Grace Hightower De Niro
Her husband’s name is recognized around the world, but this powerful woman undoubtedly stands tall on her own. A dedicated philanthropist with acting and singing credits to her name, Grace Hightower De Niro is also an entrepreneur, having spent the last few years building her business, Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda. Inspired by the President of Rwanda’s plea for “trade not aid” at a dinner engagement, Grace immediately felt compelled to learn more about the nation. Upon making her first trip to Rwanda, she realized the incredible potential of the local farmers and their rich coffee beans.
Today, Grace and her company have made it a mission to help empower the Rwandan people — especially woman, by marketing their unique product to the world. In April 2014, 20 years following the Rwandan genocide, Grace hosted an intimate gathering of friends and influencers to celebrate her guest of honor, First Lady of Rwanda Jeanette Kagame, and her nation’s continued success. Grace is, in ever sense of the word a true pioneer dedicated to enhancing the lives of those around her. I was so honored to be able to interview her.
Azalea: What made you start your own coffee brand?
De Niro: When I met Rwandan President Paul Kagame at a dinner engagement, he said his people “want trade, not aid.” I also learned that coffee is one of their main resources and I decided to plan my first trip to Rwanda. I grew up in the South and Immediately connected with Rwanda’s countryside and the people when I arrived. I immediately knew I wanted to work with them in some way. Today, we have four different blends that honor and benefit the farmer behind it.
Azalea: How has the public taken to your coffee brand?
De Niro: It has been amazing! I think a lot of people share my intitial reaction, but once they try it, they’re immediately drawn in. The coffee really sells itself. Ultimately, I think the brand is helping raise awareness about Rwanda and creating discussion about the nation that goes beyond the genocide.
Azalea: What took the position as a women’s advocate. What positive effects do you see happening in the lives of the people of Rwanda? Especially the women?
De Niro: Not at all. While the genocide is still a large, relevant part of their history, a lot of progress has also occurred over the last 20 years. Women have played a very instrumental role in this progress. They’ve had to consciously move forward with their lives. I’m motivated by their courageous spirit and their desire for a brighter social and economic future. Their passion is what fuels me and makes me extremely proud.
De Niro: We met at the same time I was introduced to the President of Rwanda. I was so moved by the passion for her country and the elegant grace with which she carried herself. Her stories were captivating and her desire for change and healing touched my heart. I am better for knowing her.
Azalea: Seeing all the good your coffee line has done for Rwanda, does your success in this area spark any future endeavors, as it pertains to women empowerment?
De Niro: I am very committed to supporting women in business. GHCOR will expand to incorporate beans from many countries specifically women0owned farms. I am inspired by the strength and determination of women and through the eyes of the women I have met on my entrepreneurial journey, I have seen many more opportunities in the future.
In addition, Body by Simone, a fitness studio I started with Simone De La Rue, began as a means to give mostly women a place for themselves. To recharge/regroup without intimidation or judgement. A place for them to feel powerful and allow them to to take a moment for themselves.
Azalea: In Addition to purchasing coffee from your line, what else can on do to support the women in Rwandan from the genocide?
De Niro: Like President Kagame said, the people prefer trade not aid. Ultimately, my philosophy is more of a hand-up than a hand-down. The women especially are eager to do business and don’t particularly want to be given something. Encourage them to lead creative endeavors with integrity is a great way of supporting them
Azalea: What advice do you have to teen girls about getting involved in global issues?
De Niro: I would say educate yourself first about these issues before getting involved. If you can, travel as much as possible. I had my own ideas about Rwanda before I ever visited, but until I’d traveled there, that’s all I knew. Meeting the people who actually inhabit other countries is really essential to understand global issues.
Azalea: What leadership qualities do you most admire?
De Niro: I admire passion, a willingness to work, creativity and an open mind most of all.
Azalea: For young girls who want to start their own business one day, what three things that are most critical for them to be aware of?
De Niro: 1. Never be afraid of failure. Look at them as challenges and lessons to overcome. 2. Surround yourself with like-minded, strong and smart people. Never think you can do everything yourself. Learn from others, absorb their knowledge and be open to learning. 3. Follow your instinct. If something feels right, follow that path and if something feels wrong, don’t second guess yourself. Your inner voice is usually right.
For more information on Grace Hightower & coffee, visit www.coffeeofgrace.com
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