Kelia Gasabwa has a dream of building a platform for Rwandan products on the international market. She has been living in the United States of America for over four years now but the difficulty of accessing Rwandan products abroad motivated her to build MadeInRw, a company she established in 2016 with the vision of not only selling ‘Made in Rwanda’ products, but also promoting entrepreneurs and small businesses in Rwanda. The 25-year-old had a chat with Women Today’s Donah Mbabazi.
How did you come up with the idea?
I have been living in the US since 2013 and previously, every time I wanted something from Rwanda I had to wait for a friend to come from holiday, and that’s like months of waiting. One day I was looking for Agashya (passion fruit juice made in Rwanda) and for some reason I thought I could find it online, like on Amazon or eBay but I couldn’t. It was then that I thought that having a platform that would bridge the gap between Rwandan products and the consumers in the Diaspora would resolve the problem, and that is how I came up with MadeInRW.
What does MadeInRW do exactly?
Our main goal is to build a stand for Rwandan products on the international market; however, we are also focused on promoting entrepreneurs and small businesses in Rwanda. We are achieving that by giving businesses free consultation on brand development; we facilitate them to ship products by providing free shipping to our main warehouses in California (USA) and Belgium. We also assist them in doing market research as well as advertisement for free through social media and other sources; this really makes a significant impact on boosting their sales.
What products do you export from Rwanda?
I export mainly food products like Kinazi Cassava Flour, Nyirangarama products; also, I carry clothes from known fashion designers in Rwanda like Francis Zahabu, Uzi Collections, Kabash Collections, Hakym Reagan Boutique and many more. We are also planning on carrying art crafts in the next few days.
Has your objective of starting up this initiative been met so far?
When it comes to business I am a perfectionist, MadeInRW is on the right path but I personally think that there is still a lot to do. So far we have generated jobs, Rwandan products are being known by other nationalities, we are making major sales in North America and Europe but like I said, there is still much to achieve, it does not end here.
Challenges you have met so far?
Challenges in this business are many; the first one is negotiating the price with sellers and also making sure that their products meet global standards. I always educate them by portraying the importance of having their products on an international market; also letting them know about today’s marketing strategies where everything is going digital.
And the achievements you have made?
For the last few months that we have been selling Rwandan products online, we have made significant sales to not only Rwandans but other nationalities as well. We still have a couple of things to improve on in order to boost our sales even higher, we are in the works to globalise MadeInRW where anybody around the world can easily purchase Rwandan products through our platform and have it delivered to their location at the cheapest price.
As we do not only sell Rwandan products, we also promote them using digital marketing. We use SEO (search engine optimisation), Google analytics, social media ads and many other strategies to reach out to customers. When it comes to online stores everything has to look good so it can attract customers. That’s how we have been making sales so far.
How are Rwandan products fairing in sales abroad? Which of the products are on high demand?
Yes, the most selling product is Kinazi Cassava Flour which is loved by many due to its quality and fair price. There were 20 tons sent and next month there will be 13 more followed by another 40 tons. The Kinazi cassava plant is doing such a tremendous job that I think it should be a leading example to other manufacturers in Rwanda.
The promotion of ‘Made in Rwanda’ will lead to opening more doors as it is not about the products only; it’s also about our culture. There is more associated that will generate great revenue for the economy of the country.
What do you think can be done to further promote ‘Made in Rwanda’ products abroad?
Making sure that vendors have good quality products at a fair price for the customer and also investing in marketing as it’s very important. Looking at examples of some of the most influential companies in the US like Coca Cola, they spend billions in digital marketing every year yet we know everybody drinks Coca Cola so their sales would be stable but in today’s market, there is a lot of competition, if you ‘relax’ you will lose customers.
Future plans for your company?
MadeInRW is now an official partner of eBay Africa which will be launched next month. This will allow artisans to sell their products on eBay while in Rwanda. Those that don’t have access to the Internet will not be left out as well. As a partner of eBay we will be processing and filling orders also making sure that sellers are paid in local currency. We have made quite a number of sales so far, and 40 per cent of our customers are not Rwandans. We are aiming at introducing our products to other cultures as well. By the end of 2017, we will be expanding our territory to Australia and Asia.