The Art of Storytelling is Gearing Up Rwanda's Female Leaders

Women leading change at Resonate | © Courtesy of Resonate
Women leading change at Resonate | © Courtesy of Resonate
Photo of Leah Feiger
16 February 2018

With a mission to unlock the leadership potential of women and girls in East Africa, Resonate, a small, women-led company based in Rwanda, is creating a new approach to international development. Through storytelling, confidence-building workshops, and leadership training, Resonate does it all.

Communal, cozy, and productive, Resonate’s office in Kigali features an airy porch that gives way to one of the city’s best views; glimpses of buzzing streets and rolling valleys frame the scene. Resonate’s meetings are taken in their conference room next door, with the office dynamic embodying the values of the organization itself—team-focused, community-oriented, creative, and respectful. A little chart in the kitchen actually tracks staff member tea preferences, adding even more to the already warm atmosphere. “We work the way we want to live,” comments Ayla Schlosser, Resonate’s co-founder and CEO.

Women at Resonate | © Courtesy of Resonate

Resonate is located in Rwanda, a small country characterized best by its verdant green hills, burgeoning creative sector, diverse ecosystem, and gleaming capital. This East African nation is internationally recognized for its unique championing of Rwandan women in government, boasting a parliament that is 64% women. The country itself is ranked sixth-best in the world for closing the global gender gap, and many organizations and government programs provide skills training and economic education to women around the country.

According to Resonate, however, and in spite of all this work, there remains a confidence gap that impedes opportunity and potential. This is where Resonate comes in.

Founded by Ayla Schlosser and Solange Impanoyimana in 2013, Resonate takes this missed opportunity and turns it into action. The company initially began with their flagship program, Storytelling for Leadership, and has since expanded to include professional development training and secondary-school-focused action leadership. Storytelling for Leadership is an interactive storytelling workshop that uses three parts of a story—the story of self, the story of us, and the story of now—to encourage growth, self-reflection, and confidence-building.

According to Schlosser, “The story of self is about who am I and why am I called to lead, the story of us is who are we and what common challenges do we face, and story of now is what could the world look like if we made a change and what can we do about it right now.”

Celebrating women | © Courtesy of Resonate

By partnering with groups that provide skill-building and education, Resonate integrates its own leadership training into already existing programming. This is done to make sure women and girls have the confidence and support to take their newfound skills and turn them into action. Participants and organizations alike around the region have lauded Resonate’s innovative programming and, after participating in a workshop, one anonymous participant said, “I am rewriting my story. After listening to other inspiring stories from the training, it made me realize that no matter how hard your past may have been, you can achieve more.”

As of February 2018, Resonate has worked with over 3000 participants across East Africa and partnered with forty different organizations, including a few big names like Kate Spade, Imbuto Foundation (the flagship organization of Rwanda’s first lady Jeannette Kagame), and the Segal Family Foundation.

Storytelling workshops at Resonate | © Courtesy of Resonate

With regards to expansion, Resonate is currently getting ready to pilot a new Training of Facilitators initiative, to work with staff of partner organizations to show them how to embed the Storytelling for Leadership programming into their own teachings. Schlosser, noting the need for Resonate’s work, said, “From politics to business leaders, stories are recognized and used as a powerful tool to change hearts and minds and spark movements for change. At Resonate, we harness that same power of storytelling for women and girls to re-frame the narrative of what is possible for their futures.”

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