In which cities can you speak four languages a day, every single day of your professional and personal life?
This is a question I put to most of my cosmopolitan friends and they pointed out New York, London maybe, Brussels, Dubai?When I mentioned Kigali, most exclaimed: “get outta here”. But the truth is: yes, in Kigali you can juggle between four languages every single day.
Rightly, this affirmation depends on the type of work you do and your entourage. However, many young professionals speak generally Kinyarwanda and English at work, switch to French when meeting up their friends over lunch, then add Swahili, Luganda and Lingala at home or at the hairdresser’s, restaurants and bars.
Meet the new cosmopolitan Rwandans.
Obviously, history is behind this growing cosmopolitan outlook of the new Rwanda. Some estimates point to more than a quarter of the present population as either born or raised abroad. Hence, a large number of us speak another language in addition to Kinyarwanda fluently.
Our fluency in English (or French for that matter) is another debate. Nevertheless, as a country, we have ample room to harness the cross-cultural acumen accumulated over the years.
How can Rwanda become the global mindset hub for Africa?
Global mindset is defined by Professor Mansour Javidan at Thunderbird School of Global Management in the US, as ‘‘an individual’s stock of knowledge and psychological attributes that enable him/her to influence individuals, groups, and organisations from diverse socio-cultural systems”. For him, such attributes are a critical driver of successful global leadership.
Indeed, research done by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD) based in Lausanne, Switzerland found that the main benefit of a global mindset is that it allows managers to understand the complexities and nuances of the global environment as well as the trade-offs and opportunities when they are available.
This is the reason why Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who is hailed by many as the quintessence of an international conglomerate leader once said: “The Jack Welch of the future cannot be me. I spent my entire career in the United States. The next head of General Electric will be somebody who spent time in Bombay, in Hong Kong, in Buenos Aires. We have to send our best and brightest overseas and make sure they have the training that will allow them to be the global leaders who will make GE flourish in the future”.
Looking at today’s Rwanda, there are increasingly more and more young men and women that may qualify to the “new Jack Welch” profile. Most of us can name at least one friend, one colleague born in East Africa or Western Europe, raised in Kigali, educated in Boston, Brussels or Beijing and living between the Americas, Europe and Africa. Once we start leveraging that asset of having highly-drivenyoung Rwandans who can use their multilingual skills and global business experience to strive in all corners of the World while mentoring the next generation, we will be on track of a limitless global mindset revolution.
One way to achieve this will be through the set up of state-of-the-art language centres in selected rural and urban areas for high school students coupled with consistent, large investments in global education curriculums at the University of Rwanda. Effective pilot projects in that direction, conducted efficiently over five to ten years will surely lead to thousands of young Rwandans capable of brilliantly working in English, Spanish and Mandarin, excelling at multinational companies, while cracking a joke and writing masterpieces in Kinyarwanda, Swahili and French.
To navigate the global market place, Rwanda’s youth will have to learn best practices, both in terms of technical and soft skills. Developing a global mindset will certainly allow the best and brightest to thrive in a complex, cross-cultural and rapidly-changingworld.
That is when our country will be at the edge of globalisation, creating regional and international champions not only in the corporate world but also in culture and arts.
Perhaps, there lies one of our most prized competitive advantage.
The writer is a Global Management and Investments Advisor.