SME Response Clinic hosts webinar on Practical Solutions for Improving the Wellbeing of Women Entrepreneurs

The SME Response Clinic held a webinar on practical solutions for improving the wellbeing of women entrepreneurs at Kigali Public Library on the 8th of December 2021. The webinar was part of the Building Back Healthier Series that was launched with a talk show on KT Radio on the 18thof October 2021 and followed another webcast on practical strategies to deal with stress held in November. The series is organized in partnership with the Geruka Healing Centre.

The objective of the webinar was to inform, inspire, and share knowledge and skills that businesswomen can use to better their wellbeing when dealing with day-to-day stresses of running a business while managing other responsibilities. In addition, the webinar dove into practical techniques for increasing psychological safety and productivity and how to optimize the workplace especially for women entrepreneurs.

The webinar featured a mental health expert, Adelite Mukamana, M.Sc., with two active businesswomen, Scovia Umutoni and Amina Umhoza. Mme. Mukamana started the session with a fantastic example to help the audience have an in-depth appreciation of mental health and wellbeing:

Our mind is like an engine of any car.  No matter how good-looking the car might seem on the outside, without the engine, it wouldn’t start. The car can only move when the engine is working in full force. Think about your mental health and wellbeing like that. When something is wrong with your car engine, you look for a mechanic. The moment you feel that your mental health or wellbeing is struggling, look for professional help.” 

 

Scovia and Amina each took us through their own experiences. Let’s dive in to learn more:

 

Scovia’s Experience:

Scovia Umutoni is Founder of KGL Flour Limited, an agribusiness factory that produces maize flour – locally known as Kawunga – and animal feed. Before the pandemic, she was employed elsewhere, but she lost her job like many others when the pandemic hit. Undeterred, she decided to invest her savings to create her own business. While exciting, it proved to be a very challenging time because once she started her business operations, Rwanda went into lockdown, putting everything on hold.

By the time lockdown was over, while many businesses were back up and running, Scovia’s target market including schools and hotels were still not operational. She started to feel frustrated and uncertain about the future. Scovia thought quickly and decided to change her approach, targeting the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). She has been serving customers in DRC since then, and as Rwanda has begun to recover, she has started to deliver her products locally.

Scovia believes that women entrepreneurs often face specific challenges based on the fact they are women. When she ordered a corn flour machine to start her business from a local businessman, Scovia struggled to get the machine in the agreed-upon two week period. It took engaging male friends to visit the provider with her for Scovia to get the machine two weeks later than promised. Scovia is certain that had she been a male entrepreneur, she would not have had to resort to engaging friends to help her. This is just one example of common obstacles faced by women entrepreneurs, many of whom were also disproportionately affected by COVID-19.

During the pandemic, Scovia took a step back to reflect on her businesses and to think of new strategies to improve operations. Recognizing the importance of her own wellbeing, she took a number of actions to improve her mental health, including listening to music. Her business life is not without challenges – she still faces challenges like being a woman in a male-dominated industry and travel restrictions due to the ongoing pandemic – but she doesn’t intend to stop. Scovia has learned that challenges will always exist, and what is important is to look for solutions to deal with them.

Amina’s Experience:

Amina Umuhoza is Founder and CEO of SAYE – DUKATAZE LTD, which aims to fight unintended pregnancies in young Rwandan women due to menstruation stigma. Her company provides young women with reproductive health information, menstrual hygiene management, and economic empowerment by selling products produced by young women through technology and community engagement.

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically changed SAYE’s operations, and like many other businesses, the company took its business online during lockdowns. This major shift in operations led Amina and her colleagues to question whether they would attain their goals, and Amina had to work hard to balance competing priorities. For instance, the company had to use profits planned for investment to instead pay employee salaries to ensure proper staffing and employee satisfaction. Choices like these have allowed Amina to ensure SAYE continues delivering on its business and social objectives throughout the challenges of the pandemic.

Like Scovia, Amina also faces challenges unique to being a woman entrepreneur. A key example is negative comments from others, including social media bullying. It is not uncommon for Amina to receive questions about plans to marry when she posts about new products or partnerships. She believes that these comments come from cultural beliefs about the role of women, but things have started to change as the government has been educating Rwandans on the role of a woman in societal, family, and personal development.

The hardest part of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic for Amina was to ensure she was strong and resilient for herself as well as for her co-workers and employees. Amina used the lockdown as productively as possible to ensure a positive mindset, reflecting on herself and catching up on important paperwork. This cheered her up, and that feeling encouraged her to reach out to co-workers through virtual platforms. Amina also managed to take care of action items she had postponed or put off pre-pandemic, which provided SAYE with new opportunities after lockdown.

Building Back Healthier:

Scovia and Amina seek to thrive as businesswomen, but this is not always easy. Both receive negative comments based on stereotypes nearly every day; for example, the idea that as women entrepreneurs they can only be successful if they are married. Adelite Mukamana disagrees with this stereotype. “We often hear that the development of women depends on a man. Scovia and Amina are true examples that a businesswoman can run her business smoothly and shine through all circumstances, and we hope they are good examples to our fellow women in the Rwandan society,” she says.

Both entrepreneurs agreed on one fact – one chooses her or his own mentality, and a positive sense of wellbeing is key to carrying on in the face of adversity. Adelite Mukamana agrees. “We act how we think, and we decide how to think,” she says.

Women entrepreneurs are typically challenged by balancing work and home life. Amina believes that marrying to a partner who supports you and who understands your vision is a crucial element for a success as a businesswoman. Mme Adelite Mukamana, both an expert in her field and a mother, advised businesswomen to not be afraid of having families since a woman is a human being that is capable of carrying out multiple tasks. She advised women to launch businesses regardless of their family lives if they’re confident they can do it. She also pointed out that men shouldn’t be threatened by women’s economic empowerment and their partners’ success but instead focus on growing together.

Visit the SME Response Clinic for tips for entrepreneurs to support their mental health and wellbeing. We also invite you to keep an eye on our social media platforms for entrepreneurs’ stories on how their businesses are prioritizing mental health and wellbeing, as part of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic challenges. You can find us on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Submission