Fostering entrepreneurship among Rwandan youth; more questions than answers...

The University of Rwanda’s College of Business and Economics (UR-CEB) over a week ago posed a question that is and/or should be of key concern to the country: How do we foster youth entrepreneurship and innovation?

Making of innovative young entrepreneurs who are job creators instead of job seekers was the crux of the matter.

This was at a conference organized by UR in collaboration with the Dutch Wegeningen University, at the College of Business and Economics at the Gikondo campus on Friday June 12, 2014.

The topic; ‘Fostering Entrepreneurship and Innovation among the Youth in Rwanda for Socio-economic development’ was indeed worthy and apt.

Discussions centered around key thematic areas such as; Policy Research and Entrepreneurship; Training and Capacity Building in entrepreneurship; Employment Programmes in supporting entrepreneurial activities for students in higher education; SME’s start ups and sustainability.

Then came my personal favourite; testimonies from young entrepreneurs.

Under policy and research, the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) showcased what it has done with regard to youth entrepreneurship opportunities.

Various initiatives are in place in the Ministries of Public Service and Labour, Trade and Industry; and Youth and ICT, among others in this regard.

One initiative, the USAID-funded Akazi Kanoze programme, stood out. It aims at enhancing skills and employability of youths who have dropped out of school to enable them to get jobs and further their education.

The programme has had over 12,000 graduates since its inception.

Questions, however, arise over its sustainability, being donor funded. Also, one wishes that there was data on graduates who have actually fulfilled the programme’s desired outcomes got employed or furthered their education as a result of the intervention.

Policy researchers and policymakers need to work in tandem. Research must be policy relevant and policy decisions need to be research based. There is need for more sector specific research and decisions.

For example, policy research and decisions look at the youth as one homogeneous group. This is misleading.

One cannot foster entrepreneurship growth in university students in the same manner that they do to youth who left school at primary or secondary school level.

The same dynamics may be true of urban and rural youths. It is not discrimination, rather an understanding of the peculiar needs and circumstances of each group and address the same accordingly.

Research is handy here but it has not seemingly been done.

Training and capacity building were correctly demonstrated as enablers in entrepreneurship development – a means to an end. This is contrary to popular perception that sees them as otherwise.

Indeed, for capacity building to be effective, the capacity in terms of the right attitude, the resilience and the focus on ‘get on with it’ rather than procrastinating must be there.

The question thus became if these can be taught and how

That question was partially answered by the afternoon session that brought forth successful entrepreneurs who gave their testimonies. Each one of them had palpable drive and passion; you could almost touch it.

In fact, the conference would have had more impact if they were put in the centre of things right from the start. Nothing builds credibility like hearing it from the horse’s mouth. The presentations were quite good but were trumped by these entrepreneurs’ testimony.

The conference generally had ‘teacher-student presentation’ style which might have muted its effectiveness.

Perhaps group discussions or other active participation mode of delivery would have been more effective.

The amount of statistics churned out was quite frankly overwhelming. Some meaning was lost in this and the accompanying semantics. For example, when the Ministry of Public Service and Labour gave overall unemployment rate as 3.4%, and underemployment (working less than 35-40 hours per week as over 40%) but went ahead to say that labour force participation rate is 74.7% then one is left to wonder what the remaining 21.9% (25.3%-3.4%) are doing. I am not certain if this is a good thing.

There was also a need for the conference to show the next steps that were to follow the conference. It was evident that the question posed by this conference is not a one off that can be answered in a day. There is need for follow-ups and more collaboration to realize this to fruition.

One thing that the University of Rwanda successfully did was to set stage for this important issue that is not nearly discussed and worked on as it should be. One got the feeling that the conference only scratched the surface of the matter that there were more questions than answers.

Perhaps this is a good thing; the questions need to be asked for us to get the answers.

UR also did a good job in collaborating with other universities and the private sector though the latter should be enhanced further.

Now that we know the problem; who shall bell the cat?

The writer is a Project Management and Entrepreneurship Development Consultant based in Kigali.

sam.kebongo@gmail.com