Work-Life Balance Doesn’t Have to Be So Complicated: A Lesson From Rwandan Basket Weavers

Reposted from the Huffington Post 



For most working women and men in America today, finding a healthy work-life balance can be challenging to say the least. Studies show that we are more overworked than ever before in this country, which means there aren’t enough hours in the day for some of the most important things in life, like spending time with family and friends, caring for our children, and taking personal time to rest and rejuvenate. This issue has received some much-needed, highly publicized attention lately, from Netflix offering paternity leave to KKR paying for newborns and nannies to accompany parents on business trips. Yet as these companies’ strides are still the exception and not the rule in America, we may need to turn to other countries for examples of how to bring about a better balance between work and home life. Interestingly, one of the most harmonious examples of working mothers being able earn a living while simultaneously spending time with their children has emerged from the third world: Rwanda.

In many small villages throughout the country, women are making signature handcrafted baskets and turning a profit to help support themselves and their families, thanks to American companies like Macy’s who buy and sell directly through stores (see: their Path to Peace project). It may seem odd to think of work-life balance as critical to economic development in Africa, but it has been a major factor in empowering native basket weavers to create businesses for themselves.

Because Rwandan women can do their weaving at home during convenient hours, they avoid commuting to nearby cities in order to earn a living, which prevents problems of homelessness and vulnerability. These women earn a livelihood while simultaneously caring for children, planting and harvesting gardens and maintaining family responsibilities. And in doing so, their close-knit rural communities stay intact.

“Not long ago, 3,000 women didn’t work because they didn’t think they had skills that could get them a job anywhere,” says Lucy Mbabazi, daughter of Janet Nkubana who leads Gahaya Links weaving cooperative. “Now, they are able to work in their homes, using their hands to create something beautiful you can put at your table. These baskets have transformed families and entire communities.”

The ironic part of this economic development is that Rwandan women have been weaving these beautiful baskets for generations — they simply had no outlet through which to sell them. Historically, mothers would pass on basket weaving knowledge to their young daughters because an ability to shape baskets was considered a prerequisite to marriage. Now, it’s a pathway to a sense of self-worth and respect and potentially earning as much money as your husband — and doing so within the confines of your home and within the company of your friends.

“The female weavers I’ve met are overwhelmingly proud and have a strong sense of independence,” says Macy’s Chairman and CEO Terry Lundgren. “The Path to Peace Project has truly been transformational. It’s achieved a broader social impact than we ever thought possible. Its goals do not simply serve individuals; it’s about what’s best for Rwanda and its people.”

Co-Founder of the Path to Peace Project, Willa Shalit, says that the sale of products like these actually creates a unique connection between the artists and the consumers. “When a woman in the United States and a woman in Rwanda come together, they do so on equal footing: one has created a beautiful object and the other can display it in her home. At the same time, one has purchased a product and the other receives compensation. It creates a special connection.”

Whether in South Africa, the United States or any other country where females can gain rightful employment, we’ve seen countless inspiring examples of the power women have when they come together for change and growth. In the instance of Rwandan basket weavers, coworkers are neighbors, which cultivates an environment of motivation and support.

“When women work together, we have a voice,” says Doracella, a 54-year-old weaver. “I am exposed to other weavers and parents. We talk to one another about work and family, we share different experiences.”

“These women view the business from a holistic perspective, meaning that they also care about each other,” adds Shalit. “They learn about hygiene, nutrition, medication, how to deal with violence issues at home. They help other women set up bank accounts and teach each other about financial management. They are changing lives in so many ways beyond running a business.”

In the case of Shalit’s Path to Peace project, the business has been running for nearly ten years. But Lundgren insists it’s trade, not aid, that keeps the business running successfully, and encourages other programs to adopt such a structure.

“We wanted to build something that would last, tapping into the known skills of a native community and providing additional support: training, guidance, technique,” says Lundgren. “This required an investment, specifically a training center where Rwandan women could learn the details and refinement needed for the baskets to become marketable…This project has been successful with American consumers not only because they love the product, but also because they connect with Rwanda’s story and feel good about giving back.”

And for those of us in the Western World still trying to “have it all”? Perhaps this inspiring example from Rwanda will help make it more of a reality in this country, spurring us to seek out alternative, innovative ways in which we can create a better balance in work, family, and all other areas of life.

For more information on the Rwanda Path to Peace Project, click here.

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah MagazineMarie Claire,, the Women’s Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s website and non-profit organization, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site She is the author of  Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at

Macy’s holiday shopping: Rwandan weavers craft 10-year anniversary designs

Macy’s commemorated 10 years of its Rwanda Path to Peace initiative with a special customer event at Macy’s Herald Square in New York City on Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. The festive in-store celebration featured live musical performances, traditional Rwandan food and a ceremony honoring the women who made this project possible.

This fall, Macy’s is offering customers special commemorative designs to honor the decade-long partnership. Originally launched in fall 2005, the program affords an opportunity to create economic sustainability and stability for the women weavers of Rwanda impacted by the country’s civil war and genocide, and is now the longest-lasting program of its kind.

“Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program was one of the first-ever ‘trade-not-aid’ efforts and is the longest-enduring, impacting thousands of women throughout the country of Rwanda,” said Willa Shalit, co-founder of the program. “This important initiative, in partnership with the Rwandan weavers’ cooperative, Gahaya Links, has enabled women in Rwanda to take care of essential human needs, send their children to school, buy health insurance and malaria nets, and to help rebuild their communities. We are so grateful to Macy’s and its customers who have responded with open hearts, so that Americans can directly support peace and prosperity from one continent to another.”

Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace program brings the age-old art of Rwandan basket weaving to customers in the United States, with product available in select Macy’s stores and on The vibrant colorful baskets range from a classic 9-inch fruit bowl to a 16-inch large statement piece, with retail prices ranging from $30 to $60.

“As an early and dedicated advocate for this program, I am so proud of the decade of work we have been honored to do through our Rwanda Path to Peace project,” said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman and CEO of Macy’s, Inc. “Through this program, Hutu and Tutsi women, representing both sides of a devastating genocide, have come together to weave baskets of peace. From my first visit to Rwanda, my life was permanently changed by the strength of the weavers I met – knowing what they endured and all they have taught us about courage, forgiveness and grace. I want to thank our customers for continuing to support this effort and for helping us make a difference in the world.”



Path To Peace: A Great Example of the impact of trade on Poverty Eradication.

Thank You Lucy N. Mbabazi for sharing such a great piece on Gahaya Links.

This evening I attended the Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace (#Path2Peace) 10th anniversary celebration in New York City and all I could think about was the impact this partnership has had on our family and over 3000 others in Rwanda.  Simply put Path to Peace has changed our lives for the better.

The story of Gahaya Links and the thousands of women across Rwanda trained and empowered is truly remarkable.  These women are my role models and heroes because they represent what hardwork to continuously deliver quality products,  for this long is no easy thing!   The women of Gahaya Links can now afford health insurance, afford good schools for their children, put food on the table every day, improve quality of products, life skills such as hygiene, savings/banking (some even have a Visa card, meaning they can afford services and tools like many around the world??????).

What Gahaya Links and Macy’s have done for 10 years has never been done before between a country and a company like Macy’s, and goes to show business i.e. Trade NOT aid is definitely the surest way to go for sustained economic development in Rwanda/Emerging markets.

Here’s to the next 10 years of Path to Peace Rwanda – Macy’s WINNING partnership.

Visit for more information.  Please support the work by buying a basket at (in home).



History of Macy’s Commitment to Rwanda Path to Peace

For ten years, Macy’s has been committed to this trade-not-aid program. Basket weaving is a traditional craft in Rwanda and these women create baskets for a living. Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace provides a platform for economic empowerment.

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren and co-founders Janet Nkubana of Gahaya Links and Willa Shalit of Road to Market, LTD. share the story of why Macy’s started this program and how it continues to changes lives.

Purchase your baskets at

Baskets Weaving Changing Lives in Rwanda – Macy’s Rwanda Path To Peace

“What makes me proud is people now believe in me.” – Christina Mukankuranga

Christina.HIV positive tells of feeling abandoned and despised. Making baskets for Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace changed her life. She says, “Weaving baskets gave me confidence because I’m not a beggar anymore.”

Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren and co-founders Janet Nkubana of Gahaya Links and Willa Shalit of Road to Market, LTD. share the story of why Macy’s started this program and how it continues to changes lives.

How to Weave Handmade Baskets – Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace

There are many steps that go into weaving baskets. Weavers who create beautiful baskets for Macy’s Rwanda Path to Peace show the steps. Janet Nkubana of Gahaya Links narrates & explains, “Making baskets is intricate because every thread you see is a stitch.” Weavers build the base with sisal, tie intricate knots and add sweet grass as they progess.

Gahaya Links Award

Gahaya Links is recognized with the Artisan Hero Award 2015 by the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and The Aspen Institute

Gahaya Links in Rwanda is recognised with Artisan Hero Award 2015 by the Alliance for Artisan Enterprise and The Aspen Institute.

Rwandan basketmakers weave their way into Macy’s

Inside the Gahaya Links workshop on the outskirts of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, a group of women sit side by side against a brightly-painted wall. Using natural fibers and grasses, they pool their weaving skills to create exquisite hand-made baskets, inspired by the eastern African country’s art and tradition.

Seeing these women talking, laughing and working together, it’s hard to imagine that many of them were once enemies, belonging to warring tribes during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

“[It’s] really amazing to see how a small piece of work, how culture can restore values in people, how healing comes through a small basket,” says Janet Nkubana, co-founder of Gahaya Links, the company that has made Rwanda’s hand-woven baskets internationally famous.

“And then people open up, forgive one another and get back together. They say hello, they interact, they visit, they share what they used to share before,” adds Nkubana, a master weaver herself.

Women in Rwanda have been handcrafting baskets for centuries, using them as containers to carry food and transport goods or as decorations during weddings and baby christenings.

Today, Gahaya Links‘ baskets have been coined “peace baskets,” an embodiment of reconciliation and healing in a country torn by conflict.

“If you just meet someone on the streets and go – you don’t really heal from what you went through,” says one of the women at the workshop. “But through this kind of association where we meet everyday, spending all day together, it makes you understand one another and forgive one another.”

An estimated 800,000 Tutsis and politically-moderate Hutus were murdered in just 100 days during the Rwanda genocide nearly two decades ago. After the violence ended, many Rwandan women whose husbands, fathers and sons were killed found themselves thrust into the unfamiliar role of being sole breadwinners for their families.

At the same time, Rwandans who had fled the genocide and earlier internal conflicts started returning in droves from neighboring countries.

One of them was Nkubana — decades ago, she had fled to Uganda where she grew up in a refugee camp.

Upon her return to the country, Nkubana opened a hotel with her elder sister in Kigali. Many traumatized women and children would often come to the hotel to beg for food.


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Gahaya Links – Winner, Kigali, Rwanda

This Rwandan company works with more than 4,000 rural weavers to produce baskets for export to Japan and the U.S., some of which are sold through department stores Macy’s and Neiman Marcus as “peace baskets.” The vision of Gahaya Links is to “empower rural communities to become entrepreneurs and earn better incomes to live with dignity among their communities.” Besides creating jobs for thousands of rural artisans, Gahaya has 16 full-time staff and annual revenues of more than $400,000.

Managing director and founder Janet Nkubana spent her childhood in a refugee camp in Uganda where she learned basket weaving from her mother, who had fled the Rwandan Genocide. Nkubana eventually returned to her native Rwanda, where she organized rural women into basket weaving cooperatives. Writes Nkubana of her business: “The women in the cooperative are earning incomes and pulling themselves and their families out of crippling poverty. The collective also plays an important role in healing the gaping wounds left by war and genocide.”