Mr.Jeff Ray the CEO of USA based software development company Solid Works Corporation recently visited Rwanda to reaffirm his company’s annual US$500,000 assistance package to various education institutions within the local technical educations sector. In this interview with The New Time’s Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah, the visiting CEO talks about his perceptions of Rwanda now and in the future while dwelling on what the partnership means for both Rwandans and his firm. Excerpts.
What have you learnt about Rwanda during your visit?
I am struck by how people are friendly. I travel all over the world. Each country has its own unique settings including personalities. In Rwanda the openness and friendliness is something that I have noticed. That is the first impression that hit me.
There is this perception doing rounds in the world that not all is well in Rwanda. What is your take?
It is easy for people to over react. To get the whole story it is equally important to spend time with the people concerned.
Personally I have interacted with different people drawn from diverse settings within a very short period of time. What I can say is that much as every country has its own challenges which are just normal it is not proper to have others overreact to such issues.
Are you saying that it is an over reaction by the whole world to what is happening around?
I think so. What is important is that the people have to be honest with one another while confronting their challenges which is what I think is going on here in Rwanda.
Back to business-What are your plans for the Rwandan market in as far as your collaborative programmes are concerned?
Our plans are that in the near future Rwanda should be a great customer of Solid Works solutions. In order to do so, currently we have to make adjustments of how to make such a future prospect possible.
We actually initiated that kind of long term collaboration six years ago. When we initiated the programme we thought it wise to look at Rwanda’s unique position. It was considered paramount for Rwanda through the collaboration to be assisted to build a strong base through technical education.
In that, it was felt that a solid education base would deliver on other aspirations that Rwanda was seeking. Along with that skills development was thought to be of importance which was meant to enable students to have great careers and job security unlike in the past.
This is actually in tandem with tomorrow’s world where knowledge capital will reign. Hence six years ago our company made a commitment to the people of Rwanda to assist them with developing their skills sets by training their next generation of engineers and designers. That is what we have been working on.
Based on what you have just mentioned , how can Rwandans enhance its infant technical skills needed for its future aspirations?
First of all it’s about education. You can never stop learning. Personally I have been in the information technology industry for 30 years. However despite that kind of experience I still dedicate time and efforts in learning.
According to my observation learning never ends. That is the most important element. The other is to understand more clearly what customers want. Businesses are formed to serve customers.
To serve their needs fully success can be guaranteed. Finally respect and trust of the people you work with is equally important. Strong team building spirit in which respect is prime are equally very important attributes as well as hard work. These are the ingredients for success generally.
In your view how can Rwanda actualize its highly ambitious ICT programme?
I think first and foremost Rwandans need to understand what that means for them. There are some minimum forms of understanding expected of them.
A case in point being use of the internet and the basic computer technology. They should use such vehicles to learn and to thrive. By so doing Rwandans will be in a position to discover those unique things within ICT that they are good at.
This can in turn open doors to other areas such as business, science and technology careers.
I believe that your collaboration with Rwanda must have been greatly impaired by the spills of the global economic crisis?
Not at all. Infact the opposite seems to be the case. Solid Works profits grew during the crisis. As such, we never even laid off our staff as was the case with other companies.
Naturally such a trading position also impacted on our collaborations like that one we have with Rwanda. So our commitments to our Rwandan collaborators was actually greatly boosted by our good trading positions under the period you are talking about.
Yet another commitment can be evidenced by my visit to Rwanda. We want to turn our local partners into sustainably success stories.
So within the strict business sense, what do we expect this year from this working relationship?
We expect hard work from our local partners as we are in the process of fine-tuning how we relate. From our side we need to invest in developing more robust and cutting edge technologies.
That means that we must take it upon ourselves to deploy such latest technologies to Rwanda. Along with such forms of working systems we need to ensure locally that the relevant bandwidth is existent to drive forward the relationship as it is based on the internet. Customers in the western whom our local collaborator Gasabo 3D Ltd is servicing expect instant response.
Gasabo 3D Ltd has to compete for such businesses. Just like any other businesses. There is not going to be any preferential treatment. As we know what we want to do in terms of growth and making improvements to our processes, locally I am impressed by the Government’s commitments to make things better.
For instance the Kigali Wibro is expected to boost bandwidth which will ultimately boost Gasabo 3D Ltd competitiveness. The beauty of the internet is that no one knows where you are or no one cares from where are you operating. You are just expected to deliver fast.
Through your collaboration I am informed that Gasabo 3D Ltd is now capable of servicing huge multinational corporations such as global equipment manufacturer Caterpillar. This is an an amazing prospect for Rwanda. This means that transfer of skills while expanding local capacities to remain competitive globally is actually happening. Meaning that these young engineers are being nurtured to take on the world requirements. However my question would be how about looking at meeting equally pressing local needs?
It is actually very simple. When you do work and you are successful, people get to hear about it. This in turn gets to a level whereby they want you to assist them with solutions.
Establishing such a good reputation enables a company to be attractive to many others. So as we make Gasabo 3D Ltd highly respected inside Rwanda, other local companies would want to recruit people working for Gasabo 3D Ltd.
When Gasabo becomes a source for nurturing talent that is how it is likely to be in a better position to create and disseminate knowledge locally.
Could you dwell on the dynamics of your support to Rwanda’s technical educational establishments?
Solid Works Corporation has a long standing reputation in the world. We are the number one software engineering firm that supplies to leading institutions within the education sector.
Every day more than a million students spread all over the world use our software. Naturally education is very important for our business. Some of our business leaders have solid foundation within education. Hence our programmes are highly tuned to support the needs of educational institutions.
Rwanda is a good example. In the case of Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) we have made commitments to deliver free but very expensive software that comes with training.
Along with that Solid Works has committed to send several technical teams to continue to train professors so that they have can acquire the latest skills possible to teach the course properly.
Hence our support is backed up unlike what others give. We add skills development into our support systems. I also want to see Rwandans visiting Solid Works to do internships.
That is yet to happen?
Yes. However I have committed myself.
If you were to quantify this support how much does it amount to?
Over $500,000 every year is the kind of support we are talking about. This excludes the training component which is also very substantial. This kind of support has been ongoing for the last 5 years. We have just reaffirmed our support for the next couple of years. We have made long term commitment to Rwandans.
Can you paint a picture of the likely effects of your intervention in Rwanda by say 2015?
For instance by 2015 we expect that students of ETO Gitarama to get a basic understanding of engineering and design.
That is how it is happening in other countries. We have such partnerships in countries such as Brazil, Norway, France you name it. Every student in those countries gets a basic knowledge in engineering and design. They use our software to do that.
We are talking about hundreds of thousands of students in those countries. I want to do the same here in this country with ETO Gitarama which is linked to KIST. Later on we intend to spread that to all schools.
That is my first goal. The second goal is for us to get people to use commercially our product through our independent based system of business development that is composed of 400 resellers who further employ over 3,500 people around the world. We would love to have a presence of such a nature in Rwanda.
Lastly we would like to deploy our solutions within manufacturing design systems as Rwanda develops her economy through reconstruction. In such endeavours we want to be a key partner. Personally I really don’t want to expect returns during my tenure as CEO. It may never happen during my term. It may happen later.
My final question is centred on your take on Rwanda’s future. What do you foresee?
I am very optimistic about the future. Otherwise I would not be making these kinds of investments. We are a small company unlike some giants within our industry having operated for the last 15 years.
To me I see a lot of parallels with Rwanda which also rose from the ashes 15 years ago.