For a CEO/entrepreneur, Salha Kaitesi exudes nothing like the ‘bossy’ aura one would expect. On the contrary, she is humble and very pleasant to be around.
In 2009, Kaitesi had a dream to help struggling women in Rwanda, hence the birth of Beauty of Rwanda, a UK based company she owns.
The online social enterprise officially kicked off in 2010 and she has never looked back. She came across basket weavers in Rwanda and knew they were the ones she wanted to help. The company’s aim is to promote socio-economic well-being of vulnerable groups in Rwanda. The women are the bread winners of their families because their husbands were either killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi or are in prison for the crimes they committed during that time. Beauty of Rwanda also runs a campaign called “Only One Basket” where individuals to buy at least one piece of the crafts available and the weavers are the beneficiaries. Rachel Garuka caught up with Kaitesi to find out how far she has come with her inspiring project. Below are the excerpts;
Who is Salha Kaitesi?
I am a British-Rwandan mother, social entrepreneur, sister, friend and founder of Beauty of Rwanda. I am passionate about ending poverty, development, empowerment, justice and equality. I am also the owner and executive-editor of ElleAfrique, the first all African women blogzine.
In 2009 you came up with the Beauty of Rwanda concept with the project kicking off in 2010. What inspired you?
The Rwandan women weavers that I came across during my visit to Rwanda that very year.
Has your business grown over the years?
It grew alright. More people know who we are and what we do. Having said that it’s still in it’s early stages and it isn’t anywhere I would like it to be. The more market opportunity that we find for the Rwandan crafts the bigger the company will become and the better the lives of the weavers involved will be too.
Every venture has its pros and cons. What are yours and what risks have you taken to strengthen your business?
You can say that again. The number one pro and most important of all is being able to help others through Beauty of Rwanda. Everything else is a bonus. As for the cons ... where do I begin and end? The biggest one of all is logistics. Getting the goods from Rwanda to the United Kingdom is very expensive! Due to the few or lack of enough shipping and forwarding companies that operate in Rwanda, prices are ridiculously hiked and it proves very difficult to operate the business.
Tell us about the women that you work with.
They are 18 women in total not including their children. They are based in Gitarama (Muhanga) and all are survivors of the Genocide against the Tutsi. They are a great group of women. I had a great laugh with them the last time I visited. They are optimistic about their future and do all they can to provide for their families.
What would you say have been your main achievements since starting up?
Taking a leap of faith in order to help others.
Where is Beauty of Rwanda now and what do you hope for the future?
Since last October, Beauty of Rwanda operations were kind of put on hold. We decided to take a back seat for a few months while we embarked on a new marketing and promotion strategy. A new website is also being designed and is due to be launched in Spring. Things are looking good thanks to our partners Enactus (Newcastle). There is a team of 10 members of Enactus who meet with me at least once a week. The ideas they have and the commitment is ... wow! We go through every angle of the business. I am looking forward to see how things turn out in the very near future. I have to say that this is the most help I have ever got from anyone in regards to the business. I truly appreciate their help and support.
On May 7, 2011, you launched your ‘Only One Basket’ campaign. How is that going?
It’s still Beauty of Rwanda’s campaign and will carry on once we are back into full operation. The ‘Only One Basket’ campaign is not supposed to break the bank . All we ask is that you and everyone else buys at least one piece of craft from us. If a lot of people do this then more lives in Rwanda will be improved.
You won the first ever ADWA (African Diaspora at Work Awards). Tell us about it.
Haha ... A total surprise, that one was! ADWA Awards are for Africans living in the Diaspora. The public votes for whom the award is given to. The criteria is that the winner has to be working to empower, develop and improve the lives of others in Africa. I was humbled by this. Didn’t think people appreciated what I did. I guess I was wrong.
Any new projects you are working on now? If yes, tell us about them.
Yes, yes , yes. I have a new baby in my life. Her name is ElleAfrique magazine. ElleAfrique is the first ever blogzine by African women. All the writers are African women living in Africa and the Diaspora. We have women from Sudan, Angola, Nigeria, Gambia, Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa and other African countries. ElleAfrique is very unique and its content is particularly centred around African women. ElleAfrique gives a voice to girls and women of Africa. There is always a topic that one relates too. You should check it out, it’s great, if I have to say so myself.
Any advice to women and young girls who would love to follow in your footsteps?
Advice? - Never sacrifice who you are just because someone else has a problem with it.