A cheerful smile smoothly fades away from her brown face as she momentarily becomes speechless. This is her way of responding to questions, an act not so common among people in a similar age bracket. However the current works are even enough to reveal her persona.
Yvette Ishimwe is the winner of the Grand Prize from Accelerate Academy, a project of the NGO ‘These Numbers have Faces’. She is set to receive $10,000 (Rwf 7.8 million) investment and training in her new business enterprise called IRIBA water project as the youngest innovative entrepreneur after beating 300 other competitors.
And it is not the first time she is winning, the nineteen-year-old Rwandan already has success written to her name after she received a grant worth $5000 dollars and another $5000 dollars of investment after emerging top of the 15 Rwandan contestants in the Tonny Elumelu Entrepreneurship program.
The competition attracted 45,000 entrepreneurs from 54 African countries from which 100 ideas were selected. Ishimwe is also a fellow of YALI RLC East Africa 2015, an initiative by President Barack Obama.
This young entrepreneur will next month complete her first year in Business and Communications at Kepler Institute in Kigali.
Born and raised from a humble background, Ishimwe is the oldest of two daughters. Her parents lived in Gikondo until the family moved to Kayonza last year.
Although she lost her dad in 1998, Ishimwe’s desire for school never faced a setback. After completing her early education at Kinunga Primary School in Gikondo, she joined Fawe Girls School in Gisozi for her O and A level.
At Fawe, Ishimwe studied sciences at A level but developed more passion in creating solutions for some of the world’s most challenges.
“I got 52 out 73 in Maths, Chemistry and Biology in the national exams and could have proceeded in the same field but I always felt like doing a lot more. Fortunately an opportunity for a business course came up at Kepler which I took up after my vacation,” says Ishimwe.
Developing the IRIBA water project
Her water project ‘IRIBA water’ which locally translates into ‘a clean water source’ aims at providing clean water solutions to people living in remote areas.
She developed this idea after her family relocated Kayonza. By then her mother was involved in a housing project, which required collecting water for building. After moving miles to find water, it was at this point that she realised access to water in villages was a challenge. The cost of a single Jerrycan can be very expensive for many people to afford and it is still untreated.
“Twenty liters would cost Rwf500 or even higher. That made me think a lot about finding solutions to this problem. Water was already available from the sources such as springs and lakes but I made more research on making it both safe and affordable for people,” she explains.
After collecting the water from the water bodies, it is piped into tanks. From here, the water is treated using an ultraviolet water purifier to destroy microorganism. Fully treated water is then distributed to households in Jerrycans using bicycles.
Concerned about public health, Ishimwe supplies safe and clean water to 100 households on a daily basis, mostly those who are near her home although her immediate plan is to expand these operations to serve at least 300,000 homes each day.
Like any other business, Ishimwe faced some challenges especially during the early stages of initiating the project.
“Even now as you can see, it is not really very fancy because I am using simple techniques. Dirty water is collected from Lake Muhazi stored in the water tank before being treated. This is the idea I had in the beginning but always got concerned of how I would approach the people in charge until I took a step to have my initiative done on a small scale”
Although her treated water goes for Rwf 100 per 20 liters, a cost which includes transport, Ishimwe cannot reach out to all the areas meaning some people still rely on costly untreated water from the lake.
She however believes that her expansion plan would be enough to cover most of the remote areas within the country.
“I know the market is there and people need my services so once I grow my project, I will be able to supply all of them with clean water”
Ishimwe draws inspiration from President Kagame who has on several occasions urged young people not to just dream but take action.
“Whenever he talks about young people do, young people act is the first example so I really look up to him and by me acting my dream can become a reality”
The self-driven entrepreneur also believes that desire for innovation can offer sustainable solutions to most challenges within communities and advises people with ideas to work with those who have scientific skills.
“Entrepreneurship is not necessarily independent, it moves along with science. If you have the ideas and the business knowledge you can hire people to deal with the scientific part”
Ishimwe also juggles her education with a part-time job at Indyo Inoze, a farmers’ cooperative to enhance her management skills but her dream is to create more jobs for young people through her water project.