First Lady challenges youth to defy status quo


First Lady, speakers, panelists and guests pose for a group photo. (Courtesy photos)

First Lady Jeannette Kagame has urged the youth to defy the status quo by learning to step out of their comfort zones, and challenge the rules of the world’s economic environment to create life changing opportunities for themselves and their communities, like Rwanda has done over the years to beat the worst odds. 

Mrs Kagame said this, yesterday, while officiating at Imbuto Foundation’s Youth Forum Series, organised in partnership with HigherLife Foundation, the Ministry of Youth & ICT, UN Women, and the Kigali Community of the Global Shapers.

The event was themed, “Entrepreneurship in Africa and its Endless Opportunities,” and was organised on the occasion of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa.

The breakfast event drew about 300 attendees, including Graca Machel (co-chair of the World Economic Forum on Africa), guest speakers William Saad (co-founder and COO of IHS) and Diana Ofwona (UN Women regional director).

Others were Bineta Diop (executive director of Femmes Africa Solidarité); Rwanda’s senior government officials; WEF participants; African Global Shapers; young entrepreneurs from Rwanda and Africa, including business leaders, philanthropists and financiers.

This youth forum explored how to leverage the youthful spirit of the continent towards creating business and products that can transform the continent’s future generations from consumers to innovators.

“We have come to understand, as a continent with a rich mosaic of people, that our greatest source of progress and wealth will continue to be African men and women themselves, notably the youth and the untapped resources of their creative and innovative minds,” the First Lady said.

Entrepreneurship is of growing interest across the African continent among young people.

Diana Mpyisi speaks during the Imbuto Foundation’s Youth Forum.

With nearly 60 per cent of the continent’s population under the age of 25, job creation and employment of the youth is a central issue for government, civil society and the private sector.

In Rwanda, youth entrepreneurship is growing at a fast pace, with numerous youth-led and youth-owned businesses springing up.

Many are innovative in their approach, and unique in service, changing the traditional fields of business in the country.

Yet challenges linked to a need for more widespread skills training, quality of education, and active research of information for youth entrepreneurs persist in Rwanda and across the African continent, discouraging many from building, scaling or even starting businesses of their own.

Despite the challenges, entrepreneurship and youth job creation stands as the best hope for employing Africa’s future generation, and leapfrogging the continent to prosperity, Mrs Kagame, who doubles as the Chairperson of Imbuto Foundation, noted.

“It is our hope that the conversation between these beautiful minds will sustain that innovative flame in you,” the First Lady told participants.

Empowering the youth

Launched in 2007, the Youth Forum Series are part of Imbuto Foundation’s Youth Empowerment and Mentorship Programme aims to fully engage, educate and empower young people at the national level.

First Lady Jeannette Kagame delivers the opening remarks at Imbuto Foundation's Youth Forum Series in Kigali yesterday.

Each year, it brings together specific segments of youth and features exceptional speakers on topics ranging from socio-economic and political awareness, professionalism, entrepreneurship, communication, self-reliance, to unity and reconciliation.

The event, incorporated panel conversation, with some of Africa’s leading voices in youth and entrepreneurship, namely Sangu Delle (CEO of Golden Palms Investments), Jessica O. Matthews (founder and chief executive of Uncharted Play, Inc.), Ashish Thakkar (founder and chief executive Mara Group), and Rwanda’s very own Amin Gafaranga (chief executive of Innovation Village) and Diana Mpyisi (founder and chief executive of Blue Oceans).

The discussions provided an insight into emerging trends of entrepreneurship from a pan-African perspective, regional and continental trade, innovation, youth empowerment, among other key factors in the field of entrepreneurship.

Addressing the audience, the panelists shared words of wisdom about learning to start small but always dream big; to ‘genuinely do good’ around one’s community; to not be intimidated by one’s young age; but also, to learn ‘to be comfortable with being uncomfortable’, as the climb to success required all of them to face significant challenges and sacrifice a lot to bring their plan to execution.