DOHA, Qatar — Kula, a nonprofit organization that Sarah Buchanan and James Sasson founded, invests in business to empower those living in poverty to improve their lives and create a better future for their generations in Rwanda. The founders spent hours listening to people who had survived terrible things they could not imagine and decided to close its projects in other countries and focus on the Kula project of growing and selling coffee in Rwanda.
Poverty in Rwanda
With a current population of around 13.6 million people, poverty in Rwanda is still significant especially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a World Bank Report, the unemployment rate increased rapidly from 13% to 22% during the lockdown in 2020. Around 60% of workers reported that they received low salaries during the same period.
With the belief that poverty is not due to a lack of money but a lack of access and opportunity, Kula works closely with coffee-growing communities and offers different kinds of training. So far, the organization has planted 400,000 coffee and shade trees, provided more than 20,000 training hours, started three women’s centers and launched 100 businesses in Rwanda.
Kula’s Impact on Poverty and Local Communities
Lindsay Holban, the director of Impact from Kula Project, told The Borgen Project that the primary way for Kula to reduce poverty is through the Kula Fellowship. It offers holistic efforts to support coffee farmers and youth entrepreneurs by providing access to monthly, in-depth industry training, one-on-one mentorship, life and leadership skills and investment opportunities.
The ultimate goal of the Kula Fellowship is to support communities in the long term and help households make strategic choices about their health, finance and personal lives through building successful businesses.
“Through these efforts, Kula Project is able to strengthen the personal empowerment of and entrepreneurship opportunities for Rwandan coffee farmers and artisans and ultimately support individuals, households and communities to invest in their own sustainable futures,” Holban added.
Kula has been making a progressive impact regarding business and income, women’s empowerment as well as family health and nutrition throughout communities in Rwanda. Besides its business training, the project employs Self-Esteem training and Gender Equity training to empower women and support their potential and dreams. It also offers Family Health & Nutrition training to promote physical well-being, implement a healthy, balanced diet as well as improve food security.
According to the latest data provided by Kula, the project has increased coffee harvest yield by 38%, income by 35% and group savings by 33%. Besides that, 82.8% of women feel knowledgeable about female health and reproductive cycles and unplanned pregnancies fell by 17%. Healthier eating habits increased by 79% and 71% in dietary variance. Also, 91.53% of fellows now use clean water and 97% of them eat at least two meals a day.
Kula’s Success Stories
Holban shared two success stories with The Borgen Project: Consilia Uwamahoro who is an entrepreneur and graduated the Kula Fellowship with the business investment award and Fortunee Nyirabashyitsi who is a Kula Coffee student in the Western Province of Rwanda. Both fellows have gained significant achievements and demonstrated positive impact with hope and potential.
Uwamahoro entered Kula as a coffee farmer with an additional interest in creating more sources to support herself and her family. She came up with the idea of starting a beekeeping business. After carefully reviewing her exemplary business plan detailing costs, profits and challenges, Kula decided to invest in her business. The business turned out to be a success and Uwamahoro was able to triple her monthly savings and expand her coffee farm by 50%. Most importantly, she could eventually afford the school fees and stop worrying about her children not being able to receive an education.
Nyirabashyitsi, who is a single mother of five children, shows hard work and dedication since day one of the Kula Fellowship program. She has received coffee farm training as well as a mentorship program and personal development training. Nyirabashyitsi said that after these training sessions, she started working on her self-esteem and implementing what she had learned on her coffee farm, leading to the best harvest she had ever produced. “I also started taking better care of my children as they are now all in school studying. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for my family,” Nyirabashyitsi added.
Future Goals and Upcoming Projects
The primary goal for Kula in the next two to three years is to continue developing entrepreneurs in Rwanda through its Kula Fellowship Program. It planned to start its fifth Fellowship program with 315 new fellows after graduation in June 2022 and to keep on making positive impacts on local communities.
According to Holban, “Through the Kula Fellowship, we aim to continue seeing impact across a variety of indicators stemming from each aspect of our program including increases in income and savings, number of businesses invested in and launched, industry knowledge and implementation, number of children in school, Fellows’ physical and psychosocial wellbeing, decision-making confidence and capability, etc.”
In addition, Kula looks forward to further strengthening the relationships with the Districts it has been working with; its long-term approach is to work within the same district for three to five years before switching to another district. Kula is also in the process of building Women Centers in Rusasa and Nyamasheke to “work with the daughters of our coffee farmers and other vulnerable women within those communities.”
Kula has been making progressive impacts on poverty in Rwanda by investing and training locals with the necessary skills to start their own businesses. It empowers women by teaching them social and gender equality as well as helping them explore their potential and dreams. Let us hope more and more people benefit from Kula and change for a better future.
– Jiaying Guo