My journey with The Women’s Bakery started before The Women’s Bakery was The Women’s Bakery. My first conversation about joining the team was when TWB was actually RWB – the Rwanda Women’s Bakery. Markey and Julie were looking to launch the brand and the organization, and they wanted me in.
I wanted in too – but I was hesitant.
I was not sure that I wanted to continue to live in East Africa. I was not sure where my career was headed. I was also pulled in other directions; family issues were continuing at home and I felt that I needed to be there. I was also exploring aspects of my own identity that I knew could be problematic if I was to remain in East Africa, specifically Rwanda.
And so, I passed on the offer. It is crazy to think about, but yes, I turned the job down. Luckily, though, it was not the end of my journey with TWB. Just a few months later, at a low-lit bar in Denver, Julie encouraged me to circle back around with Markey.
“You should really touch base with her…there still could be a place for you,” she told me.
Under a year later, I found myself flying back to Rwanda as a full-time employee with the company. We had just incorporated in the United States and I was the U.S. Program Officer. I was not entirely sure what this meant, but I was bold, ready, and enthusiastic to launch a social enterprise that created access to education and employment.
We hit the ground running.
In my first few months with the organization, we registered the company in Rwanda and began to set our bank accounts up. We re-vamped the curriculum to be more robust and inclusive. We hired our first Rwandese team member. In doing so, I realized how much I had always loved building things. Much was the same when I had started Arkansas’ first NCAA field hockey team at Hendrix – building from the ground up requires grit, stamina, and courage. Myself – and my team members – had this.
After several months in Rwanda, I returned home to Denver to launch our organizational presence at the Posner Center for International Development. Along with Markey, I helped implement the beginnings of our non-profit administration, including systems for financial tracking, donor processes, and marketing touch-points. Sometimes, when we look back at some of the initial content that we put together, it’s hard not to laugh. Not because it is not good – but because it illustrates how far we have come.
In the first years of working with TWB, I had to learn the art of working amidst ambiguity. We shifted our model multiple times, altered our approach, and had to consistently re-visit the essence of our mission and vision. Yet, I appreciate these times because it was in these spaces I learned how to strategize, how to use my voice to shape organizational culture, and how to share leadership with other bad-ass women. I started working for TWB when I was 26 and now, at 29, I can safely say that I am a very different woman (and definitely for the better).
Something happens when you work endlessly for the autonomy and choice for others – especially women. You begin to believe that all that you are advocating for (education, opportunity, etc.) applies to you. That is a powerful realization. I began to believe this and make changes in my life. These changes have altered how I live, and I can say, without question, that I am a much more grounded, confident, and assured person because I have integrated choice and autonomy into my everyday living.
What has kept me going the past several years is the power of women. Even from afar, I know that the women working at TWB bakeries are capitalizing (literally) on the opportunities they have received. They are doing the work. They are generating incomes. They are using their education. Many non-profits boast about what they have done for the populations they have worked with. At TWB, we boast about the women that work in our bakeries. They are the story. It is not about us – it’s about the larger work of social enterprise and business actually working for good.
I will miss all of this as I step away from The Women’s Bakery.
After 3+ years of work, I am shifting my career into mental health. I started Counseling school back in January and it is one of the best things I have done. I am learning the ins-and-outs of mental health, well-being, and therapeutic relationships, and it is necessary for me at this time to integrate this into my career. That being said, I take all that I have learned and experienced at TWB with me. I take the lessons (both the successes and failures) and hold them dear.
From my time at TWB, I have come to see that failure is a necessary, important step to growth. I recognize that change is a part of the process. I continue to see that human relationships can take you far further than perfectly curated plans (though those help too). I understand now that moving through the “hard stuff” is required if any sustainable impact will be achieved. And genuinely, I have realized that if you trust the process, incredible (and surprising things) will happen. Essentially, it is good and healthy to dream.
I could not have imagined TWB as it is today. And, it is not even just the bakeries or the number of women we have employed. What has surpassed my imagination is the staying power of a model that works. A model not built on the agendas of others, but a model that exists to operate and function for both impact and accountability.
I am humbled by what this idea has become and have been honored to be a part of its development. We are Strong Women Baking Bread – and I look forward to seeing this continue to grow, revolutionize, and change the world.