Just over twenty years ago, Rwanda was entrapped in a brutal civil war that culminated in genocide and the deaths of 800,000 people. Since then, Rwanda has stabilized, yet it continues to suffer from the problems left behind by the war. The average citizen lives on less than $700 (U.S.) a year, far below Sub-Saharan African averages, and nearly half of all citizens live in poverty. Opportunities for employment are few, even for those with a college education. These problems are most evident among women, who are far more likely to work in nonpaying jobs, and those who are paid make considerably less than their male counterparts.
These conditions necessitate that entrepreneurs facilitate employment opportunities and catalyze economic development in their communities. The GPE Rwanda Partnership strongly believes through connections with Rwanda-rooted organizations, we can provide adequate training to prepare entrepreneurs to face these challenges.
Our summer 2015 partnership observed us collaborate with Duhugurane, a business services group dedicated to providing young men and women the chance to turn their enterprise ideas into a reality. Four GPE volunteers and one intern from the FSU College of Social Science’s Social Entrepreneurship program worked alongside local entrepreneur Lise Uwingabye and the Duhugurane team to facilitate a six-week course in business development for 15 fledgling entrepreneurs with the opportunity to receive 200,000 Rwandan Francs (approx. $300 USD) in concept funding upon completion of the program. Our class came from a diverse array of backgrounds with ages ranging from 18 to 33 and education levels from high school to college graduate.
The first four weeks consisted of in-class and experiential learning opportunities, drawing from topics in operations, marketing and accounting. This culminated in the writing of a business plan and a “Shark-Tank” styled pitch to a panel of local consultants and leaders in the business community. The following two weeks allowed students awarded with concept funding to have a soft launch of their business with the support from facilitators. Other students utilized these two weeks to continue working on their business plan or to begin developing a new business concept. Our program ended with five entrepreneurs earning concept funding and all students continue to receive support from Duhugurane.
In the future, the Rwanda partnership will be able to build on the successes of this past summer with a new partner organization, The African Innovation Prize (AIP). AIP coordinates a yearly business plan competition open to all students at the Rwandan national universities for the purpose of training the next generation of business leaders to solve the needs of their communities in innovative and sustainable ways. This competition is accompanied by cross-country workshops at the national universities designed to prepare students to submit business plans for viable business concepts stemming from clearly identified issues that face Rwanda today. Ten contestants are selected from the field of applicants to receive 2,000,000 Rwandan Francs (approx. $ 3000 USD). These contestants also receive business consulting services from Inkomoko, a partner organization, and training for seeking additional capital. The GPE team will assist in facilitating these workshops in coordination with AIP team by serving as mentors for students as they prepare their business plans. This individual interaction will help AIP better cultivate entrepreneurship among a greater number of participants, allowing GPE to continue to impact the community in positive, sustainable ways.
Rwanda Project Director
Matt Laird is a sophomore pursuing degrees in economics and mathematics as well as the current director of the Rwanda Project. After serving as the assistant project director on last year’s Rwanda Project, he developed a passion for travel and issues in economic development. Following graduation he intends to pursue his PhD in economics with an emphasis on experimental and behavioral approaches. Apart from his studies, he spends his time reading and researching solutions to contemporary public policy issues.
Meet the Entrepreneurs
About The African Innovation Prize
Business competitions encourage entrepreneurship and innovation. Competitions allow students to test out ideas in a safe environment supported by mentors, coaches and spurred by the incentive of seed funding. This valuable opportunity should be opened to students/budding entrepreneurs everywhere. In partnership with African Universities, African Innovation Prize (AIP) aims to help establish and run a first-rate student business plan competition for African University students. AIP is rooted in the belief that grassroots entrepreneurship is a key driver in knowledge creation and economic development. This iterative business plan competition will also help fuel long-term entrepreneurial thinking in the university ecosystem and enable prospects for new job creation.