Alphosine Niyigena, proprietor of Universal Beauty Academy, is among several Rwandan women who have benefited from policies that empower women.
Universal Beauty Academy (UBA) is the first of its kind in the country. Niyigena says she spent about Rwf120 million to establish her business. The school has the capacity to accommodate 360 students in shifts. Two halls are used for theoretical classes in beauty therapy and hair dressing while six smaller rooms are for practical classes, that will start on July 1st, 2012.
After spending five years working at the Auditor General‘s office, she set up a consultancy firm, Worldwide Initiatives, that deals with economic studies, finance and auditing.
“From my consultancy work earnings, I decided to invest in hair salons because I discovered they were profitable,” she said.
In July 2007, Niyigena bought her first hair salon. She says she wanted to diversify her business prospects and offer employment opportunities to others.
“Initially my plan was to have a hair salon in each district. However, later I realised there were few professional beauticians in Rwanda, mostly from neighbouring countries. So I decided to re-orient my plan and start up a beauty school to train Rwandans,” she explains.
Adding that, “Youth lack hope because they complete universities and fail to get jobs. For this reason, we need to diversify and employ technical skills in order to boost our economy.”
The 42-year-old Niyigena was born in Kigali. She attended Saint Famille Primary School before joining Lycee Notre Damme De Afrique, in Rubavu for her secondary school education. She later attained a Bachelors in Economics at Kigali Independent University and a Masters in Finance at Maastricht School of Business in the Netherlands.
“My childhood dream was to become a leader in a Government institution. But I think I inherited business traits from my mother who is a business woman,” she says.
Besides her numerous saloon businesses, Niyigena carries several leadership positions. She was the first Vice Chairperson of the Private Sector Federation, she is also the Vice Chairperson of the East African Business Council and holds other positions in several financial institutions in the country.
She said that the greatest challenge that Rwandan women face in engaging in business ventures is the lack of confidence.
“There are still women who think that some things can only be done by men. Genuinely speaking, women are very good in business. I have been in this field for long and I have discovered that they are very serious about their work and don’t spend money recklessly. The only thing keeping them back is their limited skills especially in accounting, low confidence and having a vision to do big things,” she said.
Niyigena attributes her success in the business world to the right education and exposure to the outside world.
“I’m lucky that I have widely travelled and I am involved in the Boards of many institutions. This has given me exposure and made me confident because I am willing to learn from other success stories,” she said.
Niyigena is also a wife and mother to her 19-year-old daughter.