Rwandan entrepreneurship is flourishing, as this small landlocked nation continues to push small businesses and economic collaboration. Bee Light, a new social enterprise creating candles from raw and recycled Rwandan materials, exemplifies this push, and has already begun to light up the country.
Founded in 2016 by Nathalie Neema and Natalie Tollenaere in Kigali, Bee Light was launched in April of 2017. The company is focused on candle making and candle accessories, and it was born out of an interest in using raw materials in Rwanda that would otherwise have gone to waste. “In the case of beeswax,” notes Neema, “No one was really using it, and it was here in mass quantities. We started to work with beekeepers when we realized they were just throwing it away.”
Neema and Tollenaere first started making candles in their kitchens, selling them at artisan markets around Kigali. When interest grew, they knew they had a real business opportunity on their hands. “We mostly sell to expats and tourists, but paraffin candles, the candles most commonly used in Rwanda, are full of different toxins, and burn quickly,” comments Neema. Bee Light is looking to expand throughout Rwanda, and also to encourage environmentally friendly candle use. For a country as focused on sustainability as Rwanda, this effort is unlikely to go unnoticed.
Skills development is another important aspect of their bourgeoning enterprise. Bee Light has been working to train beekeepers around the country in how to clean and sell their beeswax, in an effort to open up the industry and encourage similar beeswax-focused businesses. In Kigali, Bee Light mainly works with other Rwandan women, many of whom work together in collecting recycled glass and metal tins to make into candle holders and other accessories. Neema, talking about the company’s mission, says that Bee Light is “focused not only on candle production, but on skills training as well.”
The beeswax for the candles themselves comes from all over Rwanda, including Nyungwe National Forest, Butare, Kayonza, and Musanze. The colors of the candles sold by Bee Light range from dark brown to bright orange to the lightest of yellows. This, according to Neema, is because the bees around Rwanda all have different pollen diets and undertake different activities. Beeswax from the south and the north of the country look entirely different, even though the same process is employed to make the candles. All the beautiful colors are natural, and really just make for an even better selection.
The candles are created using Bee Light’s own silicon molds, and designed by Tollenaere, the company’s creative director. Different shapes and sizes are available, with creative new selections added almost monthly. In 2018, Bee Light will move into an official atelier in Kigali, and Neema is excited at the prospect of hiring a bigger team and the possibility of international expansion. However, the point of Bee Light for Neema is to benefit her own community in Rwanda. “I would love, in the future, to have beekeepers making candles from their own beeswax, and for their own communities,” she says.