SME Response Clinic hosts radio show Supporting Entrepreneurs’ Wellbeing during COVID-19 on KT Radio in partnership with the Geruka Healing Centre


On 18 October 2021, the SME Response Clinic launched the Building Back Healthier Series with a session on KT Radio’s Ubyumbwa Ute? radio show in partnership with the Geruka Healing Centre. This conversation aimed to support small business owners with insights to positively impact their wellbeing, featuring expert psychologists in conversation with entrepreneurs.

As one of the fastest-growing economies on the African continent, Rwanda has earned a reputation for innovation in many sectors, including the implementation of different measures to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government formed a robust nationwide response in March 2020, which included lockdowns and curfews. While effective, these measures have affected the lives and businesses of Rwandans, including their mental health and wellbeing.

The Geruka Healing Centre, which was established in 2019 to respond to the mental health and psychological needs of Rwandans, has seen an increase in demand for services from entrepreneurs over the course of the pandemic. In addition to seeking strategies for maintaining their own personal wellbeing, businesses have also been looking for guidance and financial support for the well-being of their employees.

Early on, the radio session discussed that understanding warning signs for people struggling experiencing challenges with mental health is usually difficult. However, Dr Vincent Sezibera, interviewed during the radio show, explained that there are clear biological, psychological, and social signs. A symptom of deteriorating mental health can manifest itself through depression or stress. People may express that they “feel lonely” or are “falling asleep all the time.” Some may experience loss of appetite or concentration. Regardless of the way it manifests, it is important to get help once you see the signs.

“The number of days you experience a mental health issue is not [important]. What’s important is that you look for mental health support once those manifestations [begin to] lead to significant social or occupational impairment or when you do feel not comfortable and there have been changes in how and what you enjoyed doing before.” – Dr Vincent Sezibera

In addition to Dr Vincent Sezibera, the radio show also featured two entrepreneurs, Gloria Girabawe, Founder of Flove, and Jeannette Umutoniwase, Founder of Inzira Dreamz Networks. Read on to learn more about Jeannette’s and Gloria’s stories.


Jeannette’s Story

Jeannette Umutoniwase is the founder of Inzira Dreamz Networks, a social enterprise that supports women and youth empowerment by teaching them how to be self-reliant through entrepreneurship activities like crafting clothes, bags, and shoes. Jeannette is passionate about giving hope to the community, especially young people, and creating positive transformation, so she also offers leadership coaching and self-awareness training. During the pandemic, Jeannette’s business suffered because the markets were closed, and its products could be sold. Jeannette and her coworkers felt overwhelmed, depressed, angry, and sad. Because she could not meet in person with her colleagues, she also felt isolated and lonely.

She began to worry about her mental health. Jeannette was able to regain her well-being by reaching out for professional support and sharing resources with those working in the same field experiencing similar hardships. She realized that she wasn’t the only one affected by the lockdowns. Jeannette began using digital tools like Zoom to stay connected with her workmates, which helped, and to interact with customers. As businesses have begun opening back up, Jeannette has slowly gained back her customers. She feels reassured in her ability to communicate swiftly with her customers, address concerns, and serve the market.


Gloria’s Story

Gloria is the founder of Flove, a Rwandan company that hires teen mothers to produce handbags for women. Her passion as an entrepreneur is empowering women. With Flove, Gloria creates job opportunities, pays a livable wage, and fosters a safe space to talk about mental health issues. Like Jeannette, she also organizes workshops on mental wellbeing so that her employees can learn to cope with trauma and mental health issues.

Gloria launched her business during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and noticed warning signs of a nervous breakdown – defined as a period of extreme mental or emotional stress – in herself after a few months of lockdown. She began to feel discouraged, exhausted, less productive and stressed. She launched her business during an extremely challenging time and needed someone to speak to so that she could validate business ideas. She realized that her mental well-being was suffering. At one point, she went to the hospital with symptoms similar to COVID-19 but tested negative. Gloria knew that she needed to improve her personal wellbeing so that she could be the best boss and run a thriving business for her staff.

Gloria learned by experience that one of the ways to cope with mental health issues is to seek out other business owners and share experiences. Gloria met with other entrepreneurs so that she could communicate her frustrations and test out her ideas. Because she saw that other businesswomen were experiencing similar challenges, Gloria’s depression began to ease. Dr Sezibera and other mental health experts agree – it is critical for business owners to talk about their challenges and struggles with peers and professionals, like Gloria. Doing so is the first step toward building back healthier.

Building Back Healthier

Jeannette and Gloria are building back healthier by maintaining their connections with the community and their customers. They are working with their peers to support each other to overcome the hardships and impacts of the pandemic. Dr. Sezibera agrees that these are important tools to positively impact mental health and wellbeing – talking to others, sharing resources, and staying in touch are key.

See our blog post featuring tips and tools for small business owners to improve their wellbeing, and stay tuned for our next webinar, which will be held on our Facebook and YouTube channels in early December.