By Susan Carroll
Meena Chakraborty, business owner of Super Cuts salon on Baldwin and Brown roads in Orion Township, was chosen to be a global mentor by the IEEW.
So when she heard of the opportunity, Meena, who retired from the AT&T Information Technology department, applied to become a mentor.
AT&T is a sponsor of the program and she embraced the mission of IEEW, so she was eager to assist other women in succeeding in their business endeavors.
Uwambaje Kabano Marie Goretti (GoGo), a business owner from Rwanda, was matched with Meena. Both women are salon owners.
The Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women’s (IEEW) Peace Through Business program brings women entrepreneurs to the United States from Afghanistan and Rwanda for mentorship.
The program is implemented through three components: In-Country Education, Leadership Development and Pay It Forward.
It’s designed to educate women, promote their business and leadership skills, build a strong public policy agenda in the women’s business community and to help build stable democracies.
“The women of Afghanistan and Rwanda have endured struggles of war and oppression throughout their lives,” said Dr. Terry Neese, IEEW Founder and CEO. “This program offers the women an opportunity to overcome challenges, embrace their full potential and realize that they are not alone on their journey.”
GoGo, 43-years-old, is married with two young children and lives in Kigali City, Rwanda.
She has always worked, so when she found herself spending long hours at her banking job, trying to juggle work along with her family, it became too much to manage.
She says she wanted to spend more time with her family and her banker’s hours were not going to allow that.
She decided to pursue her interest as an interior designer while still working at the bank. She had hoped by working in her own business she would be able to quit her job and be with her family more.
“It wasn’t easy, I spent three years trying some interior design. I found myself having less time and it made my situation worse instead of better and I did not succeed.
“I still didn’t have time to take care of my family. One day I decided I had to do something for me, even if it was small, to have peace,” she said.
As she was sitting in a beauty salon one day, she realized that the business she was looking for was the one she was in at that moment. She recognized that when she went to a salon, they took a lot of time, that the clients, including herself were frustrated with the quality of customer service.
She said to herself, “I can do it better.”
She knew nothing about the salon business, nor did she have a business plan, but she took a risk and ran with the idea.
GoGo quit her job and jumped in with both feet, found salon space at a hotel where a previous salon failed and opened Beautylicious Salon in May 2015.
Today, Beautylicious is a successful full-service salon, employing nine people.
Looking to improve her business, Gogo applied for the IEEW program in the fall of 2016. Of the 70 women who applied, only 30 were accepted and Gogol was one of them.
The ten week in-country program gave Gogo the tools to develop a business plan to guide her business and apply for business loans. A requirement of graduation was to write and orally present a business plan to a panel of business leaders in Kigali.
GoGo graduated in the top 15 of her class and because of this, she was invited to travel to the United States to continue her education.
At this point, the program assigned Meena as her mentor. The program matches the students with business owners in the same industry.
Meena said that GoGo’s application stood out for several reasons. Her ability to communicate in English was key. Even though most business in Rwanda is conducted in English it is not the primary language spoken, which is Kinyarwanda and French.
GoGo’s impressive resume was another determining factor. In the selection process, if a student missed more than two classes over the ten-week program they were excluded; they had to be serious about their business plan, and the panel wanted to know how the individuals were going to give back to the community.
Giving back to the community is another area that GoGo’s resume stood out. For the past four years, she, along with 15 other women in Rwanda, pay for medical expenses for “poor people who are not able to pay for themselves.” The original charity started with eight people and has grown to 200.
Additionally, at Christmas time, they visit orphanages and buy gifts for the children.
“We share Christmas with them and we take our kids. We do not want them to go without presents,” GoGo said.
“She is paying it forward, and that is one of the reasons she was selected,” says Meena.
The fully funded two-week leadership development program was sponsored by Peach Through Business with Northwood University, AT&T University and AT&T, Bank of America, Merrill Lynch and many other private donation.
GoGo’s first destination was Business Boot Camp in Colinas, Texas. The week-long program was with experts on specific business, leadership and public policy topics.
Gogo then traveled to Detroit for mentorship with Meena. Living and working with an American woman business owner for five days in the same industry provides the real-world business skills learned in the classroom.
Meena coached GoGo on how she manages her salon, focusing on procedures such as opening and closing, customer service, back office processes, marketing, banking and employee management.
Meena said, “Gogo faces the same challenges in managing a staff that I do, so that was a key point that I was able to help her with.”
Getting to know Gogo, her life, business and the challenges she faces as a woman and a business owner in Rwanda has taught Meena a lot. “I have learned a lot from her, she has learned and I have learned.”
The things that stick out the most in the time spent at Super Cuts is their customer service. “I like the way they greet their customers, ‘Welcome to Super Cuts,’ and how one person stays with the client, from cutting hair to sweeping the floor,” GoGo said.
Gogo is ready to head back home to her family and to start implementing all the changes and knowledge she has learned from the program.
The experiences, she said, will last a lifetime and she will never forget all the people that have helped her along the way.
“I want to thank the IEEW program, especially Dr. Terry Neese, and my mentor Meena Chakraborty, for taking me on. From them, I have learned a lot and have a lot to take back to my country,” said GoGo.