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We're all about hustle at OneSeed. We know firsthand what it takes to transform an idea into a business and we could not have more respect for the incredible women at the heart of this social enterprise.
The Women's Bakery is "an education-centric social enterprise committed to empowering women and developing women-owned businesses." Building sustainable small businesses one bakery at a time in Rwanda and Tanzania, TWB grew out of a simple passion and clear vision for growing communities and livelihood through fresh-baked bread.
This week, we sat down with Heather Newell, TWB's US Programs Officer, to talk baking and building businesses.
Tell me about how TWB's earliest days. How did this project first get off the ground?
While a teacher with the U.S. Peace Corps in Rwanda, I first heard about The Women's Bakery before it was what it is today.
Two colleagues of mine, Markey Culver and Julie Greene, in response to social and economic disparity, had started to bake bread with women in their respective sites of service. This was compelling to me as the project began with a sustainable aspect: income generation.
Women asked how to make bread and so both Markey and Julie began to share and teach this skill - also fortifying breads with protein and micro nutrients.
Soon, they were selling the bread and The Women's Bakery was born.
Tell me a bit about your impact model.
Our work as a service-provider is two-fold:
1. We educate women and equip them with the business, technical, and life skills necessary for income generation.
2. We train women to source local, nutritious ingredients and to produce and sell fortified, affordable breads in their communities. Our program includes on-going oversight and operations management to ensure sustainability and business growth.
TWB empowers women with business, baking, nutrition, and life skills education. This provides economic mobility, improves community nutrition and sparks local economies. The average woman in TWB training is 39 years old and has 4.6 children. 40% rely on farming for primary income, and 50% live in female led homes. Only 14% have finished high school level education.
One bakery creates 3-6 jobs in its first year and women can earn over 2x their average local income after one year of bakery operation. The average GNI (Gross National Income) in Rwanda currently is $650. Within one year, TWB women can earn $981 – this income projection is conservative and expected to increase substantially in two to five years.
Something as simple as a loaf of bread has the power to create jobs, improve nutrition and spark economic growth. Bread is a medium for The Women’s Bakery to accomplish all three - employ women, provide access to improved nutrition on a village level, and support community-driven economic growth.
In Rwanda alone, 44% of children younger than five-years-old are chronically malnourished. Because protein and vitamin deficiencies are a leading cause of malnutrition in East Africa and are missing from consumer products, affordable nutritious additives are essential. When women work, economies grow faster. Through The Women’s Bakery, women’s work has the potential to transform local economies while enhancing the health of their communities.
What has been the biggest challenge you've faced so far?
The biggest challenge we have faced as an organization is pivoting for necessary model changes. Our program is extensive – with a lot of moving parts – and so as a social enterprise start-up, we are constantly looking for ways to build sustainable, smart, and impactful programming! Working on the ground in East Africa is not always easy, but it’s an important part of how we do our work: with a locally driven context, and locally driven employees!
What's the long term vision for TWB? How do you plan to grow in the future?
The Women’s Bakery exists to empower women through education and business. We believe our model can be relevant throughout Rwanda, East Africa, and beyond!
The Women’s Bakery is at a critical point of strategy and scale. By refining our model, we are poised to launch a relevant, measurably impactful, profitable bakery franchise model in East Africa. We plan to train at least two more groups this year, expanding our internal staff, and growing our network of TWB women.
This scale is multiplicative. Moreover, this model and its scale can be duplicated and replicated across East Africa. We are refining the model in Rwanda in real time with plans to scale into neighboring East African countries.
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