The Shriver Report – How to Rebuild, Move Forward and Make a Difference

Special Edition

How to Rebuild, Move Forward and Make a Difference

Grace Hightower and First Lady of Rwanda Jeannette Kagame

We all were affected by the tragedy of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. But after any disaster is over it’s human nature to slowly forget about the aftermath and the people that the tragedy leaves behind. Yet that is precisely when our attention is needed the most.

The Rwandan people have made inspirational progress to redefine their humanity and have proven to be a people worth investing in. When I first visited Rwanda, I fell in love with the people. Their determination and passion to prosper was simply – uplifting. And what I found was that coffee was one of their major resources – and the environment was a paradise for coffee farming. I had the pleasure of meeting President Paul Kagame at a dinner and heard him speak of how his country needed “trade – not aid”. I decided then and there to help to bring their coffee to the world: and so Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda was born.

TSR: What were the greatest obstacles you encountered when trying to achieve your goal?

Starting any new business is difficult, especially in today’s economy. One big obstacle I encountered was how to stand out over the competition. But I accomplished this simply by presenting a quality product. There is a level of dignity to what we do – those who buy our coffee are directly supporting the farmers who produce it. We strive to perpetuate sustainability and that in turn provides people with dignity and pride.

TSR: How did you push through the rough points?

I stay focused on my goals and pull strength from knowing that this is helping create a future for generations to come. I also surround myself with people who have my vision and keep myself open to learning from mistakes and consistently moving forward. Nothing guarantees a smooth journey but without these things the journey would be insurmountable.

TSR: What are your top 3 tips for other women who are trying to make changes in our world that move us forward?

Be passionate about what you do and be proud of all the tiny accomplishments along the way – no matter how small. All the small accomplishments together make big successes.

Know what you are good at and never try to be good at everything. Surround yourself with people who are the best at what they do.

Support other women owned businesses!

TSR: What is the most fulfilling aspect of your project?

The female empowerment aspect of my business. The African political landscape is not necessarily synonymous with powerful women but Rwanda stands out among the rest.

From holding positions in political office to the women who run their family farming businesses the women of Rwanda inspire me. We source beans from co-ops owned by women or that have female board members. Through fair trade practices many women farmers all over Rwanda have a say over the welfare of their families and finances. It is humbling to know that we are putting power directly into the hands of these beautiful, deserving women and providing them tools to be leaders.

TSR: Favorite Quote?

“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” — Maya Angelou

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Grace Hightower De Niro is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Grace Hightower De Niro is a philanthropist and the founder of Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda, a new unique coffee brand. With every purchase, consumers are helping to support the future of the people in Rwanda, Africa through the coffee company.
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