Reimagining Mental Health Services: How Kate Spade New York Is Supporting Women and Girls in Rwanda

A classroom in Rwanda.

Kate Spade New York’s commitment to women’s empowerment and mental health is just as central to the company’s identity as its iconic products. Recognizing mental health as the bedrock of women’s empowerment, as it enables women to discover their own voices and embrace their own power, the company is on a mission to provide 100,000 women and girls with direct access to empowerment and mental health support by 2025.

The company’s commitment to women and girls’ mental health started more than 10 years ago when it established the On Purpose initiative to support a manufacturing company in Masoro, Rwanda. The company’s focus on mental health support for women and girls was reaffirmed after the death by suicide of its founder, Kate Brosnahan Spade, in 2018. Since that time, the company has integrated mental health into its social impact work at large and wants to change the stigma surrounding the topic.

A classroom in Rwanda.

One result of this mission-driven work is the social enterprise partnership between Kate Spade New York and Abahizi Rwanda, a certified B Corp handbag manufacturer that employs more than 300 artisans from the Masoro region in Rwanda, 90 percent of whom are women. Although Kate Spade New York provided the company startup funding and still serves as an official supplier, it does not own the company. Abahizi Rwanda operates independently and offers its staff full-time employment, mental health, empowerment, and financial literacy training sessions, and other life skills classes.

To further support the larger community of Masoro, Kate Spade New York established the On Purpose Fund, a donor advised fund at Tides Foundation, to give community organizations the resources they needed to develop their own strategies focused on supporting the mental health and economic well-being of women and girls.

“We want to be very communal, very warm, very inviting, very locally relevant, and culturally competent. [Our efforts are] led by the receiving organizations,” said Taryn Bird, senior director of Kate Spade New York Foundation.

Supporting Community Organizations in Rwanda

For organizations like Resonate, a Kate Spade New York On Purpose Fund grant recipient since 2013, this level of trust and autonomy allows their impact to be magnified. As one of the largest women and youth empowerment groups in East Africa, Kate Spade New York’s support has contributed to their exponential reach and impact. The organization’s 2022 end-of-year survey accounted for an 89 percent increase in leadership among the community members it serves. 

Claire Uwineza, CEO of Resonate, discusses the impact of grantee dollars. “The women and girls of the community have been empowered to be leaders, increasing their confidence and decision-making power and contributing to their well-being and mental health, leading to increased productivity in the workplace,” she said. She also credits the Kate Spade New York On Purpose Fund in part for Resonate’s ability to expand their services and program offerings. “[We have developed] new programs that respond to the needs of our partners and communities, and ensure the organization’s sustainability. We look forward to a continued successful partnership.”

Photo of organizers from Resonate.

That’s not the only partnership that has deepened its impact as a result of the On Purpose Fund. Isooko Community Development is the product of a pilot program Kate Spade New York initiated after funding a community center for the municipality where Masoro is located. During the pilot year, Isooko brought in multiple nonprofits with a variety of focuses to house workshops and programs to support the community.

The pilot showed great promise, and Kate Spade New York recognized the success of a centralized nonprofit with multiple programming arms in different areas of focus. So when some local community leaders expressed a desire to launch such a nonprofit, leaning into the shared trust-based philosophy, Kate Spade New York was proud to serve as an original funder for the Isooko mission.

“Our main goal is empowering women in Masoro through inclusive programs focused on health, education, and economy. We’ve had a successful and inspiring journey partnering with Tides through Kate Spade New York’s On Purpose Fund over the last two years,” said Darlene Karamutsa, executive director of Isooko Community Development. “We look forward to more groundbreaking initiatives in the future that are going to transform the community of Masoro [that] we all love!”

As of March 2023, Kate Spade New York Social Impact programming, which includes the On Purpose Fund, has reached 66,000 women and girls. “Our donor advised fund really empowered us to be able to do that,” Bird said.

“It’s inspiring to work with partners who have such strong values to start with,” said Tides Corporate Social Impact Senior Advisor Alicia De Toffoli.

Together, Tides and Kate Spade New York are setting a new standard for international grantmaking by showing what is possible when trust-based philanthropy is practiced. By allowing community organizations to lead the path, they’re empowering women and girls across Rwanda to change the conversation, the game, and the world.

News & Press