World Ventures, a firm which has gained popularity in Rwanda and in the region as an alternative revenue stream and travel opportunity has been declared to possess business practices of a pyramid scheme by Rwanda Development Board.
Pyramid schemes are illegal ventures in Rwanda.
With an estimation of hundreds of Rwandans having joined the scheme under the promise of increased revenue and travel opportunities, most remain uncertain on the fate of the company.
RDB reached the decision to declare the firm as a potential Pyramid Scheme after months of investigations carried out beginning June this year which also included reaching out to the company’s offices in South Africa and the United States.
According to Clare Akamanzi the Chief Executive of RDB, among the shortcomings of the firm was that it is not registered. The firm was found to be operating outside a formal business bracket.
The investigations were prompted by inquiries to RDB by people approached to join the company by members claiming to have a partnership with RDB.
Some members of World Ventures who spoke to The New Times said that the firm has a policy of recruiting 1000 members before registering in a country.
However, Akamanzi said that RDB has no such provisions to allow the firm to operate without registration.
Akamanzi said that much as the company was branding itself as a travel agency facilitating international travel, investigations into its operations revealed that majority of its members were in it to earn money other than travel opportunities branded as “DreamTrips”.
With most of the new members in for the financial gain and not for travel opportunities, the company leaned towards a pyramid scheme as opposed to a travel agency.
“If the major reason for membership is financial gain and not the discounted travel opportunities, then it is a pyramid scheme trying to confuse members of the public,” she said.
The decision was also informed by the Ministry of Trade guidelines on the characteristics of pyramid schemes which are illegal in Rwanda.
The same guidelines when government blacklisted five firms in 2013.
The firms included Diamond Holiday Travel Ltd, Twese Development Initiative Ltd, Ingaru Company Ltd, Aguka Development Ltd and Cooperative Abigize.
Chances of registration
Chances of formal registration of the firm seem slim as Akamanzi said that in its current state of membership for financial gains, it would not register the firm.
However, in the event that the firm was to restrict its operations to travel agency services and applied for registration, RDB would consider the application.
Akamanzi however denied knowledge of any ongoing negotiations with the company as has been mentioned on various social media platforms.
She also said that she is not aware of any application made by the company that is in progress so far.
Further studies and investigations are ongoing to determine the extent of ‘investment’ by Rwandans.
World Ventures reacts
In a statement released yesterday by the firm, World Ventures denied doing any business in Rwanda.
“World Ventures does not do business in Rwanda and respects the local laws of all countries in which it operates. Any unauthorised activity representing WV products or opportunity should be brought to the attention of the compliance department at World Ventures so that it can be addressed,” the statement read in part.
Rwanda is not the first country to declare the firm’s operations illegal. The company was banned from operating in Norway and last year, the Chinese government cracked down on a section of members for illegally operating in the country.
The firm employs multi-level marketing tactics to sell discount travel and holiday products, with members paying a fee to travel under opportunities branded as “DreamTrips”.
The company sells membership that is supposed to give members access to great deals on hotels, activities and day trips, cruises, and car rentals through its website DreamTrips.com in exchange for a monthly fee.
By signing up new members, one acquires extra points and income commissions and further discounts.
The firm entices potential subscribers using motivational seminars and prospects of easy earnings.
10 warning signs of a pyramid scheme
Pyramid schemes are illegal in Rwanda. Below are red flags to look out for to determine whether a venture is a pyramid scheme.
1. To make money you are required to recruit members
2. Mobilisation strategy involves enticing and exciting promises of either services or products
3. The initial members receive hefty payouts from fees of people in lower ranks rather than the selling of services or products
4. Motivation is through stories of lavish lifestyles made possible by being part of the program
5. Boast of celebrity members
6. The model promises increments based on the money paid by recruits
7. You will be required to pay a joining fee or initial investment
8. You are approached for a business opportunity rather than a product or service
9. The presentations and pitches are high energy and low substance
10. There are claims that the business is registered or the authorities are aware.