In a year of economic turmoil, we pivoted, adapted, and pushed beyond what we originally thought possible.

When COVID-19 arrived in East Africa in early 2020, we tightened our belts and decided that this was not the year to be less ambitious.  The economic turmoil caused by broken supply chains and lost customers meant that AEC entrepreneurs needed our resources more than ever.

Like our clients did, we pivoted – several times over in fact. As you’ll see in the numbers and stories below, we provided training and consulting to more than 16,000 small businesses across Rwanda and Kenya – even in remote communities and refugee camps.  We provided more investment than we had planned, leveraged technology, and saved 100% of AEC headcount.  

“No one expected that we would do all that we planned in 2020,” said a colleague recently. “So we have no reason to believe that 2021 won’t be another year of achievement.” In 2021, AEC continues our commitment to following entrepreneur needs and expanding our services, opening new offices in Kenya and Ethiopia.  

As you read through this annual report, know that we are grateful for your support to help us push beyond uncertainty.  Your support allowed us to push beyond what we originally thought was possible, and we are grateful to each of you.

Sara Leedom
COO & Co-Founder

Julienne Oyler
CEO & Co-Founder

Beyond Our Targets


Jobs Created

(113% over target)

Entrepreneurs Served

Revenue Growth

(238% over target)

Pushing Beyond Traditional Support

As COVID-19 swept through East Africa, the health and economic impact, broken supply chains and customer attrition threatened our entrepreneurs’ livelihoods. Entrepreneurs stabilize and strengthen the communities they serve, becoming even more vital to their customers during a pandemic.

In a world where business operations turned upside down, AEC pivoted our operations and revised our service offerings for businesses.  In both format and content, AEC entrepreneurs needed – and received – new offerings to push beyond the new economic challenges of COVID. 

Here’s just some of how our services adapted in 2020 to meet the needs of entrepreneurs:

Pushing Digital Content to Phones

No longer able to meet in person, AEC digitally delivered training to entrepreneurs.  Through a partnering with Viamo, a company with expertise building low-cost digital tools for mobile phones, AEC converted in-person trainings into pre-recorded digital modules accessible on any mobile phone. 

AEC delivered high-quality instruction to more than 9,500 entrepreneurs on: Business Formalization & Compliance, Marketing & Sales, and Finance & Accounting

Initial evaluation is promising with 77% of clients improving their knowledge.


Clients improved their knowledge

David at Siloe Cafe

Using her phone to attend AEC training, Beathe gained the business skills necessary to increase her boutique’s working capital.
Read Beathe’s story

Supporting Industries Pushed to the Brink

AEC’s has long-supported Rwanda’s tourism initiative, an industry globally halted from COVID.   

Nonetheless, AEC served nearly 300 tourism & hospitality companies in 2020 with revised service offerings.  Where we once supported customer service workshops, we shifted to work with businesses to ensure safety protocols and new methods of sales & delivery. AEC’s team assembled on Zoom, reached clients on WhatsApp, and set up a load of new eCommerce sites in 2020. 

As a result, AEC’s tourism and hospitality entrepreneurs generated nearly $287,000 in new revenue and created 2,117 new jobs.


New jobs created

David at Siloe Cafe

David Catherin, owner of Siloé Café Bistro, used the lockdown to plan for his company’s financial future.
Read David’s story

Pushing Beyond Barriers to Capital

In 2020 AEC and its partners worked together to create new financial products – AEC COVID Relief Grants, Islamic banking products, and re-financed loan terms – to ensure capital flowed where needed. Prioritizing financial inclusion in a year of constrained resources led to positive impact for AEC entrepreneurs and their communities.

COVID Relief Grants

In partnership with the Mastercard Foundation and Ikea Foundation, AEC provided one-time COVID Relief Grants to entrepreneurs throughout East Africa. In the span of 60 days, AEC colleagues mobilized and disburse grants to more than 5,300 entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Kenya. 

Most entrepreneurs used the grant to overcome revenue dips, move business online, or withstand short-term price increases brought on by broken supply chains.  

As a result of AEC COVID Relief Grants, 55% of businesses returned to pre-COVID revenues and 5,404 jobs were saved.

Grants Disbursed

Abdulkadir’s COVID Relief Grant saved his grocery store, allowing him to offer food security in Kakuma camp to fellow Sudanese refugees.

1,500+ Affordable Loans

Through 2020, AEC’s lending continued lending even as other financial partners slowed down.  By year-end, AEC’s lending program had provided more than $2M in financing through 1,524 loans. 

Core to our approach of financial inclusion, 70% of AEC financing was for refugee borrowers.

Loans Disbursed

Financial Inclusion for Refugees

Esperance supports a family of six through her business of exporting fabric, and was AEC’s 1000th refugee borrower in 2020.

Islamic Banking Products

AEC created new Sharia-compliant banking products in 2020, ensuring that Muslim clients in AEC’s programs have culturally relevant banking products. These products use revenue sharing agreements and asset collateral, versus traditional interest.

AEC served 75 Muslim refugee borrowers in the product’s first year.  

Million Served in first year

AEC’s Islamic banking products added new levels of financial inclusion in 2020.  “The Islamic banking product from AEC was in line with my faith as a Muslim and has significantly improved my business,” said Hawo.

Beyond Partnerships

Working alongside key partners allowed AEC to accomplish so much more that we would on our own.  With so many changes due to COVID, AEC and its partners supported each other to find new ways of reaching our shared goals.

With partners, AEC expanded our reach and impact:

    • Introducing debt relief for borrowers with World Bank and Rwanda Development Bank
    • Supporting women entrepreneurs to access finance through The Bank of Kigali, UN Women, and KateSpadeNY
    • Supporting agriculture businesses to export to the EU in partnership with the International Trade Center.
    • Helping youth develop digital skills for entrepreneurship in partnership with the Rwanda Ministry of ICT and Innovation and GIZ, and launching a new eCommerce platform.

AEC and Bank of Kigali have been in a five-year partnership to ensure that clients can have well-rounded support to grow their companies. Learn how Roselyne’s food business –  using red hibiscus as the main ingredient – benefitted from a unique partnership approach.

Pushing Beyond Borders

In 2021, AEC will expand across East Africa. Here’s what to expect:

Dadaab Refugee Complex
AEC will open its Garissa County, Kenya office in May 2021 to serve the Dadaab Refugee Complex and larger host community. 

Mombasa, Kenya
AEC’s SME services come to Coastal Kenya, focusing on agriculture exports & tourism.

Partnering with the Ikea Foundation, AEC will launch new operations in Ethiopia with plans to serve 600 refugees.

New Partnerships
World Bank, University of Global Health Equity, MTN Telecom are helping AEC reach new entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Kenya.

New Client Targets
AEC will serve 365 SMEs and 11,550 refugees clients across East Africa.

New Technology 
AEC’s loan app is now available in 5 languages, and will assist AEC to scale, reaching 3,000 borrowers as we continue to lend nearly $250K USD a month.


In 2020, AEC raised $5.7M USD to serve thousands of entrepreneur clients, iterate our operations, maintain 100% of company personnel, and secure funds to launch new programs in 2021.  Full audited financials from PriceWaterhouseCoopers are available.

You pushed us to do more


  • 1-to-4 Foundation
  • American Online Giving Foundation, Inc.
  • Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropies
  • Anonymous
  • Argidius Foundation
  • Bank of Kigali
  • David Weekley Family Foundation
  • Development Bank of Rwanda
  • GIZ Rwanda
  • Global Development Initiative
  • Ikea Foundation
  • Instiglio
  • International Trade Centre
  • Journey of Hope Fund
  • Kate Spade, onPurpose Fund
  • Kenny Family Fund
  • Kiva
  • Rwanda Ministry of Youth and Culture
  • MasterCard Foundation
  • Peery Foundation
  • Segal Family Foundation
  • SNV
  • Southern New Hampshire University
  • The Management Center
  • Uchetritz Foundation
  • UN Capital Development Fund
  • UN Women
  • Upwork Foundation
  • US State Department – PRM
  • Vitol Foundation



  • Bridgespan Group
  • Catch-A-Fire
  • Equity Bank
  • Kenya Refugee Affairs Secretariat
  • MTN Rwanda
  • Private Sector Federation
  • Rwanda Development Board
  • Rwanda Ministry of Emergency Management
  • Rwanda Ministry of Trade and Industry

Pull out quote on strategic partnerships from 2020 can go here or space filler image from decision-maker meetup.


  • Brooke Battles
  • Lara Bjork
  • Courtney Blodgett
  • Mark Clatworthy
  • Alexy Dwerryhouse Gamboa
  • Saran Ellis
  • Barbara England
  • Adam Erskine-Jones
  • Kit Evans
  • Marieve Uaboi-Gauthier
  • Nadia Gomes
  • Jack Henning
  • Molly Honig
  • David Hughes
  • Stephanie Johns-Clark
  • David Jollie
  • Leah Karlins
  • Shipra Kayan
  • Diane Kelso
  • Patricia Kobusingye
  • Camilla Leikvoll
  • Amy Letourneau
  • Chieh Lin
  • Amanda Maltos
  • Maureen McCarthy
  • Loz Mills
  • Zara K Morgan
  • Jeffrey Mounzer
  • Anna Nikonov
  • Toni Norman
  • Marion Ntiru
  • Osman Nur
  • Emmanuel Nyirinkindi
  • Joyce Ohgi
  • Stacy Ozier
  • Michael Arthur Payne
  • Roland Pearson
  • Alexander Pearson
  • Harry Prytherch
  • Lauren Rawlings
  • Lyngrid S. Rawlings
  • Stefan Roggenhofer
  • Thomas Ryan
  • Cherryl Smith
  • Justice Stanton
  • Styles Upon Styles, Inc
  • Anne Szender
  • Julia Taft
  • Tiffany To
  • Jessica Uhl
  • Sherrye Walker
  • Kelli P Washington
  • Kate Whestone
  • Richard Wood & Cathy Silvey
  • Ezra Wyschogrod
  • Jen Yip
  • Matthew Young
  • Dominik Zurakowski
  • Lindsay Zwiener

AEC is guided by a volunteer Board of Directors, a diverse leadership team, and the advisory support of business and investment professionals from across the globe. AEC’s people, culture, and values, are what held us together in an incredibly challenging year.

Board of Directors

  • Michael A. Payne, Board Chair
  • Maria Brewer Palma, Vice Chair
  • Marieve Uaboi-Gauthier
  • Shipra Kayan
  • Sara Leedom
  • Marion Ntiru
  • Julienne Oyler
  • Lauren Rawlings
  • Tom Ryan
  • Julie Taft

Investment Committee

  • Michelle Brauner, Ares Management, LLC
  • Harrison Chilton, The Carlyle Group
  • Alex Darden, EQT Partners
  • Chris Durbin, Vestar Capital Partners
  • Paul Kaboub, Old Ironsides Energy
  • Osman Nur, Revolution
  • Maria Palma, RRE Ventures
  • Tom Ryan, Century Equity Partners
  • Irene Wang, Falcon Investments

Advisory Board

  • Asha Abdi, Chief Tourism Officer, Mombasa County, Kenya
  • Florence Gatome, Kenya
  • Carmen Nibigira, GIZ Rwanda
  • Grace Mugabekazi, YouthConnekt Rwanda
  • Celestin Rwabukumba, Rwanda Stock Exchange
  • Denise Umunyana, Right Seat Ltd

Leadership Team

  • Julienne Oyler, Chief Executive Officer
  • Sara Leedom, Chief Operating Officer
  • Olive Ashimwe, Regional Refugee Director
  • Helle Dahl Rassmussen, SME Growth Director
  • Pacifique Kwizera Irumva, Global Development Manager
  • Elizabeth Kamau, IT Director
  • Job Matseshe, Managing Director, Kenya
  • Claude Mazimpaka, Regional Loan Portfolio Director
  • Emmanuel Mugabo, Finance Director
  • Barbara Mutoni, Human Resources Director