In 2009, siblings Chance Tubane and Patience Nduwawe teamed up to start COM&C (Communication and Computer Services), a web applications company specializing in communications and computer services.
Chance had completed her degree in Information and Communication from Belgium in 2007, while Nduwawe boasted an IT background.
Nduwawe says: “As young people, we both had ambitions to help our country, but did not know how and where to start. Surfing the internet, we realized that the new Rwanda which was being talked about was hidden under the country’s bad history. Every key word you typed in Google would bring only the negative things about Rwanda. Even when you searched for ‘hotels in Rwanda’, the first thing to pop up would be links to Hotel Rwanda, the movie!”
The two set about growing their young company, offering services like software development, web hosting and design, IT consultancy, and events management among others.
Still, the issue of the country’s unfavorable online image haunted them. If anything, they needed a forum in which they could effectively capture the mood of the new Rwanda.
Chance says: “Many things run in our minds, for instance, we were wondering how we could be the change we wanted without the financial means, because we did not have the money.”
In 2011, the two launched Tohoza.com, a web-based advertisement platform. The website is basically an online shop that links buyers to sellers through running free ads. All that one has to do is log on, click the “post free ads” button, and post their ad, which will then be filtered by the administrator and published. It could be someone selling a house, car, land, computer, even dog. This way, the website eliminates the need for middlemen in all transactions.
In just two years of its existence, it has become the country’s leading online job advertisements forum, and is ranked among the top five most visited local websites. “We run any advertisement and any announcement, and that is our uniqueness,” says Chance.
In this regard, the company’s job advertisement policy goes beyond the formal corporate jobs advertised in the mainstream media. It is a place many people turn to even for seemingly small jobs.
“In Rwanda, like most of Africa, unemployment remains a big problem. Most advertisements for jobs run in the newspapers, which most people can’t afford or access. We realized that there were many news based websites, but not many were doing anything to help ordinary people. We wanted a more customer-oriented website. We wanted a website that would effectively cover all sectors – public, private, health, agriculture etc.”
Currently, Tohoza.com attracts about 10,000 visitors per day, up from just 4,000 in June.
The owners have tried to keep the forum people-oriented through interactive platforms like photo competitions, where people submit their photos to be voted, with winners usually walking away with small prizes. There are also riddles, and Question-and-Answer, a move Chance says is aimed at maintaining the forum’s local appeal.
In August this year, Chance was honored with the Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers’ (CYRWA) award from the Imbuto Foundation, an initiative of the First Lady, Jeanette Kagame, in part recognition of the web based platform she co-founded with her brother.
As Nduwawe explains; “We offer a lot of entrepreneurship training to young people especially those in universities. We invite other young entrepreneurs to share their experiences, and we teach participants how to sell themselves on the job market. We impress it upon them that, whether one wants to be self employed or work for someone, you’ve got to start from somewhere. People only think of business in terms of physical assets like shops and farms, but we try to show them that even a talent like writing or talking can be turned into a business.”
Starting next week, in partnership with University of Rwanda College of Business and Economic and Jitokeze Africa, a Kenyan entrepreneur’s association, Tohoza will offer weekly coaching sessions to 90 young people on how to sell oneself on the labour market and to gain experience.
The company currently has its eyes set on spreading wings to Burundi, Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania. Already, it is running some job adverts from the region.
Presently, the two founding siblings make up the company’s only staff, and their internet-enabled lap top computers are their offices, but Chance says: “We will soon need a team and an office because Tohoza is growing, and we both have other commitments elsewhere.
Chance has full time employment elsewhere, while her brother dedicates most of his time to the parent company, COM&C, besides the occasional freelance gig.
The company also plans to extend the scope of its reach back at home.
“Our next target is to have everybody, including those without access to internet to be able to access the site,” explains Nduwawe. “We are developing SMS and voice technologies so that even people with the most basic phones that do not have internet can be able to access our services.”
For him, the long and challenging journey it took for the forum to take shape is motivation enough: “When we started, we had no advertising budget. I was forced to personally distribute fliers and promotional materials in all public places. Even when I got onto a taxi, I would beg the conductor to stick our posters inside. It was cheap and effective, since we were printing in black and white.”
For her part, Chance says: “In this life, we all have the duty to leave marks to account for our time on earth. It should not be just one’s family and friends to remember you for your good deeds.”