It’s an unlikely place for an ice cream shop, and an even more unlikely batch of people to be running it.
Inzozi Nziza, or “Sweet Dreams” in Kinyarwanda, is Rwanda’s first and only local ice cream shop. Located in the small university town of Butare, it celebrated its one-year anniversary recently.
While its struggles have been great, from importing a soft-serve ice cream machine into this tiny landlocked country, where only one person knows (kind-of) how to fix it, to keeping the employees from scooping too deep out of a cultural generosity towards customers, this little shop has much to celebrate.
It all started as an idea by a passionate, creative, and outspoken Rwandan artist named Odile Gakire Katese (better known as Kiki) pitched to Jennie Dundas, actress and co-founder of Blue Marble Ice Cream in Brooklyn, N.Y., at the Sundance Institute in 2008. The idea was to create a sustainable business for the women of Ingoma Nshya, Rwanda’s first ever women’s drumming group, that could also bring economic opportunity via ice cream, to a country going through a difficult post-genocide period.
Before officially opening shop in 2010, Blue Marble Dreams partnered with BPeace, a nonprofit organization that helps train women entrepreneurs in conflict-affected countries to “create significant employment for all and expand the economic power of women.” Together, they brought consultants from all over the world to Rwanda to train the women in management, accounting, business planning, customer service, quality control, and, of course, making ice cream.
Having a full time job is a change in pace for most the women working at Inzozi Nziza, many of whom were direct victims of the 1994 genocide. But even working full time they carry their music and rhythm into the store. A new stereo installed in the shop has turned at least one employee’s work day, Muhrakeye Seraphine, into a constant dance routine.
Inzozi Nziza isn’t profitable yet, but it will take time, says current Project Manager Nikki Grey. The challenges of running a small business in Rwanda, from expensive import costs (Rwanda being completely landlocked), unpredictable government interventions, high taxes, and various cultural norms, such as waiting until something is completely gone to restock, have been a strain. The shop still receives some financial support from Blue Marble Dreams, the nonprofit organization established in the U. by Blue Marble to raise funds for the opening of the shop.
Another obstacle has been ownership. The goal is to have Inzozi Nziza be entirely employee owned, perhaps in shares or as a cooperative of sorts (it’s currently a registered business owned by someone with Blue Marble in the US., yet hammering out the details of ownership has been more complicated than anticipated and it appears as a decision won’t be reached very soon.
As preparations mounted for for its one-year celebration, which included drumming, dancing, and of course free ice cream, there was just one problem; their soft serve ice cream machine was broken again. Workers hoped a friend from South Africa would fly in in time to fix it.
This is an ongoing series of slideshows by The (BoP) Project.