Empowering Micro and Small Business Owners in Rwanda

June 20, 2018

Last year, the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth entered into a three-year partnership with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), locally known as Inkomoko. In support of Rwanda’s Sustainable Development Goals, the aim of the partnership is to empower micro and small business owners – many of whom are refugees – by providing them with a number of tools for success including mentoring, technical support, capacity building, and direct access to affordable capital.

Here are some stories from the entrepreneurs in our program:

Kamana Jacqueline

Congolese-born Kamana Jacqueline (38) poses inside the hotel she owns located in Gihembe Refugee Camp, Byumba, Northern Rwanda. Kamana is a business owner and refugee who fled conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“I have been here since 1997. I was trained by the American Refugee Committee in different activities and that is where I learned how to cook. I went to school here at the camp. I have employed three permanent staff but, depending on my customers, I hire more staff as casual workers. Some of them went through the same training as me, but I later hired them. I have the biggest space in the refugee camp, so I have the most customers.

One of the biggest hardships I am encountering is the cash stipend has been very reduced, so now the clients have also decreased; they don’t use their money to come to the hotel, they first consider their basic needs for their homes. As a result, my business has been very affected. If I had a chance to get a loan, which I am considering, I would expand my business.”


Lubingo Ibulisho

President of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Shamina Singh talks with Congolese-born Lubingo Ibulisho (47) in his carpentry workshop located in Gihembe Refugee Camp, Byumba, Northern Rwanda. Lubingo is a carpenter and refugee who fled conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“In Congo I was a farmer. When I came here, I couldn’t do farming; I was begging for money and did small businesses. UNHCR asked us what we wanted to learn and I said carpentry. Now, I make chairs, tables and doors – everything that could be made out of wood. I started my business 8 years ago and have four staff, two are my sons. Most of my customers are refugees, but I also make special chairs for the host community.

At the beginning, I was making very small products and I was not really generating any income. But, when I joined Inkomoko, they taught me how to improve my service, how to make better products with better quality and how to reach other markets. I asked for a loan to expand my business, I got more space and now I make more expensive products and hire more staff. In the future I plan to take out another loan to buy machinery and also be able to rent outside of the camp and grow my business so that I can get two places and my sons can work here and I go outside the camp and create more employment.

Before I took the loan I was living like any refugee family here depending on UNHCR support in terms of money and also food, and now I am not really depending on that money. I was able to build my own house, whereas others are still living in the houses provided by UNHCR. Basically, all of my expenses come from the income I make out of this business. When UNHCR reduced the money they gave us, my family was not affected in any way because the business is generating enough income for us.”


Emmanuel Tuyisenge

President of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth Shamina Singh talks with Rwandese-born Emmanuel Tuyisenge in his concrete factory located in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Emmanuel owns TEMACO Builders Ltd., a manufacturer of prefabricated concrete products.

“I started with Inkomoko in 2016. I was having some problems with finances because I was running my company, but I was not aware of how to make it professionally. They provided me with technical assistance and gave me some financial support.

Before my first loan, I had only three workers. With the financial support I scaled up to nine people. After that I realized I can do better and that is when I decided to get a big loan so that I may buy new machines with different molds and now we are 26 workers. I am planning to work with Inkomoko to purchase a big piece of land to make a big factory. I can save the money, but it will take long. I think it is better to take a loan and do it at once and then I try and get money, because it means if I take that loan, I will be able to pay it back.”


Sonia Mugabo

Sonia Mugabo works in her office and shop located in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. Sonia is a fashion designer and fashionista. She is the founder and chief executive officer of the fashion label Sonia Mugabo. In March 2017, Sonia Mugabo was named among “30 Most Promising Young Entrepreneurs in Africa 2017” by Forbes.com.

“My name is Sonia Mugabo and I am a fashion designer and I have a brand that has been named after me as well, Sonia Mugabo. I have been in business for five years. I started by dressing my family and friends, which then became a business. Now, I am hoping for it to become a global brand.

There is never enough capital when you are a startup. There is just so much to do and right now I have managed to sort of scale, but I feel like I have more potential. For that I need more capital, training workers, etc. so for me, to be able to expand.  I definitely need support so that I can produce more. So what I would advise someone who is new to the business is to be patient and to be strategic.

Inkomoko really helped me, they helped me with my business plan and with my 5-10 year plan. They really helped me and hopefully, with their partnership with the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth, they can help provide training, support and loans.”

In March, Center President Shamina Singh visited the AEC in Rwanda and met with several of the program’s entrepreneurs. Here are some additional photos from her trip:

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