For one TWB manager, bread power is a way of life. Tessa Soni manages the bakeries in Gicubmi and Ruyenzi. Her commitment is inspirational, and also sheds light on why we must invest in women at all levels of the bakery.
To everything in life there is a season. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to sow and a time to reap. For The Women’s Bakery, this year has already held many seasons.
In January, we sowed the seeds of recommitment to our social enterprise model and fully leaned into The Women’s Bakery 2.0. In February, we rolled up our sleeves and began kneading out more efficient bakery workflows and operations. These skills were honed in large thanks to Rob VanErven, baker extraordinaire, on loan from corporate partner Rademaker, BV.
In March, we celebrated the strength of women with International Women’s Day. April brought a season of remembrance for the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide. May ushered in a season of honoring the mothers in our lives, especially the bread winners at The Women’s Bakery. And June brought a season of loss and sadness.
At the beginning of June, we learned from The Women’s Bakery’s first employee and Co-Founder, Julie Greene, that her time with the company was drawing to a close. The next week, our team was forced to grieve another loss - a strong bakery woman, Kayitesi, who died unexpectedly.
Both of these women embody the spirit, values, and principles of The Women’s Bakery.
To Kayitesi, we say rest in peace strong woman.
To Julie, we say thank you. Words are not enough to describe Julie’s incredible contributions to and impact on The Women’s Bakery. She has been an integral part of birthing, fostering, and building The Women’s Bakery to the place it is today. She gave her blood, sweat, and tears to ensure that the bakery women had every opportunity for gainful employment and social empowerment in their lives, and she committed herself to supplying communities with access to nutritious, affordable breads. The world is a better place because of this work. Julie, you are an incredible person. Thank you for leading us, working alongside us, and making us better. You will forever be a part of The Women’s Bakery and we will be forever grateful to and for you.
And so like The Byrds said, “To every season, [we] turn, turn, turn.”
By Tessa Soni
In 1909, Women’s Day was started as part of the labor movement in the United States. By the next year, 100 women from 17 countries met in Copenhagen, Denmark to advocate for women’s rights and the right to vote. On March 8, 1917, Russian women protested for “Bread and Peace”. 4 days later in countries around the world women were granted the right to vote. Today, this special day is celebrated to boast women’s achievements, advancements and value regardless of their culture, their social or economic background, their religious upbringing or country of origin.
When I was in high school, I remember that none of the female staff were seen in the kitchen on International Women’s Day. Meals were prepared only by male staff. What I remember the most from those days - apart from the fact that auntie Judith’s sauce was impossible to replicate - was the change in attitude of the women at my school. I was amazed by how such little encouragement and validation brought such noticeable positive impact in the female staff.
Those high school days brought me to the belief that investing in women has a multiplier effect. In the 1920’s Ghanaian scholar, James Emman Aggrey, said, “If you educate a man you simply educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a whole nation.”
I personally believe that The Women’s Bakery is living proof of this concept. From a very brave woman baking bread with neighbor ladies in Bushoga, Rwanda to today’s company which employs 42 women, TWB practices the multiplier effect every day. Every woman who works for TWB is a rock star. She is to be celebrated today on International Women’s Day and every day.
As one of the newest additions to the team, I have to admit I had my own set of questions and uncertainties about how TWB was living the multiplier effect when I first joined. Why bread? Can you really make a business profitable based on such a perishable and highly produced commodity as bread? How do you decide where to draw the line between the social and operational needs of such a business?
I believe one of the biggest truths in this world is that you can accomplish almost anything if you are dedicated enough. I think that is the common character trait in everyone working at TWB and what makes TWB successful. We are dedicated to women, and bread is our tool to impact a nation.
At TWB, the expression “wearing many hats” has brought on a whole new meaning for me. And I find power in that. I find power in a woman with a public health background with better financial skills than many accountants I’ve met. I find power in a colleague who is a highly experienced professional with an MBA and an impressive career path. And I find power in a woman who lives in the far ends of Kagina with no professional qualifications prior to working for TWB. The dedication to make a social and economic impact in the community is equally real for each of them.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this year, I can’t help but feel privileged to work alongside women who are truly, in every sense of the meaning, worth fighting for. Their achievements, no matter their culture, social or economic background, their religious upbringing or country of origin, are to be celebrated! Happy International Women’s Day!
When people ask me “Why women?” I am often perplexed, discouraged and frustrated. Are we still having this conversation? Yes, yes we are. And we must continue to have this conversation.
For me, our fifth year marks the beginning of a new chapter for us: The Women’s Bakery 2.0.
Here’s to the continued eating, dancing, laughing, sharing of stories, and to all of team TWB!
I believe that as global citizens we must get to know and understand each other.
am so pleased to financially support The Women’s Bakery - which promotes health and happiness, and real hope, in these troubled times.
In times of change we reflect on the past and plan for the future. Making sense of what we have been through is important in growing the business.
There were a few dances where women would stretch out their arms, sort of roll their wrists and point their fingertips up, and then sway/stomp from side to side.
Culture, what is it? What does it mean? And how does an organization working in multiple countries, like The Women’s Bakery, build a culture that bridges the gap between very different backgrounds, socio-economics statuses, religions, ethnicities, etc.?
From the hard launch of the Flagship in May, to its ongoing operations now 6 months later, much growth has been achieved.
I am confident that my colleagues will take what we have built and the lessons we have learned to build better systems and make more sound decisions that will make the business grow bigger and stronger than we ever could have imagined when we started.
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.
We are truly the experts in the nitty gritty. We are the pilots who never lack the investment or zeal to see the manufacturing of this beast through. We bust through barriers on a daily basis as we seek to build around the details that unfold. We adapt, innovate, and lead together
This is the place where they feel comfortable, happy and proud to work in such amazing place, and this leads to their desire to keep working hard, to learn, and to pursue more opportunities for sales, product development, and more!
In addition to baking skillsets, The Women’s Bakery teaches women their rights, how to advocate for them, where to go for help, and ultimately, how to claim their rights.
Enter Liziki. This woman is the definition of a rockstar.
Have you ever meet with a child who is affected by malnutrition disease?
If yes, how did you feel? If no, what could you do to avoid it?
TWB, in partnership with local welders, has engineered, a cool yet simple to operate wood oven model that is replicated across all remote TWB Bakeries.