The Role of Women Entrepreneurs in Rebuilding a Nation: The Rwandan Model

Posted: 26 Apr 2018 Last revised: 23 Oct 2018

See all articles by Karen E. Woody

Karen E. Woody

Washington & Lee University School of Law

Abbey Stemler

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Business Law

Date Written: April 11, 2018


The 2013 documentary film Sweet Dreams provides a sweeping view into the lives of women in post-genocide Rwanda as they navigate their roles in both business and their community. The women depicted have already broken cultural barriers by forming the first Rwandan, all-women drum troupe, comprised of women from all ethnicities. The members of the drum troupe then embark on an entrepreneurial experiment: to open the first ice cream shop in Rwanda. The film follows the story of the surprisingly steep learning curve one must master in order to create the perfect twist of soft service ice cream. The twists (or lack thereof) represent a poignant metaphor for the struggle and determination of female entrepreneurs in Rwanda. It is a story of women breaking norms, taking risks previously unimaginable, and enduring countless setbacks and obstacles.

A story about individuals with different backgrounds joining together in collaboration is always a provocative one, but it is even more so when it is situated in Rwanda. As the film reminds us, in 1994, Rwanda experienced an unprecedented human rights atrocity. In just one hundred days in the spring and early summer of 1994, over 800,000 Rwandans were killed by their fellow citizens. The dead totaled nearly eleven percent of the country’s population. As detailed below, what was horrifically unique about the Rwandan genocide was the number of citizen killers who used rudimentary means to slaughter their neighbors and fellow community members. The task of rebuilding community trust in the wake of the genocide was beyond daunting. Sweet Dreams shows us one success story of that effort, in the form of women drummers-turned-entrepreneurs. Moreover, the film provides invaluable lessons about post-conflict peace-building that can be applicable beyond Rwanda.

In this Article, we first detail the humanitarian crisis of the Rwandan genocide and the international efforts at establishing the rule of law in the aftermath of such a tragedy. This Article then describes the novel use of an indigenous forum for conflict resolution unique to Rwanda, and the impact this type of judicial experiment had more broadly in society. Extrapolating from the themes depicted in Sweet Dreams, this Article analyzes a natural consequence of the genocide: the absence of men brought on by their death, incarceration, and exile, and the rebuilding of not only a judiciary to adjudicate the horrors of the genocide, but a country. It then explores the role female entrepreneurs play in healing divisions and supporting sustainable peace. The Article concludes by making a unique contribution to our understanding of peace, transitional justice, and entrepreneurship by identifying key aspects of the Rwandan form of collective decision-making.

Keywords: Rwanda, Genocide, Entrepreneurship, Women, Transitional Justice, Peace, Decision-Making

Suggested Citation

Woody, Karen E. and Stemler, Abbey, The Role of Women Entrepreneurs in Rebuilding a Nation: The Rwandan Model (April 11, 2018). Kelley School of Business Research Paper No. 18-31. Available at SSRN:

Karen E. Woody

Washington & Lee University School of Law ( email )

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

Abbey Stemler (Contact Author)

Indiana University - Kelley School of Business - Department of Business Law ( email )

Bloomington, IN 47405
United States

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