THE BLOG

Women in Business: Grace Hightower De Niro, Founder and CEO, Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda

05/09/2015 09:08 am ET | Updated May 09, 2016

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 women --​ by marketing their unique products to the world. Grace is, in every sense of the word, a true pioneer dedicated to enhancing the lives of those around her.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
My life experience has taught me to be responsible - a valuable skill instilled in me from a young age. Time management, staying focused on the bigger picture and surrounding myself with incredible people have all aided in my personal and professional success as well.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Hightower Coffee?
Communication skills have been a must and have aided me greatly. Always follow through and don't be afraid to explore and take risks.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Grace Hightower & Coffees of Rwanda?
One of the biggest highlights has been finding like-minded individuals who understand my vision and the community we are honoring. The customer feedback of our mission and love of the product has also been equally rewarding.

On the flipside, the challenges were also the people - finding the people with the same objectivity to actually create a company with a unique social message, regardless of celebrity.
How is your ethical business making a real difference to the people of Rwanda?
Ethical business practices enhance the lives of each farmer, which is sustained throughout the community and therefore, the overall country.

What advice can you offer women who are looking to start their own business?
Follow your passion and do your research. Know the business you are going into and what it entails. It is a lot of hard work but if you go in with an open mind and stick to your mission, everything else will work itself.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I skip through the raindrops, meaning I choose times of the day. But very carefully and strategically!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
The low expectation of a woman's capabilities is ever present, and we must continue to break the mold.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It has given me the courage to step out of my comfort zone.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire my mother, Ava Peron, Rosa Parks, and other leaders who have stepped outside of their comfort zone to create a change.

What do you want Hightower Coffee to accomplish in the next year?
I would love to expand globally and become a household name known for our educational responsibility. Hopefully our business model will inspire future entrepreneurs to enhance the lives of others with their mission.