The partnership between Fina Uwineza and Beau’s All Natural Brewing Company seems, on face, unlikely. Uwineza is a Kigali, Rwanda-based entrepreneur and restaurant owner; Beau’s is a decade-old brewery in Vankleek Hill, Ontario. But when asked separately to explain why they teamed up to launch Rwanda’s first independent, female-helmed brewery, Uwineza and Beau’s CEO Steve Beauchesne offer similar answers.
“I really feel like I should be a part of the development of Rwanda,” says Uwineza, who was born in Rwanda and will own and lead the as-yet-unnamed brewery. “If I can employ women, I know it will do a very big impact not just on those women but on families. As you know, as a woman, when you help a woman or educate a woman, you educate a whole village. I believe in that. Even if I can impact 20, 30, 100 families, that would be an achievement in my life.”
“It’s empowering women, that’s great. It’s in a country that could really use some support, great. It’s the first craft brewery in the country, amazing,” says Beauchesne. “[Beau’s has] always been social enterprise-minded, but was looking for something that would really stretch us and would be a next-level investment to mark our 10-year anniversary. This seemed perfect.”
When Beauchesne says “investment,” he doesn’t mean a financial-ownership stake. The Canadian brewery will advise, guide and provide training to Uwineza and her team, but will not retain any ownership or profit-sharing rights to it. “I think all of Africa has suffered from colonialization, and us going in to open a brewery so we can profit doesn’t help the Rwandese people. We’re here to help and then we step back,” he says. “Even a one percent ownership stake would change the dynamics of this project.”
Beauchesne first heard of Uwineza’s brewery plan through the Ontario Craft Brewers association, an organization he helps lead. Nancy Coldham, a Toronto-based consultant and partner in CG Group, approached the board to help her with the brewery development project in Rwanda. Though the association felt it was outside the group’s mandate to promote Ontario breweries, Beauchesne thought it was too worthy a project not to join. So, in November 2015, he and some other staff from Beau’s flew to Kigali to meet Uwineza, explore Rwandan beer culture and pledge their assistance to her development efforts.
There, they learned about Uwineza’s difficult and winding road to becoming a business owner. She was born in Rwanda but fled the country with her family in 1973 to escape civil war; her father was killed in the conflict. Her family sought refuge in neighboring Burundi, where Uwineza attended primary and secondary school before moving to Kenya to earn a college degree in travel and tourism. Following graduation, she worked in Geneva, Switzerland, for three years and later settled in Canada. But despite working and raising a family there, she and her husband decided to move their family back to Rwanda in 1998.
“My heart and my whole spirit was in Rwanda. I always dreamed to go back to my country,” she says. “When the war was ended, I could not resist. Everything was devastated and destroyed after the war and I felt like I have to be one of the people who rebuilds the country.”
Despite Uwineza’s unfamiliarity with the technical aspects of beer brewing (“I enjoy beer in a moderate way,” she says), founding a brewery accomplishes many of the development goals she hopes to achieve with a small business. First, it will serve as a model for female-owned manufacturing in the country, an area in which women are underrepresented. “Nancy [Coldham], she is the one who has always wanted to help Rwanda, especially women, and she always said ‘I don’t want you to stay only in trading or only restaurants or salons. I want you to be in manufacturing and do [something] bigger,'” Uwineza says. Uwineza’s background in restaurants (she opened and operated Kigali’s first Chinese restaurant, called Flamingo Restaurant, for 13 years) trained her to manage people and finances, experience she will bring to the brewery. Second, it will employ women farmers to grow raw materials for the brewery. “Right now, our government and parliament and cabinet have more than 50 percent women. But still, we cannot deny that women are still behind in so many ways, especially in rural areas,” she says.
The partnership with Beau’s will provide Uwineza’s team with technical training, supply chain support, experience in raw materials purchasing and more. But both parties hope this project will become a global effort; Christian Riemerschmid von der Heide of British Columbia-based Newlands Systems Inc. has also agreed to consult on the project, and NSI has gifted the entire brewhouse system through donated time from fabricators, engineers, and brewing staff. Anyone, even individuals, though, can get in on the project.
The Rwanda Craft Brewery Project has set up a Kickstarter campaign that aims to raise about $72,000 of the estimated $1 million it will take to get the brewery started. Uwineza will take on traditional loans and debt as well, but this initial funding will go a long way to establishing supply chains and hiring employees.
“This is a global thing. If you help one person in any place of the world, you are helping the whole world,” Uwineza says. “If you impact a woman here, you impact all of Rwanda and all of Africa. I want it to have this type of spirit to help each other.”
She is confident that Rwandan people will embrace her brewery. There is a tradition of homebrewing sorghum- and banana-derived beer in Rwanda, but beers from multinational, industrial breweries currently dominate pubs. Already, word of Rwanda’s first homegrown brewery is spreading; Uwineza has appeared on the cover of newsmagazines and has received calls from people who want to work in the brewery. Steve Beauchesne recounts a story of his trip to Rwanda, when he had to pass through security at the airport. A customs agent stopped him and asked a litany of questions about his business in Rwanda; Beauchesne told him he was there to help launch a brewery. “Five minutes into questioning, I was wondering if I’d be able to cross the border,” Beauchesne said. “Then the agent said, ‘When is this going to open? Because I want to be the first customer.’”
Uwineza’s speech becomes faster and more animated when she talks about the response of Rwandan people to her brewery plan. “I was overwhelmed. I did not expect it,” she says. “Everyone is talking about it. People are calling me and congratulating me. Others are asking me about jobs before we even start. Someone told me, ‘Fina, you must be a very courageous woman. I thought breweries were just for men.’ I want to give confidence to young ladies. There’s nothing you can’t do.”