My IAP Trip to Rwanda

During IAP(another blogger Luiz just posted a wonderful blog introducing IAP), I spent nearly two weeks in Kigali, Rwanda, a small but unique East African country that is recovering from the horrible genocide in 1994. Before the trip, I had little knowledge of this country and was even a bit scared of going there alone. But after staying here for nearly two weeks, I have grown accustomed to things in this country- clean roads, mountainous views, buzzing motorcycles and uniformed architecture. I can not forget the traumatizing pictures and videos I saw in the Genocide Memorial, nor can I forget the wild paintings displayed at Ivuka Arts Center. More importantly, I miss the days I spent with the people at The Women’s Bakery.

The Women’s Bakery (TWB) is a social enterprise committed to empowering local women by teaching them bakery and business skills. I got to connect with the team through SEID (Sloan Entrepreneurs for International Development) and I have been helping them design social franchise models since October with Noelle, another MIT graduate student from City Design program. Before the visit, we had done some preliminary research on existing franchising models, but I believed that an on-site visit would deepen my understanding of TWB and help ground our suggestions. And fortunately, I received a fellowship from MIT Legatum Center.  So there I went. On my own. To Rwanda!

During the first couple of days of my visit, I managed to understand the business context that TWB is in by observing how women worked on a  daily basis and asking a list of questions. Based on this knowledge, I realized the key challenges they face are selecting proper franchisees and standardizing franchise elements. Then I initiated interviews with some professional bakers and store managers of other local franchisors, which helps me narrow down TWB’s potential  franchise models. Besides doing these qualitative analysis, I also built financial models to forecast its profitability. Putting all these collected information, I am excited to deliver the final slides to the TWB team next week!

For me, it is such a valuable learning experience.  I applied what I have learnt in classes such as advanced corporate finance into building financial models and decided to take the Effective Business Models in Frontier Markets this semester to further my study in the social enterprise field. I feel fulfilled and excited through this action learning process.

At the same time, I am making a real impact. Many of the women working in the bakery are illiterate, unable to read and write, and they are sometimes ignored or even despised by the community before the training. Receiving education and earning at least 1000 francs per day enables them to feel empowered, financially and mentally. If my work can help TWB replicate its business sucessfully across Rwanda, more women will become independent, resilient and confident.

I left Rwanda 2 days ago and I am now fully charged for the spring semester. But this is not the end of my work. I will continue my help for the team, for the lasting empowerment for women in Rwanda, and even beyond.

I am holding a batch of fresh muffins at one of TWB’ bakeries


Have lunch together with TWB staff

I am having a healthy lunch with the TWB team


Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

TWB women were selling hand-made bread outside

Yixiao Gong

Yixiao joins the MFin 2017 in MIT directly after completing her bachelor degree in Beijing, China. She has a strong interest in the intersection of venture capital and consumer goods. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, watching TED talks, city walking and fashion shooting.


1 Comment

  1. Hallo Yixiao
    I just came back from my cycling tour in the afternoon and I saw an email from Jessica pointing to your blog(?). Jessica made a report on the possibilities of cooperation with TWB and Rademaker a manufacturer of bakery production lines. This activity will be part of there MVO a social activity of the company(Rademaker Bakery Equipment). To morrow I will finalize my report and send it to STIOS(the organization who sent me) and TWB. I am very interested about your conclusions?
    I will send you some pictures tomorrow. Nice meeting you. Regards Jan Bosch

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