Editor’s Note: This is part three in an ongoing series on Rwanda’s rise. Follow the series here.
Rwanda's emerging reputation as a “rising star of Sub-Saharan Africa” is embodied by its extraordinary economic growth trajectory. One cannot deny the government’s instrumental role in crafting a public policy designed to cater to entrepreneurial growth. Rwanda continues its climb in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2014 Report, up to 32nd from 54th in 2013 (it now takes less than 3 days to start a business).
While government support cannot be understated, it can hardly begin to explain Rwanda’s burgeoning private sector. Having worked closely alongside many of Rwanda’s most talented entrepreneurs, I’d like to highlight several other factors that I believe have helped fuel Rwanda’s economic progress. While economic environments vary drastically across the world, the following are all characteristics which can be replicated to some degree by any developing country or community.
These days, Rwanda has established a rich infrastructure to supplement the innate drive of entrepreneurs like Greg. Collaborative workspaces like Kigali’s kLab and The Office offer stimulating and affordable office alternatives and additional support for early stage companies and enterprising individuals determined to bring their dreams to life.
But it’s hard to find a more powerful blend of business talent and commitment to private enterprise development in all of Sub-Saharan Africa than Karisimbi Business Partners, a local, self-sustaining management consulting firm. Nearly five years ago, a team of business executives from companies including Microsoft and AT&T moved their families to Rwanda to help build local companies across a diverse range of promising sectors. In this short span of time, Karisimbi’s expertise has helped build management capacity for 62 high-impact companies across more than 20 key sectors.
“I remember the day Karisimbi Partners came to my office,” says Eugene Nyagahene, CEO, Tele-10 Holding Group and one of Rwanda’s most accomplished businessmen. “I said these are the people we’ve been looking for. We need to set up this partnership.” Eugene’s mentality represents an openness, and even craving, for collaboration.
One great example is the story of Roger Shaw, who saw the potential for high-end aquaculture in Rwanda. Leveraging his deep background in the industry, Shaw left his home in the USA and arrived in Rwanda in 2011 to launch a commercial, environmentally sustainable fish farm. Having raised over $5 million from family, friends and other investors, Lakeside Fish Farm now offers year-round supply of fresh fish products to the domestic market, employing hundreds of poor Rwandans in the process.
Another even more recent example commenced in 2012, when Karisimbi Partners and a team of international investors recognized an opportunity where most saw great failure. Roughly ten years ago, thousands of poor farming families were promised large increases in incomes from planting Moringa Oleifera. The moringa seed can be cold pressed to produce specialty oils that have tremendous potential for cosmetics and food applications. However, due to supply chain issues and other challenges, the failed program left thousands of acres of uncultivated trees and families worse off than they were before. In response, Karisimbi convened a community of socially motivated international investors to start Rwanda’s first oilseed processing company – Asili Natural Oils. The result can be summed up by the words of one moringa farmer: “As long as Asili continues keeping its promises, moringa is going to change our lives.”
Even large multinational corporations are impressed and inspired by Rwanda’s potential as a place to invest for positive, sustainable impact. Visa, for example, chose Rwanda out of dozens of countries as a test ground for offering electronic payments in “frontier economies.” Additionally, Unilever has long invested in Rwanda’s tea fields to source Rainforest Alliance certified tea for its Lipton brand, while training thousands of farmers in the process.
Indego Africa is quickly capitalizing on the potential of foreign markets in the U.S., Europe and neighboring countries in East Africa. Sourcing products from a handful of cooperatives just 5 years ago, Indego now represents 18 cooperatives across the country to take Rwandan handicrafts to the shelves of prominent retail chains like Nordstrom, Anthropologie and J. Crew. Given its success, Indego plans to scale its model from Rwanda to other countries in East and West Africa.
The promise of Rwanda’s handicraft industry has attracted the attention of other major international brands. Kate Spade & Co identified Rwanda as the springboard for its “On Purpose” initiative. Through this for-profit initiative, Kate Spade & Company partnered with Karisimbi Partners to employ over 120 local artisans in Masoro, Rwanda to help establish a new business as a profitable supplier to its retail outlets in the US and internationally.
Nearly all art, from crafts and paintings to music remains true to Rwanda’s cultural tradition, capitalizing on its people’s heritage and core-competencies.
At the intersection of alternative energy and mobile stands Henri Nyakarundi. After graduating from a computer science program in the U.S., Henri returned to his home in Rwanda to build the Mobile Solar Kiosk (MSK). As a solution to inefficient charging stations in busy urban areas and the general lack of energy in rural villages, the MSK harnesses solar power to provide a low cost means for East Africans to charge their mobile phones and access energy.
We will continue our series next week with an in-depth discussion on Rwanda's up-and-coming generation of technology-driven youth. Specifically, we will profile Clarisse Irigabeza, Founder of HeHe Labs, a Kigali-based incubator of mobile apps that is poised to help lead Rwanda's mobile sector.
Just ask Greg Bakunzi of Amahoro Tours: “Starting and growing a business in Rwanda certainly has its challenges. Because nothing comes easy, it’s critical to set yourself apart from the competition and stay focused on your original vision in spite of unforeseen, yet inevitable obstacles. But those who build their company with an altruistic mission and remain committed to uplift and empower their communities will find a strong support network and endless rewards.”
Working in Rwanda, I was often struck by the reality that most of these exceptional individuals could, at any moment take their talents to another country in pursuit of even greater (and easier) personal success. Yet very few seem to even entertain the possibility. Instead, they push on for their country and, in doing so, weave their own unique strands into the story of Rwanda.
What may not be so immediately obvious is their influence outside of the country. Quietly, Rwanda is evolving into the role model that many emerging regions of the world will look to for inspiration, if not aspiration. As President Kagame will attest, “If we can do it – come out of what happened 20 years ago, nobody should dispair.”
[Image Credit: karisimbipartners.com]
[Image Credit: Indego Africa partner cooperative]
[Image Credit: African Entrepreneur Collective]
Travis heads up strategic partnerships here at TriplePundit.com. Previously, he has worked with several social enterprises including Calvert Foundation, SOCAP and Karisimbi Business Partners, a socially motivated management consulting start-up in Rwanda. He has also served in Guatemala as a Social Entrepreneur Corps Fellow and continues to support Wild River Organics, his family’s organic fruit farm. Travis received his BS in Business Administration from Pepperdine University. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on his responsible travel blog at <a href="http://www.brightspotstravel.com//">brightspotstravel.com</a>