President Paul Kagame on Saturday told more than 600 young people gathered in Kigali that they have everything it takes, which they can leverage to grow themselves and contribute to the transformation of their societies.
The young crowd included innovators, entrepreneurs, students and public servants who gathered for the Youth Entrepreneurship Town Hall jointly organised by Strive Masiyiwa, a Zimbabwean businessman and the Office of the President.
Kagame, who was accompanied by First Lady Jeannette Kagame, emphasized the idea that entrepreneurship is generally about having the right mindset.
“Being an entrepreneur is an issue of mindset. I’m trying to find ways of being one even at the wrong time but building on my other responsibilities. I’m now in politics so I’ve tried to make it the politics of entrepreneurship,” he told young people.
“When we grow up we come to understand better the world we are in. There is also the world every person would want it to be. Starting with himself, people around them, family friends and society as a whole,” he added.
He indicated that growing and expanding one’s understanding of the world, there are choices and investments made and there are things to be expected in return.
“But for me, it’s to tell all the young people here that they have everything in themselves and around themselves. Tap into it, grow yourselves and grow the societies you are part of,” he insisted.
A cross-section of young people who took part in the Youth Entrepreneurship Town Hall in Kigali on Saturday. / Photo: Village Urugwiro
The event saw young women entrepreneurs Kevine Kagirimpundu, the co-founder of Uzuri K&Y and Christelle Kwizera speak to fellow young people about their experiences running businesses in Rwanda.
Kagirimpundu co-founded Uzuri K&Y, a shoe company, back in 2013 with a mission to create viable solutions in the society through recycling waste into functional products.
“I was able to create a shoe company that would become a source of employment for other young women. Uzuri K&Y was born with a mission to create viable solutions, to recycle waste into functional products,” she narrated.
The young entrepreneur said she bought a sewing machine and started learning how to sow as she was starting out.
Today, Uzuri K&Y turns old car tires into different kinds of well-crafted shoes, which have become popular in the city.
Kwizera runs Water Access Rwanda, an organization that provides water access to rural areas. Her story began with a news story she read in which two communities were reportedly suffering from shortage of clean water.
“I was like you know what, I know how to provide water, then why can’t I start a project? I came to Rwanda, trained ten young people to work with me. We went to these villages and provided them boreholes powered by hand pump,” she said.
Kwizera has transformed her business to provide purified water that is distributed to individual households across different communities in the country. So far, 100,000 people have been provided with clean water through her company.
The Head of State told the young people who were gathering in Kigali to emulate what the two young entrepreneurs are doing.
“Kevine and Christelle are telling us that you can do it. You don’t have to do what they’re doing but you can do different things with the same kind of mindset and spirit they’re doing,” he said.
“That’s the advice I can give young people and it’s also not about just them but the society around them. We can all make a difference solving problems,” he added.
The President highlighted that the young people already have a base to build on to grow themselves, as the country continues to make sure that education, among others, is available to them.
“Education and all that has been mentioned are very important. They’re the foundation. Once you have done that, create that environment that brings the young people to discuss not only problems but how to solve them,” he noted.
Kagame indicated that it was important to push young people to work together to discuss and identify the challenges, which they can then turn into opportunity – the kind of thinking that would transform communities.
“I have seen it’s as important as anything to keep talking about the problem, keep talking about how to address it. And keep challenging people to not think that things will just be delivered, they have to invest their time, money and sometimes sleepless nights,” he said.
The entrepreneurship town hall is an idea initiated by Masiyiwa who is also the founder and executive chairman of Econet Wireless, a global telecommunications company.
Referring to the story of Kagirimpundu and Kwizera, Masiyiwa reminded the participants about Jack Ma’s $1 million prize commitment towards African entrepreneurs, which attracted hundreds of applications.
“The process of adjudication involved many (prominent) judges. Only two Rwandese women out of ten finalists made it among the top ten. They were confident and extremely knowledgeable about their enterprises,” he said.
Kwizera and Kagirimpundu earlier this month secured $100,000 and $65,000 respectively from Jack Ma Foundation. The duo were among the top 10 entrepreneurs from Africa that won funding from the Jack Ma Foundation Africa Netpreneur Prize Initiative.
That, Masiyiwa asserted that it is a reflection of policy in the end, citing that when you have women in parliament and you push them, that is the kind of results achieved.
Masiyiwa asked the youth participants that everyone in the room should be a “Christelle challenge,” saying that if Kwizera and Kagirumpundu did it, it is was possible for anyone else to do it.
“How often do you hear people say when they see a new product on the market that they thought about the same idea, but they never dared to try it out? It starts with thinking that you can do it, which is what Rwanda is doing better,” he said.
Youth participants argued that they still struggle with accessing the necessary capital to startup their businesses.
In Rwanda, Kagame said, an innovation fund has been created to respond to that need, but he highlighted that it was not so much that money is lacking for people to create these kind of funds and avail money to startups.
“When it comes to Africa we have to do a number of things. We have to create that confidence. I know governments in Africa can set up these kind of funds and showcase cases we have seen before so that there is reassurance created in the minds of likely investors or sources of this kind of funding,” he said.
Masiyiwa mentioned a case of Silicon Valley and how venture capitalists have created an ecosystem that has enabled startups to thrive. That ecosystem, he said, has enabled enterprises to access capital they need in the startup period.
“In Silicon Valley, he said, they expect 9 out of 10 to fail, but it is the one that becomes Facebook, there is one that becomes Twitter. When they fail, they sit them down ask them what went wrong,” he said.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu