Women under the Same Sky
10 March 2011
“Our project offers a hand up, not a hand out,” says Francine Le Frak, founder of Same Sky, a “trade-not-aid” initiative that markets high-end artisan bracelets produced by women’s cooperatives in Rwanda for the North American market.
Ms Le Frak, a film producer from the USA and now social entrepreneur, started Same Sky while trying to make a film about the genocide in Rwanda. Although the film project never materialized, she felt there were other skill sets she could lend to make a difference in the lives of the women she met in the country.
“I wanted to help the women who were still truly devastated by the genocide 15 years later,” Le Frak says. “I decided to work with women living with HIV. I found that they were forgotten, and [they] just couldn’t seem to get back into the swing of life.”
Today, an estimated 88 000 women living are with HIV in the country. Many women report having faced sexual violence in their lifetime.
We want to give the women the opportunity to sell their products. You can train all day but if you don’t give them the opportunity of employment, what are you accomplishing?
Francine Le Frak, founder of Same Sky
Same Sky works with a local organization in Rwanda called Gahaya Links Handicraft Center, based in the capital Kigali. Gahaya Links was founded by two sisters: Joy Ndunguste and Janet Nkubana, and their company was incorporated in 2004 as the first handicrafts export company.
Based on the principle of women’s economic empowerment through fair trade, Gahaya Links supports women’s cooperatives as a way to give women a source of sustainable income.
“We help women acquire skills that they can use to make an income, and Francine has given them access to a market to sell their products,” says Joy Ndungetse, co-founder of Gahaya Links. “You can now see the joy of living on their faces.”
“I’m a good marketer,” says Le Frak. “We want to give the women the opportunity to sell their products. You can train all day but if you don’t give them the opportunity of employment, what are you accomplishing?” Le Frak asks.