Priscilla lives in the village of Masoro where she supports her two children, working full-time and raising them as a single mother. She is fortunate to work as an artisan at the Abahizi Rwanda factory where she was trained to make high-quality handbags for export and earns a wage that can support her family. Yet when I first met her a few years ago, she rarely expressed her ideas or her opinions – at work or in the community. She didn’t believe that her ideas were useful, and therefore thought it unnecessary to speak up.
From Masoro, if you drive for 30 minutes down a bumpy dirt road, you’ll hit the tarmac road and follow it another 30 minutes toward the busy streets of Naybugogo and into Kigali, were Betty lives. Betty is a city girl. She graduated from secondary school and, at 25, she is eager to be independent. But as a young woman she was shy and unsure of how to go about getting a job in the demanding job market of Rwanda’s capital city. She grew up as an orphan and didn’t have a strong community to support her, or people to help guide her as she set goals for her future.
While these two women have very different lives, there’s one important factor that could be a game changer for each of them: increased self-confidence. The confidence gap is present for women all over the world and can often be a barrier to success – even in a place like Rwanda, whose government is a global leader in supporting women, and has incredible opportunities available for women.
Take a moment to imagine what could be possible for Betty and Priscilla if they weren’t held back by their own inhibitions. What could their lives look like if they had the confidence and leadership ability to create the changes they want to see in their lives and communities?
For the last four years I have led a social enterprise called Resonate, where we unlock the leadership potential of women and girls in Rwanda by building their self-confidence. We partner with groups providing skill-building and education, and integrate leadership workshops into their programmes, allowing women like Priscilla and Betty to turn opportunity into action. In fact – Priscilla and Betty are two of almost 4,000 participants Resonate has worked with in rural and urban areas of Rwanda and East Africa.
Through a partnership with Abahizi Rwanda, Priscilla went through Resonate’s ‘Storytelling for Leadership’ course. She learned to redefine what it meant to be a leader, to value her ideas and opinions, and to practice speaking up. “After Resonate’s training, I started believing that who I am, what I do, and what I think are important– and that I can have a say in my community,” Priscilla said.
During the next cycle of elections in her village, Priscilla ran for and was successfully elected as a village council representative. “Today, I am a leader in my community and it feels wonderful to participate in the wellbeing of my people. I can say that my life now has meaning; I have confidence in every endeavour that I undertake, and that confidence helps me progress as a woman, as a mother, as an artisan, and as a leader.”
During a partnership with the Imbuto Foundation in 2016, Betty had the opportunity to participate in Resonate’s ‘Professional Readiness’ workshop where she developed confidence, public speaking experience, and skills required for interviewing for and succeeding in the job market. She gained the confidence to apply for a job at Mobisol, where she now works as a sales agent. In addition to her fulltime job, she also fulfilled a long-time goal of starting a poultry business. She now has 20 chickens and is going to grow her business until she is self-employed and really, truly independent. Through Resonate’s workshop Betty also built a community, and a drive to inspire others. She told us “Today, I have a friend [from Resonate’s workshop] with whom I stayed in touch because we felt connected through sharing our stories. I want to keep sharing my story with fellow girls, because I was able to see how it can be inspiring and motivating.”
It’s women like Betty and Priscilla that inspire us at Resonate to #PressForProgress, today on International Women’s Day and every day. We know that if we work toward empowering both rural and urban women in Rwanda, they will unleash their potential and help build a better future for us all.