‘I want to make a positive impact in the world’

Yvonne has a strong, honest and authentic sense of ‘feeling good’ while ‘doing the good’. She wants to make a positive impact in the world, exploring the world at the same time. With a continuous need to solve social issues, she’s currently working at ‘SHE’ (Sustainable Health Enterprises), providing with material and education to Rwandese women and girls, creating jobs and increasing her incomes.

Did your ‘IMBA’ at IE transform you personally and/or professionally?

Unfulfilled after practicing law for 8 years, I sought to transition into a career in which I could both solve pressing social problems and travel the world. A leap into social business, specifically geared towards poverty alleviation in developing countries, seemed like a perfect fit, despite my lack of any relevant work experience. I chose to pursue an MBA to gain foundational business knowledge. After all, I reasoned, ‘how could I possibly run a successful social business if I didn’t know anything about running a business in general?’ I understood that an MBA wouldn’t automatically make the perfect social business career materialize for me, but I hoped it would give me the tools I needed to begin the transition into social business. This path brought me to IE, where I found what I sought and a wealth of opportunities to build social enterprise experience.

Did you participate in any social project while doing the IMBA? Did you get new opportunities thanks to your IE experience?

During my IMBA, I participated in 3 social enterprise projects. As part of the Emzingo NexGen Fellowship, I undertook a consulting project for Zazida Institute of Entrepreneurship, a social enterprise startup in Johannesburg that educates aspiring and early-stage entrepreneurs. I became further involved in fostering economic development by co-founding ‘Next Generation Lab’ (NGL), with my IMBA classmate and good friend Abu Cassim. ‘NGL’ is an accelerator for family businesses and SMEs that launched in Johannesburg in early 2013 –its mission is to transform family businesses & SMEs into engines for economic development and job creation. Finally, as a member of the ‘Net Impact Board’ at IE, I co-organized ‘Impact Weekend’, a startup weekend for social business.

Thanks to these experiences, I had the opportunity to work on a pro bono consulting project with ‘Yunus Social Business’ (YSB), a social business incubator fund founded by Muhammad Yunus, a pioneer in social business and one of my personal heroes. At ‘YSB’, I designed and implemented the early stages of incubators in Tunisia & Uganda. It was the best choice for me at that time –I learned a lot about incubating social businesses and gained more ‘African experience’ –though I emerged from the IMBA and the volunteer project with ‘YSB’ flat broke.

How do you contribute to a better world?

My next stop was in Port Harcourt (Nigeria) managing operations and finance for ‘CMAP’, a participatory development NGO. While that role provided me with invaluable experience in tracking and managing the finances and operations of an organization making positive social change in an emerging economy, I ultimately chose to seek another opportunity with an organization offering market based solutions rather than advocacy.

I’m now working for a social enterprise called ‘Sustainable Health Enterprises’ (SHE), managing their business operations in Rwanda. ‘SHE’ is making and selling affordable sanitary pads from banana fibers (40% lower than the cheapest competitor!), which would otherwise be discarded as waste. We also provide menstrual health management education and training to teachers & students. Through our operations, we are providing women & girls with a solution to an often overlooked health issue, enabling them to more fully participate in school and work, dispelling myths, breaking taboos, and, because we have vertically integrated production here in Rwanda, creating jobs and increasing income for women.

I joined ‘SHE’ in 2014, and couldn’t be happier to be here! We produce and sell pads rather than donate them -financial sustainability and job creation are part of our mission. Everyone on the team is passionate, dedicated and happy to be working at ‘SHE’ and with each other. This is the first time I’m managing a team, and sometimes it’s challenging, but I think I’ve been able to rise to thus far and look forward to continuing to do so. In addition, Kigali is a beautiful and safe city, and it’s easy to make friends and contacts -I couldn’t have chosen a better opportunity!

Interview by Bárbara Escobar Hermoye