For the past two years, Rwandan women have partnered with young American entrepreneurs in what has been described as a unique business initiative.
Mathew Mitro is head of INDEGO Africa, a group that works mainly with rural women in Rwanda to market their handicrafts in the West. He says his organization is working to "challenge old models of development in Africa," which he says often encouraged dependence and rarely trained people to stand on their own two feet.
For generations, women in Rwanda have been weaving baskets and making other crafts that were rarely marketed beyond the East African Community. The meager earnings were barely enough to sustain them and their communities.
Mitro left a high paid job as an attorney to form INDEGO. He says it has an approach unlike that of many NGOs working in Africa: it seeks to give "its partners a real stake in their own development." INDEGO gives the Rwandan women 100 percent of the profits from their products sold in the United States. These women, most of whom belong to a village cooperative, are then taught how to manage their finances and manage a modern business.
Mitro says INDEGO is an
acronym that stands for the group's three governing principals – independence,
development and governance. He says it encourages the women to be independent
and to be able to "carry on the kind of work that we are doing for them." They
are encouraged to spend part of their profits on social programs, like educating
orphans from the 1994 genocide and looking after children who have lost parents
to HIV/AIDS. INDEGO Africa measures the success of its plan by looking at
long-term results, including higher standards of living and improved access to