In a recent documentary, The Story of Us, about the Career Women’s Network Kigali (CWNK), Sonia Mugabo, a fashion designer, reveals how networking has had an enormous impact on her fashion design business.
With the abundant connections she was able to access through this platform; Mugabo says she learned about new opportunities that have helped her business grow.
Inkomoko Entrepreneur Development and Bank of Kigali support ‘Made in Rwanda’ by helping entrepreneurs access interest-free loans, she says, adding that she learnt of this information through this networking platform.
Participants during the viewing of the doumentary. Courtesy photos
“I was able to access a Rwf4 million interest free loan, and now, it is helping me grow my business and I am trying to develop an online platform,” she says.
Mugabo commends networking, noting that it is a great way to gain information.
Entrepreneur and keynote speaker Samantha Ettus wrote an article—Why women aren’t networking and 7 ways to fix it. In it, she shows how women refrain from networking due to a number of reasons, including the prospect of intimidation.
“When I give talks to rooms full of women, I like to ask: ‘How many of you are good at networking?’ If there are hundreds of women in the room, I might see five raised hands. Then I ask, ‘How many of you are good at helping?’ Almost every hand shoots up,” she says.
“Then I explain that networking is just a fancy word for helping. So if you are good at helping, you will inevitably be good at networking. When you introduce two people, you are networking, when you extend an invitation to other women, you are networking. Reframing networking made it less intimidating for these women,” she adds.
Drummers entertain participants during the event.
In a bid to offer women support as they climb the professional ladder, the Career Women’s Network Kigali was established in 2017 with the main purpose of encouraging women to network. As the network was celebrating its two-year anniversary last week, members converged to share their experiences, emphasising the pressing need for women to network if they are to make it in the corporate world.
Inanga players perform.
Rita Mutabazi, Principal of IPRC Tumba, says when she started networking with CWNK, she was blown away with the revelation she had on so many things.
She came to fully comprehend how some things affect women in a way that appears to be simple, yet with significant impact.
Clare Akamanzi, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Development Board, the keynote speaker at CWNK’s anniversary.
“Women need relationships, we need networks and beyond. We need people who are even on the top to open those doors, so if you are not near the doors, you can’t enter once they are open because you have not been around the doors. That is why you need networking to get you closer to those doors,” Mutabazi says.
Why networking should be priority
The farther out we extend ourselves, the farther our opportunities reach, Ettus notes, adding that networking leads to job offers; it leads to industry knowledge, client acquisition, and sales.
“When we don’t extend ourselves beyond our own worlds, we wither.”
Charles Shyaka, an incubation officer, says networking groups give confidence, and chiefly offer women the audacity to face the challenges they experience in the workplace head-on.
He notes that through these networking spheres, young people who are starting their careers learn a lot from those who share their experience, and with this, it serves as a learning tool and supporting system for them.
“Women networking groups help them to be challenged into learning more skills and acquiring more knowledge, something that leads to growth in their careers,” Shyaka says.
Maurice Twahirwa, a teacher by profession shares his view saying that through networking, one is able to find role models who can serve as an inspiration for growth.
“You never know who you will meet, it could be someone who is one step away from changing your life, because there are always a variety of opportunities from different people,” he says.
Twahirwa also thinks networking challenges women to be better than what they were before, hence, inspiring them to be the best they can be in their respective careers.
Lucy Schalkwijk, the founder and chair of CWNK, says career growth is all about starting to engage, taking action, taking small risks every day and becoming more comfortable with risk.
This is why her initiative aims at availing such a platform that offers women a safe space to hone their skills, to get comfortable speaking, moderating and writing.
“As they practice here they also start to take more risks in their workplaces and they start to dream bigger and take actions towards realising these dreams. We are seeing this in the professional lives of our members and hearing this through their testimonies,” she says.
“We are all about getting more women into higher levels of leadership to ensure gender parity at all levels of the workplace, but what we are seeing now is that our members are becoming agents of change at whichever level they are at,” she adds.
More ways women can excel in their careers
Over the two years as she has been interacting with other career women through CWNK, Schalkwijk observes that the issue of confidence is one of the factors that tend to hold women back.
“We have heard about the confidence gap between men and women emanating from childhood. We can do something about it in the longer term for the next generation, but by taking risks and supporting one another on the journey, women of all ages can start to become more comfortable with risk and failure right now and in the process build their confidence,” Schalkwijk says.
She believes that if women are to grow in the workplace, they need to learn to speak for themselves.
“I think that too often we think in the place of women. Others think for us, instead of consulting us —asking for our opinions and our own solutions to our own issues. There is a saying that goes ‘nothing about us without us’. Women are not the problem, we are the solution — all that is needed is for us to own it, for us to empower ourselves.”
She is, hence, of the view that women identify their problems and become their own solutions. “Let us understand our own abilities and work with what we have. When women are empowered, the possibilities are limitless!”
As the keynote speaker at the event celebrating CWNK’s anniversary, the CEO of Rwanda Development Board, Clare Akamanzi, highlighted the importance of results, attitude and self-development.
“Past achievements expire, stay fresh,” she said.
What needs to be done to facilitate career growth for women?
I recommend that the young generation take up these opportunities which serve as platforms of inspiration from leaders. However, I also want to challenge them to create such groups in which they can meet and help each other respectively.
Zephy Muhirwa, Gender consultant
Delegate more capital towards women-centred projects, this will help to enhance their skills. Secondly, there is a gap for more mentors.
Fiona Mutoni, Reporter
I believe that women should adapt to the culture of creating savings groups to ensure that they invest in each other, and also meet often without waiting for events. Women need support from men in their workplaces so that they don’t feel excluded from society, men should also advocate more for women projects. More experienced women should strive to inspire young women who are still struggling to find someone who can open doors for them, this can be done through outreach programmes that bring together a number of young ladies, like schools, universities, among others.
Mutabazi Gakuba, IT Specialist
In my opinion, career choices have widened since women have been introduced and encouraged to join science fields. However, women still lack the courage to express themselves, especially the ones from rural areas. This is why I think there is need for career guidance both in rural and urban areas. Introducing this can lead to better women community outreach, and raising a well-educated generation of women who are aware and willing to pursue their careers.
Kelia Teta Mugenzi, Student