Member Spotlight

Markey Culver

Markey Culver

Founder and Co-Director

The Women’s Bakery, Inc.

What made you want to begin a career working in the bakery industry?

Honestly, I entry into the bakery industry was accidental. I was serving in the Peace Corps in Rwanda when I baked my first loaf of bread. I was hungry and craved a yeasty deviation from my standard diet of beans and cassava. A group of women in my village enjoyed my bread and asked to learn how to bake – so, as a novice, I taught them. These women not only baked bread for their children, but started selling their bread. My entry into the industry crystalized after realizing that bread could be a vehicle for improved nutrition for children and a medium for social and economic empowerment for women.

What challenges did you face starting out in your career?

Very few individuals set out to build bakeries in Rwanda. Even fewer set out to build Rwandan bakeries specifically for women. So, my initial challenge was proving that I wasn’t crazy! I had to prove that Rwandan women were (and are) a worthy investment, that Rwanda had (and has) a growing economy to support a network of women-powered bakeries, and that using bread as an affordable medium for enhanced nutrition could be (and is) a powerfully innovative way to shape a bakery business.

What challenges have you faced as a woman in the bakery industry and how did you overcome them?

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges I have is finding women in leadership positions within corporations. I’m often pitching for corporate sponsorship to men and while they are intrigued, they are sceptical and cautious. I believe if I were pitching to women, the questions would be different, with tempered caution. 

How long have you worked in the bakery industry?

I started The Women’s Bakery in 2014.

What is your career highlight?

High-fiving a Women’s Bakery woman who walked into work in a new dress that she bought for herself and having her wink at me with a wide smile and a twinkle of confidence in her eyes.

In August, I visited our newest bakery in Rwanda. I was introducing myself and my team member, Heather, to the women at our bakery. I told the women that Heather was responsible for creating the lessons for their bakery training – a now nationally accredited curriculum in Rwanda. An older woman, who wasn’t able to continue school beyond grade 6, leapt out of her chair to throw her arms around Heather in a big hug. Emotion is usually guarded in Rwanda, so this was a very special and moving reaction.

If you could make one change to the bakery industry, what would that be and why?

Biodegradable packaging!

What does your job entail?

I oversee business operations in both the US and East Africa, manage personnel, develop and implement strategic partnerships in the US and abroad, design strategic and tactical plans, and manage business development initiatives. I am a strong advocate for healthy work cultures and strive to ensure that the work-place at TWB is an equitable, thriving, and supportive one.

What advice would you give to young people looking to get into the bakery industry?

No experience is wasted experience! Try new things and learn as much as you can – you’ll discover interested and possibly even passions you didn’t know you had.

What are your hobbies and interests?

Reading and hiking. And eating – a LOT of really delicious food.

Who is your role model and why?

Jacqueline Novogratz of Acumen because she has the humility to see the world as it is, and drive and ability to create new ways of helping others access opportunity to build positive, lasting change.

If you could invite anyone to a dinner party, who would it be and why?

Jacqueline Novogratz for the aforementioned reasons AND because I would love to hear her stories and learn from her.

If you could switch places with one other people, who would it be and why?

Jacqueline Novogratz for the aforementioned reasons AND because I would love to see what a business to scale looks / feels like.

What is your favourite bakery event and why?

IBA in Munich! This was my first experience of attending a bakery event and it was fantastic. I’m looking forward to IBIE’s in Las Vegas this year!

If you could choose to only eat one bakery product for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Minced pie because it can be savoury or sweet, but it’s always amazing.

If you could tell your younger self one thing you have learnt from your career, what would it be?

Be brave and be patient. Networking, partnership-building, and fundraising take confidence and courage. Know that people want to hear from you, so speak up! And progress often takes longer than you think. Stick with it and be patient.

How would you define success?

To achieve a goal with integrity, in the spirit of comradery and with an eye toward longevity.

What would say that your proudest moment has been in your career?

Seeing bakeries actually selling bread and watching people actually eating and enjoying our bread. It’s thrilling every time.

What was your big break, and how did you reach it?

One of our biggest breaks was building a partnership with Rademaker, BV. Their endorsement meant they were seeing as much power and potential in our model as we did. Through our hardworking team and women, we had proven we had a model worth paying attention to and investing in.

If you’d like to get in contact with Markey or find out more about
The Women’s Bakery please see the below links: