June 24, 2024

You’re the Boss: Business in Rwanda

Languida Nyirababeruka opened her funeral home after the 1994 genocide. She recently visited a casket maker in Pennsylvania.Business Council for PeaceLanguida Nyirababeruka opened her funeral home in Rwanda after the 1994 genocide. She recently visited a casket maker in Pennsylvania.
She Owns It

In a previous post, I wrote about the Business Council for Peace, a nonprofit network of professionals who provide pro bono business services to mostly female entrepreneurs in countries affected by conflict, including Rwanda. Last month, three Rwandan owners, graduates of the three-year BPeace program, visited the United States during a trip that paired them with American businesses in their industries. The participants included Languida Nyirababeruka, who founded Pompe Funebre Twifatanye, a funeral home, after the 1994 genocide.

Ms. Nyirababeruka, a former teacher who lost her job for political reasons, ran a tailoring business before 1994. The genocide claimed her husband and several family members, as well as her home and business. When it was over, she had to locate her three children, now in their 20s. “After the genocide, I started from scratch,” she said, speaking through an interpreter. A United Nations contact helped Ms. Nyirababeruka get a job as a cook, and she began to rebuild her life in Kigali.

The idea of opening a funeral home took shape after Ms. Nyirababeruka spent an exhausting day helping a friend plan a funeral. At the time, there was no one business that provided all funeral-related items and services, like coffins, transportation and flowers. Ms. Nyirababeruka said her friend was forced to “run around, buying things here and there.”

When Ms. Nyirababeruka opened Pompe Funebre Twifatanye in 2003, her friends and neighbors were uncomfortable with the concept of a business that profited from death. Now, many have become her customers, and she has two competitors. “She’s changing their culture,” said Craig Baker, a BPeace mentor who works at Brady Funeral Home in Danville, Pa., which was the host of Ms. Nyirababeruka for part of her stay. Mr. Baker met Ms. Nyirababeruka two years ago when he traveled to Rwanda to share his expertise.

Today, Ms. Nyirababeruka employs 10 people, including a recently hired carpenter who makes the coffins that she previously outsourced. Her business, which supports her family, had 2009 revenue of $26,435. Though she said that owning a business places her in Rwanda’s growing middle class, Ms. Nyirababeruka said her company must become more profitable.

She looked forward to learning from her counterparts in the United States. After leaving Pennsylvania, Ms. Nyirababeruka visited Cobble Hill Chapels in Brooklyn. Brady Funeral Home and Cobble Hill Chapels shared best practices and arranged field trips to the businesses that service the industry, including florists, cemeteries, headstone makers and a morgue.

During a meeting with the staff at Cobble Hill, Ms. Nyirababeruka admitted she often reduces her prices out of sympathy for grieving families and then regrets it. Although fixed prices are virtually unknown in Rwanda, Ms. Nyirababeruka vowed to establish them for her services and to make no exceptions. She was intrigued to learn that many American funeral homes offer interest-bearing accounts that make it easier for families to save for future funeral costs. Back in Rwanda, she plans to educate people to prepare for funeral expenses and to increase her chances of collecting them.

At Cobble Hill, Ms. Nyirababeruka also learned about potential add-on products and services that could boost her profits, like rosary beads and casket engraving. While some practices (like embalming) would be too costly for her to implement now, she learned how to create printed extras, like prayer cards, using a computer. She left Cobble Hill with shopping bag full of samples, including thank-you notes and a guest book.

Ms. Nyirababeruka hopes one day to pass her business on to her children. She is thinking about sending her son to a funeral services program that Mr. Baker attended in Pennsylvania and that they visited during her trip. Most of all, she said, she hoped her children will struggle less than she had.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=c3b730ee7dd4e7b20b0eb6a01e6791b3

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