Debra Swersky
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Journal

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JLynn's Cafe in Kigali

 

Last year when I went to Rwanda (on the same trip that I decided that I wanted to start IDEA for Africa), our group had breakfast with Jennifer at JLynn's Cafe in Kigali. Jennifer shared her entrepreneurial story with us and proved to our group, through her delivery, service, and hospitality that you don't need to have an MBA, or any business degree at all, to make a social and economic impact on your community. In my follow-up conversation with her, I recognized her commitment to her cafe's mission and vision of providing personal and professional growth and development opportunities for the women of her workplace and recommended the book, Small Giants, to her (it's one of my favorites). Small Giants is a book about companies that decided to forego revenue or geographic growth to instead focus on other important business missions. My takeaway from our conversation was that I was the product of great people and fortunate circumstances (as quoted by my friend Patrick). 

Back in Kigali this year, I took Babson's Women Leadership scholars to meet Jennifer at her cafe. It was important to me that as Women Leadership scholars that they meet a female entrepreneurial leader in Rwanda who was making a clear impact on a targeted population. Jennifer shared her business story with the girls, her mission and vision of her cafe, and how she found herself managing a staff of 18 Rwandan women and a successful Kigali cafe. What the girls took away from their conversation with Jennifer was that their degrees are one stepping stone on a long road and that they should see the world, realize their potential, and do something that matters - to them and others. We talked about the lifestyle of investment bankers, the importance of social entrepreneurship, the salaries of consultants, the necessity of in-country training programs, and, of course, marketing efforts for small businesses (for the record, she should be the next client for Babson's marketing consulting project). 

At any rate, as with last year, when I heard Jennifer speak my "why" became more clear to me. When I recommended the book Small Giants I was completing my Independent Study Project at Babson and trying to understand my fascination with the companies included in the study. Jennifer, like the other Small Giants, chose to go into business with her heart, not her head. She cares more about her staff and their personal growth and development than the money that she can make off of their work. To her it's more important for the women that she works with to learn the skills of running a business than to work with and for her forever. This should sound familiar... Training: It's one of those "little big details." (www.LBDproducers.com) After meeting with Jennifer this year I read this quote: "There will always be a reason why you meet people. Either you need them to change your life or you're the one that will change theirs." It's clear to me what happened when I met with Jennifer last year and furthermore clear what happened with the girls this year.

Jennifer is an exceptional female entrepreneur, an incredible role model, and a manager that I would love to be able to learn from and work with. Thank you, Jennifer, for taking time out of your day to speak with Babson's Women's Leadership scholars. Your open heart inspired each of the girls to understand how they can make a difference in the world. 

 

Debra Swersky