The opening panel of the just-concluded YouthConnekt Africa Summit in Kigali discussed arguably the most critical question for young people; how to create enough jobs to address the continent’s unemployment quandary – there’s a target for 50 million jobs by 2020.
Bank of Kigali chief executive Diane Karusisi, who was on the panel, spoke of the role that financial institutions could play through initiatives that ease access to affordable finance by youth-led enterprises.
“We should perhaps create ‘bankers’ connect’ to link young entrepreneurs to financial institutions and enhance their access to credit to support youth-led enterprises,” said Karusisi.
Known for being practical, Karusisi revealed that Bank of Kigali is already walking the talk on helping youth access credit, citing BK Urumuri Initiative that was unveiled in March as part of activities to celebrate the bank’s 50th anniversary.
The initiative to be held annually seeks to identify youth led enterprises with great potential to become industry leaders, with business management skills and a revolving fund to avail interest-free loans managed on the bank’s behalf by Inkomoko, a business development firm.
Dr Shivon Byamukama is Bank of Kigali’s company secretary and head of corporate affairs. She directly overseas the bank’s corporate social responsibility activities and played a central role in establishing Urumuri.
“As a leading corporate entity, Bank of Kigali has a responsibility to foster start-ups especially those that are youth-led because their success in the medium term will ultimately not only create business opportunities for everyone but also create jobs,” said Byamukama.
To kick-start the initiative, the Bank announced an interest-free fund of Rwf60 million to be scaled up gradually, and hired Inkomoko, a specialised business development firm, to receive applications from interested young entrepreneurs in the technology space.
Thirst for credit
The response was overwhelming as hundreds of applications poured in, and within weeks, over 350 young entrepreneurs had submitted their projects, indicating a clear thirst of credit among youth, according to Julienne Oyler, the Inkomoko chief executive.
A technical panel was then set up by Inkomoko to screen the applications with a task of selecting 50 entrepreneurs that were diverse, ambitious and innovative with strong potential to grow into major players in Rwanda’s economy.
“We selected the 50 finalists based on level of innovation, feasibility of their projects– and how they will positively contribute to their communities and the economy at large,” Inkomoko’s Oyler said in May during a media event to announce the fifty finalists.
From online investment platforms, irrigation technologies for farmers, and transport apps, to solar energy, fashion and agribusiness – the field of finalists is innovative, ambitious and competitive.
Rwf60 million up for grabs
But the question remains, who will the 2017 Urumuri winners be?
About half of the 50 selected entrepreneurs are already running established businesses, while the other half is looking to get started; but all 50 stand an equal chance to share the bank’s inaugural Rwf60 million zero-interest loan to accelerate their projects.
Shortly after their unveiling in May, the fifty finalists were ushered into a one-week boot-camp during which Inkomoko’s Business Development team assessed each project to create the perfect, individual six-month support programme of coaching and mentoring the entrepreneurs.
At the end of the programme [later in the year], Inkomoko and Bank of Kigali will select five to eight outstanding entrepreneurs who will then get a share of the Rwf60 million interest-free loan available.
While the Rwf60 million is a modest amount, Bank of Kigali’s effort has been widely lauded and welcomed as a good start, by young ‘tech-preneurs’ such as Patrick Nsenga Buchana, chief executive of AC Group, the company behind the tap-go payment card for public buses.
“I am looking forward to Urumuri being scaled-up,” Buchana said in a tweet during the YouthConnekt conference in response to remarks made by Dr Karusisi as a panelist.
With a six-month customised mentorship programme for each of the fifty finalists, participants say, even if only up eight projects will share the Rwf60 million, the experience is worth much more than the money for all finalists.
“It is a chance for them to gain professional business development support, strengthen their operations and expand their business network,” said Inkomoko’s Oyler.
Arthur Murara is one of the fifty finalists currently undergoing the Urumuri mentorship programme by Inkomoko; he runs ‘Pure Pro’ which he describes as a unique technology to repair windshields on cars rather than replacing them hence saving customers money and conserving the environment.
“When I heard about Bank of Kigali’s Urumuri initiative, I immediately knew they were talking to me; I am a technical person and I needed help with the business administration skills and so far, the programme is meeting my earlier expectations,” Murara said.
The young entrepreneur is hopeful that he will be among the eight to share Rwf60 million; however, he is also thankful for the knowledge he’s acquiring in the mentorship programme.
“I have already learnt a lot from working with Inkomoko’s team. They give me financial and operations advice and help me to prepare for scaling up.
This is a chance for me to gain a lot of connections, to expand my network and to keep growing– even without the money, it is making a very big difference,” he revealed.
Should he be selected among the winners of the interest-free cash, Murara hopes to use it to scale-up his business and to build a sustainable environmental friendly recycling plant for ‘unfixable’ windshields.
He faces competition from 49 other projects all of which are solution based enterprises aiming at being part of Rwanda’s development story.
To Bank of Kigali, the competition is welcome and reflects the vision behind Urumuri; to identify and support Rwandan entrepreneurs who can help drive Rwanda’s economy forward through innovative and sustainable businesses in the years to come.
The New Times will, in coming weeks, feature profiles of some of the Urumuri finalists who are contending for Bank of Kigali’s Rwf60 million interest-free loan.