ELE Rwanda; motivating Rwandan youths to innovate

Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ELE Rwanda) is a youth platform for innovation and entrepreneurship where students get to be connected to innovators, advocates, mentors, and investors through a string of activities.
Yves Iradukunda (3rd from right)  and colleagues show off the Creativity Award. Sunday Times/Courtesy
Yves Iradukunda (3rd from right) and colleagues show off the Creativity Award. Sunday Times/Courtesy

Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ELE Rwanda) is a youth platform for innovation and entrepreneurship where students get to be connected to innovators, advocates, mentors, and investors through a string of activities.

On Thursday, April 11, 2013, ELE Rwanda was honoured with the Creativity Award by The Journal Record and Creative Oklahoma, a statewide award in Oklahoma. Creative Oklahoma is a statewide nonprofit organization that advances Oklahoma’s creative economy through creativity and innovation-based initiatives in education, commerce and culture.

Timothy Kaboya, the Chief Operations Officer of ELE Rwanda says that “It's been an eventful ride from the time we started ELE Rwanda from a residential apartment in December 2011 to now.”

He goes on; “I remember the days when Yves Iradukunda (the founder and Chief Executive Officer) and I sat down and brainstormed about a way we could bring a source of positive change. How we could aggregate all the positive youth energy to achieve even more. I remember debating on the name (ELE Rwanda) for about 2 weeks), and the activities too: a conference and a business competition.

And then came the part about looking for partnership and sponsorship. Says Kaboya; “We were knocking on many doors till some opened. Truth is, whenever you strongly believe in an innovative idea, you will always get somebody who believes in it too. I would say for every 10 doors we knocked on, only one opened. However that one open door is worth the wait, for more came.” 

ELE Rwanda’s theme for 2013is; “Rebuilding a Nation Through Innovation”.

A noble idea is born

While drilling water wells in Rwanda with a group of fellow Oklahoma Christian University students during the summer break of 2011, Yves Iradukunda, the ELE Rwanda CEO, came to one sudden realisation that clean water was not the only challenge Rwanda in particular and the African continent in general were facing.

He realized that there were other challenges like high rates of unemployment, poverty, limited access to technology, and lack of homegrown solutions for Rwanda’s specific problems.

“I wanted to be part of the solution,” he says. “After brainstorming and seeking advice from several people, I initiated Emerging Leaders and Entrepreneurs (ELE) Rwanda the following December. We decided to empower the community, especially the youth, to find innovative solutions to their problems using creativity and talents with the vision to build a sustainable economy. We believe that entrepreneurship is the most effective way to bring prosperity to Rwanda.”

Iradukunda and Kaboya are just two of the dozens of Rwandan students that, since 2006, have been given the opportunity for higher education through a partnership between the Rwandan government and the Oklahoma Christian University.

“With more than 50 per cent of the Rwandan population under the age of 18, youth-led entrepreneurship will be the main driver of growth in Rwanda’s economy. Therefore, ELE Rwanda desires to instill into young Rwandans the entrepreneurial spirit,” says Iradukunda, adding that “Our generation needs more job creators than job seekers.”

How ELE Rwanda works

According to Iradukunda, ELE Rwanda has devised a number of projects geared at student-led youth innovation and entrepreneurship to achieve its mission to inspire, motivate and empower the youth to be active participants in the economy and development of Rwanda.

Among these is the ELE Rwanda Annual Entrepreneurship Summit –an event that brings together hundreds of students in Oklahoma, US to be inspired by innovators and business leaders, and to meet with potential business partners and investors.

Last year, the summit brought together 200 students to Oklahoma Christian University from all over the U.S.  This year, the summit will take place at Oklahoma Christian University from August 1-3.

ELE Rwanda Business Plan Competition

This is a competition that challenges the youth to develop creative and innovative solutions to their own problems. Thirty students participated in last year’s business plan competition.

“The ultimate goal for the competition is to give the youth opportunities to discover their skills and talents and use them to create homegrown businesses. This way, ELE Rwanda creates investment opportunities in potentially successful ideas proposed by young Rwandans, says Iradukunda.

Applications for the competition can be filled online on ELE Rwanda’s website, www.elerwanda.com.

Creativity and Innovation Camp

The Creativity and Innovation Camp is a project designed to challenge students to work in groups, and combine technological tools with their skills and talents to create solutions to existing challenges in their communities. This year’s camp will take place at IPRC Kicukiro with the theme: “WIRELESS TECHNOLOGIES”.

This camp will be a continuation of the Engineering Camp that took place at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), organized by Engineering graduates form Oklahoma Christian University last year.

“Our objective is to increase interest in engineering and technology among students and enable them to propose local solutions to local problems,” says Gaspard Twagirayezu, the Creativity and Innovation Officer at ELE Rwanda.

Think Tank Rwanda

It is an online network that allows students to share ideas through articles, and forum discussions. This network will connect young Rwandans and engage them in thought-provoking conversations for them to exchange ideas on how to best contribute in the development of the country.

“The youth benefit from ELE Rwanda by having an opportunity to present their ideas and projects through our business plan competition and annual entrepreneurship summit. Community and business leaders, entrepreneurs and well wishers benefit by having an opportunity to inspire the youth, and contributing to a better future for the world.”

Looking back at how far the organization has come, Iradukunda notes: “When you are devoted to your work, you will do all you can to make it happen and happen it will. I am unflinching in my belief that the best lies ahead, for I look not at what has been done, but the work that lies ahead.”

His final remarks: “As of now, the ELE Rwanda committee is working hard to make the upcoming summit and the Business Competition a success. A lot has been done, but a lot more still lies ahead. I invite all friends of Rwanda to come join us from August 1st-3rd at Oklahoma Christian University to celebrate the Young achievers and also to see how we can all achieve even more. How we can "Innovate, Integrate and Motivate."


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