In Rwanda, basket-weaving is an age-old tradition. Hand-woven baskets are used for transportation and special ceremonies, and are now one of Rwanda’s most popular exports. Gahaya Links is an artisan cooperative empowering cross-generations of women and girls, widows and orphans, and Hutu and Tutsi alike to build bridges through artisan enterprise. In 2004, two entrepreneurial sisters, Joy Ndungutse and Janet Nkubana, combined their experiences in handicrafts design and marketing to create Gahaya Links.
In early 2007, the U.S. African Development Foundation awarded Gahaya Links a grant of $82,000 which provided the capital needed for Gahaya Links to develop marketing and the tools needed to sell their products to Macy’s department stores. Today, as a result of Gahaya Links’ cooperative model and local partnerships, they are able to leverage seed capital from the U.S. African Development Foundation to produce high quality crafts for export with more than 5,000 artisans from over 50 cooperatives and associations located in all the provinces of Rwanda.
In June 2010, USADF awarded Gahaya Links an expansion grant of $242,000 to expand its business by developing new product lines both in their existing handicrafts specialties, as well as for new product lines of jewelry, textiles and handbags. Gahaya Links is now exporting globally about two shipping containers of product a year.
Through handicraft training, Gahaya Links is committed to training local women in artisan crafts and building on their traditional skills in basket-weaving and tailoring. Gahaya has also trained 500 girls; who have dropped out of school, in handicraft skill and design, investing in the next generation of young female artisans.
Monica Mucamana is president of the Mpanpa Weavers’ Cooperative in Ruhango district, one of the contributing cooperatives that sources to Gahaya Links. In the past, weavers would earn 300 RWF, or less than $1, a week for their handicrafts. Now, weavers can earn up to 3,000 RWF ($4 USD) a week by selling to Gahaya Links. Mpanpa Cooperative members are paid upon delivery of the baskets, with some earnings going back to the cooperative fund for collective costs, such as health insurance. Monica says, “I can provide food at home without waiting for my husband to provide money for that. Thanks to my income from the weaving business, I feel empowered in the upkeep of my home and paying my daughter’s school fees.”
Gahaya Links has successfully progressed from organizing low-income urban and rural women across ethnic lines into small basket-weaving groups, to a global artisan enterprise that molded weavers into entrepreneurs who can sustain their families and communities. In partnership with USADF, Gahaya Links is an example of where development meets purpose, not just to generate income but also to weave peace, empowerment and prosperity into the lives of women.
Twenty-two years ago this April we mark the beginning of the Rwandan genocide, where nearly a million people were killed in 100 days in 1994. The U.S. African Development Foundation has remained steadfast to helping Rwanda’s men and women, from vulnerable women to smallholder farmers, from entrepreneurs to small business owners, to rebuild their country. USADF supports vulnerable populations as they advance from the sidelines of poverty, with USADF assistance, to become players in the economic growth and progress in post-genocide Rwanda. For more information, visit our Remembering Rwanda series.