with such a boost of energy no coffee, nap or downtime could ever give me (and that says a lot coming from me).

How does a cooperative empower the women in its community?

A solid and mutual support group

When you first meet this group of women, you can feel their oneness.

Despite the fact that all of them speak Kinyarwanda and I needed a translator for the interview, it didn’t take away from the quiet yet palpable energy that radiated from that tiny workshop. They were doing their work while engaging with each other and you can see how they relate to one another is out of mutual respect.

photo by Valentina Venkova
‘Mama Muzungu’
Nshuti school bag project

With many women across the globe being marginalized and heavily cut off from major economic and social decisions, this kind of togetherness can definitely go a long way towards changing the status quo.

It also gives women a platform to feel that they can be heard and be respected because they know they aren’t alone as they have ‘sisters’ who understand and support them.

Nshuti is well organised with a president called Rosette Kuzwa, who by the way, has a definite leader aura about her, and I found myself automatically giving a handshake in the traditional manner of right-hand-out and left-hand over right wrist, to show respect. She is backed by the head of sales and vice-president, Beatha Uwamariya and members of the cooperative.

Rosette Kuzwa 
photo by Valentina Venkova

Increased productivity

Nshuti started with several women who had skills in tailoring/sewing and knitting. Individually, they would make a few pieces to sell within their community but they didn’t really have a very clear plan on how they were going to improve their skills and increase their sales. When the women got together, they were able to share ideas amongst themselves, expand their reach and hold each other accountable for the various roles they had given themselves.

Also, by getting a platform like Kigali Farmers’ And Artisans’ Market to consistently showcase their products, it gave them a clear purpose and goal towards which they would work towards.

2018 Kigali Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market (KFAAM)
photo by RwandaInfluence

Steady flow of income

Most of the ladies in the cooperative had little, to no source of income, relying heavily on the men in the household or the community-at-large to help them fend for themselves and their families for the basic of necessities. This can be hugely demoralizing to any human being let alone a woman. At some point, they become seen as a burden to society which is quickly followed by ridicule, psychological, emotional and physical abuse, low self-esteem, illegal ways of attaining money and continuing a vicious cycle of poverty.

Nshuti kids’ aprons

The ladies at Nshuti are able to pride themselves to be able to regularly take home an income to support their households either as primary care-givers or being a source of extra income.

Nshuti school bag project

More say & participation in the community

As earlier stated, a lot of women have little to no say in their own communities and households. When they have first-hand opportunity to work and give back to the community, they start earning the respect from the same. They can be approached by leaders looking to bring about positive changes, they inspire and set good examples to the youth and they are able to share with/train other women who want to improve their lives. Their social standing also greatly improves and that directly raises their self-esteem.

The ladies at Nshuti participate in Umudugudu (Kinyarwanda for neighbourhood) meetings and are regularly approached by members of the community to give advice and training to other ladies, even in other neighbourhoods.

Prisca and Solange

Exposure and increased visibility

Cooperatives that have impact within their communities, automatically start getting recognition and many would want to be associated with them by helping them reach their goals faster. This is because the women show a resilient and fighting spirit even at the face of adversity which almost always draws to the emotions of those around them. They no longer look like they are waiting for handouts but, respectable women willing to learn and put in the hard work. Most people can identify with this and will be willing to even volunteer their time and resources to support the women.  

Monique Fausto
Irma Hartsink
Nshuti baby blanket

At Nshuti, there are two women who volunteer their time to help the women: Irma Hartsink and Monique Fausto. I’ve seen these ladies work hand-in-hand with the women, listening and sharing with them their skills and knowledge and it’s a beauty to see a scenario where not even language is a barrier for the women to collectively work together to ensure they are a success.

Hartsink and Fausto wouldn’t have known about Nshuti if the cooperative hadn’t started doing something on their own. Their passion to see the cooperative succeed, shine and bask in the glory of their hard work, is a humbling experience to behold. It does give you pause to think what you are doing to help those around you rise above their situations and be successful human beings in their own right.  

Rehema Merekatete

Joining the market and ultimately having their story written here is also another way that the cooperative has started getting the visibility they rightly deserve. They have had orders coming in due to the interactions of the cooperative translator and sales assistant, Rehema Merekatete, with consumers on market day and her energetic and bubbly attitude towards the work that she does.

Helping women realize their gifts and talents

If you are constantly stressed about how you are going to get your basic needs, it goes without say that you are probably stunting your growth as an individual. This is because you are wholly focused on making it one day at a time.

Every person has been born with a talent that they either know or are yet to discover.

You could be the quick-thinker who always has an answer for everything, making you suitable to be a marketer – or you could be the empath who seems to understand and feel the needs of those around you, making you suitable to work in the hospitality industry or any career that involves health or psychological care. You could even be that artsy person always able to turn the most boring things into works that draw “uuuuhs” and “aaahs”, making you a great fit to work in an area like culinary. Joining or starting a cooperative can help you identify your talents faster because you are surrounded by women who want to achieve the same. Like-minded people working and spending time together, find themselves growing faster in many aspects of their personal lives hence less stress and more solutions.

Mama Chantal knitting
photos by Valentina Venkova

As mentioned earlier, Nshuti started with women who were skilled in sewing and knitting. However, as the women continued to bond and grow in confidence, it came as a surprise to the women that one of them was actually very good in bead-work. They had never known this and were it not for their inclusive nature, might never have known. They are now looking forward to introducing a new line of products that will feature this lady’s skills.

Nshuti flynets and napkins

This was a great reminder for me how when we work together as a community – especially as women – we can reach milestones that seemed like mere dreams.  The women at Nshuti are a great example of sisterhood and when I asked Rosette what advice she would give to women who are in similar positions as they were and want a way out, she looked at me with a deep gaze and said in Kinyarwanda:

“Bagomba kugira imbaraga zo gukora no kugera ku musaruro ushimishije”

‘They need to have the will-power to want to do and achieve better.’

There’s honestly nothing else I can add or take away from that statement which essentially makes it perfection.  

The Nshuti team will be at the #womensdaymarket at Kigali Serena Hotel on 2ndMarch from 12-6pm. They also welcome visits to their workshop and they can be reached on [All images courtesy of Nshuti by D

If you are interested in becoming a vendor at the market, send an email with a short bio of your business and pictures of your products to

To learn more about the market, visit: kigalifarmersandartisansmarket.comFacebookInstagramTwitter

Flo Founder KFAAM

The views expressed here are those of the author

7 proven ways on how to start a successful business

Case study – Zerufi Organics, Rwanda

Before I started this journey in entrepreneurship, I had the great opportunity to be employed in different corporate, mid-sized and SME companies, for slightly over 13 years that gave me invaluable work experience that I use till today. Some had crazy work hours with rigid rules of operations while others were flexible with managers or business owners that had a laissez –faire attitude and didn’t really bother with you till the next weekly meeting.

However with all of them, I had one big problem; I didn’t think I was being true to myself and I felt I wasn’t following my calling. Being a creative who was always lost in my mind with ideas upon ideas, it was at times difficult to express those ideas in whichever company I was working for because it wasn’t either in line with their vision or simply there was no budget.

I know there are many people who are probably itching to start their own businesses or have been sitting on ideas that they strongly feel could be solutions to the numerous business/consumer problems out there but, have never made that move to do anything about it. Hopefully by the time you finish reading this blog, you will feel inspired to take the bold step into entrepreneurship not only from using the pointers here but, with inspiration from the following lady who dared to follow her dreams.

Catherine Njane was an Advisory consultant by profession with over 7 years of experience in that field. Entrepreneurship was never something she had seriously considered before, at least not fulltime, and she loved the stability that her job offered, having worked hard to climb the corporate ladder and do her best to smash that glass ceiling many women talk about. So in 2017, she started Zerufi Organics.

Catherine explaining one of her products

Zerufi Organics sells natural skin care and hair care products. They are strong believers of not putting anything on your skin or hair that you wouldn’t want near your mouth. Their customers are people looking for effective skin and hair solutions in nature without having to resort to chemical-laden products. Zerufi Organics tries to offer that with its products range and they are carefully formulated with natural ingredients backed with extensive research to ensure that they are not only gentle but also effective.

Being a vendor that was with the market since inception, Catherine was one of the people that I was able to bounce ideas off of and discuss at length the challenges and triumphs of being an entrepreneur because we were in the same boat of pursuing excellence in self -employment. I got the opportunity to pick brain her to better understand the steps she took to be where she is right now.

Getting down to it, what steps should you take before you quit your job to start your own business?

  1. Passion

Before taking that leap into what you consider freedom to build your empire, ensure you have passion for what you are pursuing. You need to be deeply and madly in love with your vision. Why is this important? I will not sugar-coat anything and tell you that running a business is easy because it isn’t, at least in the initial phase. However it can be enjoyable if you love what you are doing. Many business owners including myself, have found themselves working for hours on end even forgetting to have a meal because you are so engrossed with what you are doing. Passion is the thing that will get you up in the morning when you had a bad sales day, a rejection from the bank or even having to deal with those around you who think you are mad for pursuing your dreams.

Range of whipped body butters

Catherine has always been passionate about smells, scents, oils, creams and the likes even more so if they were from nature and not just another chemical concoction created to appease the masses. So it was a no brainer when she considered going into her solo trip, to venture into this line of business.

  • Research

It’s one thing to have passion but it’s another to have a blind one. It is paramount that you do research upon research about the line of work you want to get yourself into. Remember, we are talking about a major life decision here and it’s better to do it right or don’t do it at all. Research could involve looking into the viability of the business, who your target market is, cost of starting business, where your business will be based…you get the drift. Do your homework ensuring you look at all the angles to maximize your success when you start.

Before they get a product to market, Zerufi Organics takes approximately 4 months to research on ingredients, product formulation and branding before bringing it to the masses. They have 14 products in their portfolio so that’s more than 4 years behind the building of the brand with 2 years in the market

Lip balms
  • Business/Financial plan

I know this could be boring for some of you, at least it was for me, but a business and financial plan is paramount. It helps you map and navigate your way through this new territory with the bonus point of making you accountable. The internet is filled with these sample plans so the only work here would be to adjust them to suit your needs.

A business plan helps you formulate a plan for your business which includes but not limited to clear goals and visions, projections and SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis.

A financial plan helps you formulate a plan for your personal upkeep as you build your empire like, how you will continue with basic payments like rent, food, clothes, savings etc. Making a budget and sticking to it will keep you from being stressed and more focused on your vision.

Face mask
  • Take your idea for a test drive

Before I started the market, I did a series of pop-up markets in Kigali within different locations for around 3 months. This was to put to test whether my vision was actually realistic. It’s easy to ask trusted friends, mentors or business owners for their input (which I would encourage you do) but, no one but yourself can see and execute your plan better than you. It will also validate the demand for your product. Be open-minded and look at your plan critically. There are many resources in the internet nowadays that can guide you through a test drive for your business. As you see what works and what doesn’t, you can adjust your plans accordingly.

Remember I mentioned that Catherine and I used to frequently touch base, well, when she learnt that I was starting the pop-up markets, she would give me a few of her products to sample and sell to potential consumers in order to get feedback. She would join me in those pop-ups but at times she would be held up at work (she had yet to quit her job by this time- more on that below). She also had already been selling the products within her network and all the information she received enhanced and expanded her products line.

Range of facial/body soaps
  • Register the business

To be taken seriously and to put your best foot forward, it’s best that you don’t neglect this step. Rwanda has one of the fastest, if not the fastest, business registration process there is in Africa. You can do it online through Rwanda Development Board and it takes a maximum of one business day. I was able to get the market registered within 6 hrs while Zerufi Organics was registered within 8. On top of this, RDB does a follow up where you are called to attend a simple course in understanding what your responsibilities as a business owner are. How supportive is that?

Range of face serums
  • Make it official

Giving 100% to your new venture is the best thing you could do to nurture and see it grow faster. Much as doing it part time could be a viable solution to many for various reasons, giving your full attention to your vision means you are totally committed to it. You will also not have to use another company’s time and resources building yours which will internally give you the satisfaction of starting from a point of integrity. Writing a professional resignation letter giving ample time to your employer, ensures you don’t burn bridges unnecessarily because let’s face it, you are going into a world where you will be an employer and the last thing you need are enemies or bad karma following you.

Catherine tried to do her business part-time for a couple of months but it wasn’t sustainable especially with her tight work schedule. She hadn’t even started actively advertising the products at the time but she was getting a lot of customers as a result of referrals from friends and co-workers. She realized that she didn’t know how she was going to handle the demand if it grew beyond that and so she decided to quit her job.

Zerufi Organics’ popular hair oil
  • Get your product to market

Now that you have your ducks in a row, the final step is to let people know about your product. There are so many avenues that can be explored here that it would definitely need its own entire blog. However, some of the common and more popular ways are social media, retail stores, mainstream media, print ads, billboards, fliers and of course let’s not forget your local farmers market.

Zerufi Organics has proudly been a part of the Kigali Farmers’ and Artisans’ market since its inception and the market has been very helpful in terms of visibility for the business. Catherine has made contacts that have led to amazing partnerships and collaborations and that have positively impacted the course of her business. Aside from that, the market presents an opportunity to have some quality face time with her customers and she gets to explain her products to them and engage on whatever questions they may have on the products. She also adds, ‘I’m truly grateful to be a part of the market and the initiatives it supports’.

Catherine at the market

Catherine’s parting words for any upcoming business is to get involved in initiatives such as the Kigali Farmers’ and Artisans’ market to grow their network as she feels there is a lot to learn by engaging with similar businesses as well as your customers. It also gives a different perspective to problems and solutions that you can offer as a business and as someone who’s also been and still on this journey, I couldn’t agree more.

 If we could do it, so can you!

Facebook> @ZerufiOrganicsRw

Instagram> @zerufi_organics

Contacts> +250 781 911 581

Are there other pointers you would recommend, let me know by leaving your comments below.

If you are a vendor interested in joining our 2nd March #womensdaymarket at the Kigali Serena Hotel, drop us an email with a short bio of your business to or visit our website

Disclaimer: The opinions stated here are of the author and it’s imperative that one does their own extensive research before employing any business strategy

Flo Founder KFAAM

Flo Mwashimba is the founder of KFAAM and is strongly passionate about supporting SMEs, micro and home industries run by women, youth and PLWD in the community

Theme: Overlay by Kaira Kigali, Rwanda
Kigali Farmers´ And Artisans´ Market
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