By Hervé DeBarego
Rwanda is a nation led by women. Women comprise 55% of the country’s workforce, own roughly 40% of businesses and head 1/3 of all households. This gender gap is one effect of the Rwandan Genocide, which began 16 years ago, April 7, 1994.
My name is Hervé DeBarego, and my dream is a fresh produce delivery service. This service is not a luxury. Beyond its obvious convenience, it will create significant change in Kigali -- first, by providing stable paying jobs to women currently selling fruit (illegally) in the streets, and secondly, by saving women time. Kigali women’s time is increasingly divided between traditional homemaking duties and their new work obligations. Women utilizing my services will no longer spend hours in the markets shopping for the freshest and least expensive foods, allowing them more time after work to be at home with their families.
Some are surprised that as a man I am an advocate for women. Yet if they had seen what I have seen, they would not be so surprised. I remember two specific moments in which I witnessed the frustration and challenges women face in Kigali City.
I noticed three women running through the street, carrying fruit baskets on their heads. Police were chasing them, yelling loudly with their fists in the air and accusing them of selling fruit illegally on the street. The men charged after them, wanting to seize their baskets and throw them into the street, spoiling the food that had become their family’s livelihood.
On another occasion, I was visiting a friend’s family, and the woman of the house sat down with us. She shared her frustrations with needing to purchase fresh produce in the open markets. Given her lack of time to shop, the distance to market, transportation problems and the poor quality of produce found in the market, something as simple as purchasing produce had become a dreaded chore that stole her time and drained her energy. In addition, she did not trust her houseboy, who had a tendency to lie about how much he paid for the food. She lost money with no way to prove the actual price of the groceries.
Every urban American can relate to the timesaving benefits of fresh food delivered right to their doorstep. In a country like Rwanda, where 22% of households are food insecure, and over 50% of children are chronically malnourished, increasing access to inexpensive, fresh nutrition is a life-saving initiative. And providing sustainable employment to Rwandan female street vendors is doubly so.
I am one of six finalists in the Bpeace (Business Council for Peace) Race to Innovation, where Rwanda and Afghan entrepreneurs are vying for seed capital. The Race has already gone through two stages of industry and in-country interviews and voting. We are now in the final stage - a global online vote.
Through their “$15 is a Vote for Hope” campaign, Bpeace hopes to raise $10,000 in seed or expansion capital for myself and the other five finalists. The winner of the Race to Innovation will additionally receive a trip to the United States to meet with experts in their industry.
Please vote. Each finalist is working not for themselves, but for the betterment of their country. I am working to create jobs to further my nation’s recovery and healing. I believe my business and its support of Rwanda’s women will have such results. Please visit bpeace.org/vote where you can watch all the finalists’ pitch videos and read brief commentary by each of their pro-bono business advisers. By voting for one of us, you will be empowering women in Afghanistan and Rwanda, and supporting those who are changing the world.