CASE STUDY: Hotel Rwanda

Helping launch Marriott's Rwanda hotel are these extraordinary women

The three trainees and 12 other graduates will soon return to Rwanda for the preopening of the Marriott Kigali Hotel.
The three trainees and 12 other graduates will soon return to Rwanda for the preopening of the Marriott Kigali Hotel.

Helping to launch Marriott’s first hotel in Rwanda will be 15 extraordinary Rwandan graduates from the Akilah Institute for Women

Like other international operators expanding in Africa, Marriott International will launch its first hotel in Rwanda, the 254-key Kigali Marriott Hotel, in 2013. Partly responsible for opening this hotel will be 15 young and inspirational Rwandan women.

While tourism and hospitality is the main economic driver in Rwanda, many young people live in a state of poverty, and finding educated Rwandans with the skills to staff these upcoming hotels is a challenge, which led Marriott to the Akilah Institute for Women.

Rational and objective
The institute provides affordable, market-relevant higher education based on a curriculum developed in partnership with the private sector, including a diploma in hospitality management, for Rwandan women from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“In 1994 there was the genocide in Rwanda and about one million people were murdered. That was 18 years ago and our students today are aged between 19 and 30, they all went through the genocide, some aged one, others as 10-year-olds.

A lot of them are orphans; some became the head of households as children, taking care of any surviving siblings. They’re all economically disadvantaged,” says Akilah Institute for Women executive director Lisa Martilotta.

The young ladies in Rwanda who manage to complete secondary school tend to go on to work as farmers or become mums, according to Martilotta.

However, in August 2011, 39 Rwandan women proudly graduated with a diploma in hospitality management from Akilah Institute for Women. Each candidate completed three years on the Rwandan campus, including a foundation year for basic skills and an English boot camp, followed by the two-year diploma studies.

Of those graduates, 24 went on to work for RwandAir, local hotels and other tourism companies in the country, while 15 joined Marriott International for a year of intensive training across Marriott hotels in Dubai. Within the next 10 months, those trainees will return to Rwanda for the pre-opening of the Kigali Marriott Hotel.
“They’re on a training programme designed to fast track them to go into supervisory and managerial positions when they go back to Kigali. We have ladies in front office, food and beverage, housekeeping, HR, sales and marketing — they’re spread across the whole business,” says Marriott International VP sales and marketing — MEA Jeff Strachan.


Concept & investment
To enroll at Akilah, Rwandan women must have completed their secondary school national exams and possess a basic level of English, ascertained by a placement exam.

For those who successfully complete the course, the advantages are many (see the testimonials of Alice Umurerwa, Allan Kazarwa and Noella Mujawamariya opposite). But they’re not the only party to benefit.

“Our company is founded and operating on the premise ‘if you take care of your associates, they’ll take care of your business’. That’s why, 30 months ago, we were in Rwanda looking for associates to work in the hotel.

We were fortunate enough to find Akilah, where we believe we can work with a fantastic group of women, take great care of them, progress their careers and they’ll take care of our business,” says Strachan.

“These women are already strong advocates for Akilah, but also for Marriott. They’ll reach out to their peer groups when they go back home and say ‘come and work here, it’s a great place to work. They take great care of me, my family, my environment and our job is just to take care of the guests’,” he adds.

Furthermore, while building the workforce, the initiative enables hotels to offer the authentic service, at the same time as boosting the group’s CSR profile.

“The CSR image is increasingly important as a market value for any corporation, but certainly the big ones,” says Martilotta.

“Also, tourists come to Rwanda to have a cultural experience and meet the people, not to stay in a hotel run by expats. So there is a big focus on having local people trained in the hotels that can duly represent the culture and give customers the kind of experience they’re looking for.

“In this day it’s easy to pull people from everywhere, but we start to lose some of the tradition and culture of the markets we’re in,” she adds.

The programme
So far, Marriott International is the largest international hotel chain to partner with Akilah Institute for Women, but the institute is keen to team up with other firms to diversify employment opportunities and fund its expansion.

Currently the institute is majority funded by individuals and donors — namely from the US, Europe and Hong Kong — and 10% from Akilah-run social enterprises established on campus to train the women while bolstering its financial stability.

“Those will grow over time but we’ll always have a reliance on external funding. And as we grow, we’re seeking more institutional support from large organisations,” says Martilotta.

The courses run by Akilah Institute for Women have proven popular. A class of 60 women is on track to graduate with diplomas in hospitality management in July 2013, with another class of 100 expected to graduate in 2015.

“We have one campus right now, we are launching our second campus in March 2013 in the southern part of Rwanda, and we’re seeking to open our third campus in Burindi, Africa in 2014,” reveals Martilotta.

“We’re growing practically within our resource means and as soon as we find partners to help fund our development and expansion we’ll be able to augment that number significantly.

“Our goal is to have a network of campuses across east Africa by 2020, offering disadvantaged young women higher education opportunities and connecting them directly to the economy,” she adds.



Allan Kazarwa
HR internee
Marriott Executive Apartments Dubai Creek

When I finished high school ‘what next’ was the only question in my mind. I decided to join hospitality school even though I had no more background in hospitality. Elisabeth Dearborn Hughes, CEO & co-founder of Akilah Institute for Women inspired me.
One evening, I felt happy but uncertain about leaving my family back in Kigali, being in a new environment and meeting new nationalities. At the same time I was excited about the opportunity of travelling and gaining skills for a better future. Training offered by Marriott has enabled me to envision my future in a confident way. I appreciate the way the whole team is open, accommodating and compassionate. They are always willing to help everyone. HR officer Donnabel Simbulan, with her courageous and willing heart to help, has been a great coach.

Alice Umurerwa
Front office internee
Courtyard by Marriott Dubai

Over the past three months with Marriott I have been learning a lot, starting with the history of Marriott. I can see my improvement because I started working as an ‘at your service’ agent and I have moved to the front desk as a global sales agent.

I’ve been spending my time with people who have worked with Marriott for a long time and I found that many people spend many years with Marriott because they take good care of their associates.

It’s been a privilege for me to be among the Marriott family and I am very happy that by the time Marriott will open in Kigali, I will be one of the people who will bring change in Rwandan hospitality by sharing Marriott’s culture. I am committed and very passionate about the work that I am doing, and I am looking forward to grow in the industry.

Noella Mujawamariya,
F&B internee
JW Marriott Dubai

After my graduation, I joined JW Marriott Hotel Dubai as a server in an Asian restaurant with a nice team that really made me feel at home.

They guided me and helped me to grow in my career with day-to-day support. After two months practicing my exceptional customer service, I was selected to work at the Hotelier Middle East Awards 2012 event at the Ritz-Carlton DIFC as a wine steward.

It was my very first time and I was scared to be serving hundreds of people but, inspired by my team, I made it and my team leader congratulated me. I saw the Marriott culture of taking care of each other from my first day in Dubai.

Finding my team at the airport was beyond my expectations. I am proud to be with Marriott and cannot wait to see Kigali Marriott Hotel and share my experience with the young Rwandan generation.

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