When Julie Greene started baking bread in rural Rwanda between 2010 and 2012, she had no idea it would evolve into a full-time business. With no access to fresh bread, she and Markey Culver, a fellow member of the Peace Corps and her soon-to-be business partner, began rolling out dough. “There’s a local product called amandazi — a fried dough — which was really the only form of bread we could get here,” says Greene. Neither of them wanted to replace their morning toast with a deep-fried bun, so, using recipes from the Peace Corps cookbook and working with the ingredients available, they began making their own daily staple.
The warm whiff of fresh baked goods caught on, so Greene and Culver quickly found themselves teaching the women from the co-op where they worked how to make bread. They then began to sell it at the weekly market. “The ingredients were available, so we decided to teach people [the craft] right there,” says Greene. The concept quickly evolved into a business with strong social elements: use local ingredients to support farmers in the area, adjust recipes to be more nutritious, and employ more local women.
“It’s been an accidental process,” laughs Greene. She and I are sitting on a patio overlooking the courtyard of their newly opened flagship, the Women’s Bakery, a bright café with freshly painted walls, colorful cushions, and simple wooden tables. The café looks more like a trendy bakery than a program providing women all over the country with opportunities. Despite Rwanda having more gender equality than many other African countries, on a day-to-day basis (as in many countries around the globe), women still aren’t on a level playing field with men. “We felt strongly that there needed to be more opportunities for women,” says Greene. She describes the knock-on effect of gender inequality in Rwanda: “It starts from the beginning: fewer girls make it to school, so fewer girls graduate, and fewer girls then make it into the workforce.”