These Rwandan Women are Baking Their Way to Empowerment

Bread production practical during Bakery Operations Manager Training in Kigali
Bread production practical during Bakery Operations Manager Training in Kigali | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery
Photo of Annette Swale
Founder - Ask Annette10 April 2018

Even something as simple as a loaf of bread has the power to change communities, as the women of Rwanda have discovered. The Women’s Bakery is a female-led organisation that trains local women in the art of bread making and running their own bakeries. Creating jobs, improving nutrition, and supporting local economic growth, this organisation has changed these women’s lives.

Bakers from The Women's Bakery, Kagina Bakery | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

Serving in US Peace Corps Rwanda between 2010 and 2012, Julie Greene and Markey Culver saw that despite 64% of the Rwandan parliament being female, some Rwandan communities lacked economic opportunities for women and access to nutritious foods, specifically bread. In 2014, Greene and Culver began building a business that generates positive social change through local enterprise – a model focused on nutrition, education, and women’s empowerment.

The Women’s Bakery piloted the first programme in Tanzania in February 2015, training 20 women and launching two small bakeries. Since then, The Women’s Bakery has conducted four training groups in Rwanda, training 54 women and six men, and launching four bakeries. They have built a vibrant team in Kigali and Rwanda and has thus grown from three full-time staff in fall 2015 to eight full-time staff members. They also have an ever-increasing cohort of part-time and intern staff, with a Rwanda-national majority.

One baker, in the Remera branch, says that the bakery is teaching them more than the art of bread making. “We can teach our children how to be confident in every situation because The Women’s Bakery has been teaching us about this. At the beginning we were not confident, but now we are very confident. So we can tell our children to study hard so that they can have a good future and gain confidence, because life can change at any time.”

An assortment of honey loaves from The Women's Bakery in Kigali | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

The Women’s Bakery partners with organisations whose missions and visions align with theirs. These partners help the organisation to identify groups of women who have an interest in starting a bakery, and they sponsor the group’s training, resources, and ongoing support.

They also partner with independent groups of women who aren’t affiliated with any organisation, women who have heard about The Women’s Bakery through word-of-mouth and who are motivated to open a bakery in their own communities. In these scenarios, The Women’s Bakery sponsors the training, resources, and support.

The Women's Bakery Kigali, baker with an assortment of muffins | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

Because each community has its own unique climate, geography, population, and access to resources, The organisation tailors the characteristics of each bakery to be sure it will succeed. First and foremost, they identify locally available ingredients like flours, vegetables, fruits, and nuts to use in recipes.

The Women’s Bakery also connects with local farmers, craftspeople, property storeowners, and leaders to develop products, markets, and infrastructure. This extends the benefits of a new bakery far beyond the women that are trained—an entire community is involved in raising a bakery from scratch. “I remember when I was still selling vegetables. I used to be disrespected by my neighbours,” one woman working in the Remera bakery said. “But ever since I started working with The Women’s Bakery, I am gaining respect in my community and even with my neighbours.”

Bread production practical during Bakery Operations Manager Training in Kigali | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

The bakery equips women with skills to launch and manage bakeries in their communities. The training includes more than 150 hours of theoretical and practical education. Training is delivered in the local language and are tailored to local needs and tastes. Women learn to source ingredients and to produce and sell breads in their communities. And because bakery infrastructure is built during training, graduates are able to work immediately after graduating.

The programme offers women a level of independence they may not otherwise have gained. “With the money I earn from the bakery, I can now make my own decisions,” said one baker, working in Ndera.

The Women's Bakery Kagina Bakery, baker preparing honey bread | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

After partnering, sourcing, and training, the women are ready to open the bakery for business. And because the community has been involved since the start, people are eager to try the affordable and nutritious breads their support helped create.

During the launch phase, the organisation has support staff in the bakery on a daily basis, helping the women define and adapt to workflow as well as bake and sell bread consistently, and manage the expenses and sales each day.

The Women's Bakery baker in Remera shows off breads | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

After launch, the bakery keeps a Bakery Operations Manager onsite to help the bakery reach full sustainability. This staff member knows the women and understands their needs and goals and supports them along the path to sustainable, gainful employment.

The organisation maintains ownership of the bakery during this time so that women can continue developing their skills without taking on the financial risks of full ownership.

The ultimate goal is to transfer bakery equity to the women working at these bakeries. Then the women will have access to both sustainable, gainful employment and also their bakery’s profits.

Martha, The Women's Bakery (Kagina Bakery) Operations Manager | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery

One woman who works at the Remera bakery says that the impact on their lives has been overwhelming. “The Women’s Bakery has been good to us for the whole period. We have been working together till now, and I can see the prosperity in these things we do. It is also encouraging me in my work, and it gives me power to work more every day. There is future in these things!”

The Women's Bakery (Kigali Bakery) baker selling at the NGO Expo in Kigali | Courtesy of The Women's Bakery