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Empowering Rwandan Women, One Entrepreneur at a Time

Empowering Rwandan Women, One Entrepreneur at a Time
Lindsay Ward ’13, Alexandra Cognetti ’13 and Donna Simpson, consultant manager, The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center and the University’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Center (WEC) coordinator, celebrate with students from the Akilah School for Women in Kigali, Rwanda.

The lush green foliage covering the endless mountains is the first thing travelers notice as they leave Rwanda’s Kigali airport. By the time visitors notice the stream of humanity walking in colorful outfits, heads piled high with baskets of fruit, chicken and the occasional mattress, these travelers realize that they are about to learn more than any book could possibly teach. Rwanda, the land of a thousand hills with a history so horrifying it is painful to visit the museums, was the destination of a recent trip sponsored by the University’s Kania School of Management (KSOM).

Previously, Michael Mensah, Ph.D., KSOM’s Dean, met with Akilah Institute for Women and set the stage for the University to provide training to Akilah students. Once an agreement was reached, KSOM and the University’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Center (WEC) made plans to develop first-rate entrepreneurship and leadership training with a focus on the hospitality industry. Then, WEC’ s coordinator, Donna Simpson, and two KSOM students — Lindsay Ward ’13 and Alexandra Cognetti ’13 — along with Alan Brumagim, Ph.D., associate professor of management and marketing, traveled to Rwanda to provide the training at the Akilah School for Women, a college offering diploma programs in entrepreneurship, hospitality management and information systems.

The agenda for the week in Rwanda included Simpson’s team presenting a simulated start-up business, facilitating leadership discussions and organizing activities. Sessions on what entrepreneurship is and how a business operates framed the week’s training program. Topics presented included budgeting, marketing and customer service skills.

Since the University’s visit occurred outside of the normal Akilah school year, the students had to make special arrangements for travel from their villages. Many students walked miles to take part in this training.

By the week’s end, students and advisers had formed new friendships and found each other mutually inspiring. “They (the students) have a huge curiosity and thirst for knowledge, as I do being a student, and it was great to relate to all of the girls on that level,” said Ward.

During their time in Rwanda, the group met a Rwandan entrepreneurial success story, Emmanuel Nkuranga, a painter. A survivor of the Rwandan genocide, Nkuranga gives back by providing a place for young artists to grow in their craft. He recently also served as an artist-in-residence at the University.

“Every person we met had their life deeply affected by the 1994 genocide, but they were still able to smile and love,” said Cognetti. “Their strength and hope for the future is beautiful and inspirational.”

Read more about the work of Donna Simpson and other faculty in Ignite, a magazine dedicated to faculty work in the Ignatian tradition. View the digital edition of Ignite at scranton.edu/ignite.

Donna Simpson
Donna Simpson

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