Last week, Le Village de la Femme, a platform for women to empower women, organised the very first women entrepreneurs’ exhibition and networking event that brought together over 45 women business owners to showcase their products and services. They also had a chance to network and sell their products since the exhibition was open for all and allowed people to shop from the various brands, as well as support women’s businesses. Chrystel Intaramirwa, co-founder of le Village de la Femme, says they started this platform and organised such an event with hope that it will create spaces for women owners of small and medium enterprises to connect and expand their business projects. “Le village de la femme is a platform created by two sisters; Chrystel Intaramirwa and Aretha Mutumwinka, both of us are feminists and women rights’ activists; Le Village de la Femme envisions this to be a yearly event; in addition to other programmes that will follow throughout the year to continue building the capacity of women business owners,” Intaramirwa says. Networking opportunities Sharon Katabarwa, a young entrepreneur and the owner of the Instagram-based business-Amora Crafts 250, says the exhibition appealed to her primarily because it provided opportunities for networking. As a young female entrepreneur, she says she is constantly feeling the urge to put herself out there and network with other people in business. As a result, this event provided her with a fantastic opportunity to network with other businesswomen, and it was undoubtedly motivating. “I’ve benefited in a variety of ways, one of which is networking. I’ve met a lot of amazing women business owners, and I don’t take this for granted because seeing other women showcase their craft and skills ignited a fire in my heart, encouraging me to keep soaring and working on my craft as well,” she says. This display also increased her clientele. Katabarwa says she was able to advertise herself, and as a result, individuals who didn’t know what she did, learned about it and kept in touch by following her business page. “Marketing has been the most difficult aspect of my journey. It’s been a struggle to get my work out there, partly due to lack of marketing skills and strategy, particularly on social media,” the entrepreneur says. Her other obstacle has been obtaining particular craft material and tool vendors in Rwanda. “I have to order specific materials from Kenya, which is normally a pricey process. As the owner of an online start-up business, I’ve found that the majority of Rwandans have yet to embrace the concept of shopping online, thus it’s a challenge,” Katabarwa says. She, however, observes that in Rwanda, entrepreneurship is quite fruitful, with several prospects, especially for young entrepreneurs. “And I would encourage Rwandan youth to go for it; to generate jobs for themselves, especially because our good leadership encourages and facilitates this,” she adds. Esperance Akayezu, another exhibitor, is the owner of St Augustine Apartment & Hotel, and Miss Beauty haircare extensions. She says the exhibition empowered women and ensured they were lifted in business. “I was exposed, I showcased my business and raised awareness, it will take my business to the next level,” she says. Akayezu says some of the biggest challenges female entrepreneurs face is that people still underestimate the power of women, “But the exhibition itself was a great gesture that women are able to make a business worth it, since it was even organised by women.” She applauds Rwanda for promoting gender equality; “Women are recognised and heard. Some successful businesses are owned by women, there are many women in leadership positions. We are looking forward to exploring our capabilities, we no longer fear to invest in ourselves.” Ike Erhabor, the president of Safi Run Logistics, one of the sponsors of the event, says how the engine of the private sector is mostly driven by women. Most of them are working independently, unable to secure funding to scale with no known platform to help showcase their products. This initiative has answered that and beyond, Erhabor says. “The impact of this event not only helped connect our women to would-be-clients, investors and financial institutions but put Rwandan products all over our region. This event has to happen more often and be more inclusive. So many women entrepreneurs did not participate but will have a chance to be part of this initiative in future.” The event was organised in celebration of the International Women’s Day, and was sponsored by Bank of Kigali, Rwanda Social Security Board, MTN Rwanda, Access Bank, Canal Box, RwandAir, and Safi Run, amongst others. Le Village de la Femme’s Chrystel Intaramirwa (right) envisions this to be a yearly event. A buyer tries on shoes on sale by one of the vendors at the event which was organised in celebration of the International Women’s Day. / Courtesy The exhibition provided women with opportunities for networking.