The story of TWB, in its entirety, includes the courage and the bold persistence of others.
I finished the Peace Corps in Rwanda in November 2012 and returned home to the United States, as did Co-Founder and Co-Director, Julie Greene. I then went back to Rwanda independently, against several family members’ and friends’ “better judgement” appeals, to build the Rwanda Women’s Bakery with my brother, David, from June – November 2013. We launched that bakery in September and it operated semi-successfully for about 6 months. Then, in March 2014, I got a call at 4am from the women in Rwanda saying, essentially, it was over. The bakery had failed. And in turn, I felt I had failed the women.
In December 2013, I had met the dynamic mother-daughter duo, Julie and Natalie Hornsby. Both Julie and Natalie had just visited Rwanda, on an insight trip for a well-known micro-financing organization, Opportunity International. Inspired, they were ready to roll up their sleeves and personally build something that mattered. When we met, it felt both fortuitous and timely.
Julie and Natalie Hornsby were ready – ready to invest in this bakery idea and help the idea grow. However, I wasn’t so convinced. I was ready to stay in the United States. HOWEVER, contradictorily, I fervently believed in the bakery idea and wanted to build it. I knew the model could work.
Julie and Natalie Hornsby recognized my conflicted desires and pushed me toward the bakery. Natalie pushed gently. She was a constant source of encouragement. Together, we dreamed how and why the model could work, building the initial framework. Julie pushed consistently yet patiently. She listened to my dreams and fears, always cheering for the dreams.
One night in April 2014, however, Julie had heard enough of my waffling. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “That’s it. We’re doing this. You WILL build this bakery business and we are going to help you.”
Ok, I thought, here we go.
Then the question became, “How do I do this? How do I improve this bakery model, or rather, how do I build a model that works?” So, I called the smartest, most capable human I know – Julie Greene. If anyone could help me analyze the existing model, understand what didn’t work and why, and adapt the model for success, it was Julie Greene.
I went to visit Julie Greene in Denver and pitched the idea of building TWB in May 2014. It worked. Julie was in. Like all in. Emboldened and motivated by Julie Greene’s commitment, I returned to St. Louis to inform Julie and Natalie Hornsby that, finally, I too was all in. Julie and Natalie Hornsby jumped at my moment of certainty. They were all in.
For the remainder of 2014, the four of us built the initial model for The Women’s Bakery. We launched in Tanzania in February of 2015 and shortly thereafter welcomed our two additional founding members, Meg and Heather, shortly followed by our rock-star Rwandan team Aime, Yvonne, and Denyse.
In business school, the term used to refer to this courageous group of people is “early adopters.” This means they see and believe in a product, or an idea, before anyone else does. Julie and Natalie Hornsby, thank you for recognizing an idea worth building. Julie Greene, thank you believing in, actualizing, and leading this idea. Meg North and Heather Newell, thank you for enhancing this idea and propelling into a real model.
Thank you all for helping to build The Women’s Bakery.