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Enterprise Lessons from Rwanda

23 July 2012

In our recent trip to Rwanda together with Input Lofts,we discovered a nation of doers, who despite having been through one of the worst genocides in recent history are still driven to create better communities and better themselves. This is not a nation that wants handouts or dictated help, they have hutzpah and want to find their own way. We imagined that we would learn a lot from this trip, hence our interest, however we could not have imagined to find such concentrated levels of intelligence, purpose, and tenacity. We were blown away and below are some of the lessons we learned.

 

Community

On the Monday of our trip we went to visit a co-op for women who were left widowed during the genocide. They proudly showed us what they were making and how they were generating income. Their sense of community was evident in every detail, from doubling up in chairs to fit every single woman into the discussion – to how they listened proudly to each other’s stories. In both UK and US economies, we believe in “dog-eat-dog” mentality and we hold in high acclaim business people who propagate an image of ruthlessness. We like looking out for number one, however Rwanda is proving that building economic systems founded in community are stronger and more sustainable. When I asked them how they deal with competition, one women said there was no competition, because when one of them sold, they all benefited. By sharing profits and helping each other sell their goods they are moving forward with their enterprises than if they were doing it on their own. Business is about people and therefore the stronger the community you have around you the more chances of success you have.

Just Do It

On the second day we visited an entrepreneurial club, where we shared news about our respective businesses. Every single one of the entrepreneurs despite having so little in regards to startup money, and some with none at all had started their business. There were no excuses, no sense of entitlement to funding, no business plans, no sense of fear. One of them said that one of our curses in the West is that we wait until things are optimal and we think too much. I think he is right – there was something refreshing and freeing about watching people with little resources, just getting up and doing it.

Purpose

We spoke and met various people whilst in Rwanda and there was an underlying sense of purpose amongst them. From a 13 year-old wanting to become a sociologist to help Rwanda cope with the release of genocide criminals, to genocide orphans starting  surrogate families to nurture each other, to an entrepreneur investing money into hydro technology to give Rwanda a better  technological future. Everyone had a sense of purpose and their ideas were a reflection of it. Back in the US and UK, we rarely see this, where entrepreneurs tie their idea to a sense of purpose and for creating the high impact to their community. This not only makes humanitarian sense but business sense. If your idea has purpose, it has value; and if you have value, people will buy your product or service.

Setting Unimaginable Goals

Before we went to Rwanda we read Land of A Thousand Hills, which illustrates Paul Kigame’s huge vision for the country. His sentiment has trickled down to everyone in his cabinet as well as to the Rwandan people. Their targets are so huge one cannot even imagine how they will be able to be achieved. For example, taking an industry from 2 million in profit to 60 million in the next 8 years! However, they will either do it or get pretty close to the goal, because they are opening up their brains to huge possibilities. This strategy has worked for them so far: Kigame was able to stop a genocide, stabilise the country, all under 20 years. He says ‘that no one should blame him for having big dreams.’ We would say that has been the platform from which they have been able to accomplish so much. The bigger the question you ask, the more your brain has to work to reach it, which leads you to a journey of exploration and innovation.