Stimulating growth in Africa’s Great Lakes region

I am passionate about Africa’s development and I am driven by a sincere commitment to make a difference in the continent’s quest for self-sufficiency through business partnerships and entrepreneurship.

I am passionate about Africa’s development and I am driven by a sincere commitment to make a difference in the continent’s quest for self-sufficiency through business partnerships and entrepreneurship.

Rwanda is currently ripe with energetic entrepreneurs who have risen from our difficult past, to build a new country through leveraging strategic networks, learning from business leaders across the African continent and beyond.

I have been a member of leadership network YPO (Young Presidents' Association) for six years and have had a great desire to make the experience and learning opportunities of YPO available to my fellow business leaders in the Africa Great Lakes region. 

You may be wondering how this fellow from the heart of Africa came to be part of a prestigious global CEO network and how the YPO Africa’s Great Lakes chapter developed.

The catalyst

In 2003, President Paul Kagame received a Global Leadership Award from YPO. During his acceptance speech, Kagame challenged his YPO audience, asking them what could be done to have them actively involved in the rebuilding of Rwanda’s economy, and graciously welcomed them to find innovative ways to make a tangible contribution to existing efforts.

Inspired, a group of YPO members created the Rwanda Action Forum (RAF), which seeks to support SMEs and young entrepreneurs on their business growth journeys, and continues to encourage YPOers from around the world to investigate the business potential of Rwanda, such as opportunities for joint ventures and start-up options.

I remember watching the ceremony on TV and feeling a deep sense of need to join this exceptional community of business leaders. I did my research on how to become a member and realised I did not qualify, which motivated me to work hard to get there.

Eight long years later, I was delighted to become a fully active member, and I started attending several international events, where I interacted with exceptional business leaders, and had the chance to educate them about Rwanda and our region. 

However, there was no local chapter for the Africa Great Lakes region, and I had to travel more than four hours on a plane to the nearest meeting, and there was no doubt in my mind that something needed to be done to enhance local networking and idea exchange opportunities.

And, so it began

In early 2015, the Africa Great Lakes Chapter,  and with the support and encouragement of experienced YPO members such as Hong Kong-based Rob Reynolds, CEO, Scotia Bank Europe, UK-based Dennis Overton, CEO, Aquascot, and SA-based, Paul Lamontagne, Director of Africa1Advisors, on the YPO Africa Great Lakes Chapter was born, and at our inaugural event our first keynote speaker was none other than the incredible Jack Ma of Alibaba.

Stimulating FDI

YPO presence in the region opens doors for young local entrepreneurs, and will help stimulate foreign direct investment.

After all, we are living in the era of public-private partnerships and a flourishing entrepreneurial environment, and Africa’s economic growth is creating substantial new business opportunities that often are overlooked by global companies.

According to the McKinsey Global Institute’s Lion’s on the Move report, African consumer-facing industries, resources, agriculture and infrastructure together could generate as much as USD2.6 trillion in revenue annually by 2020.

I believe our future growth will be supported by external trends, such as the global race for commodities, increased access to international capital, and the ability to forge new types of economic partnerships with foreign investors through the YPO network and other channels.

Mentorship to overcome challenges

In our young economies, finding qualifying members that fulfil all the YPO criteria, such as age (>46) and revenue requirements, for enrolment is difficult.

To address this challenge, we have embarked on a long-term strategy of developing the capacity of young entrepreneurs through mentoring and coaching initiatives. For the past several years, I have served as a national president and, later, senator for the Junior Chamber International, where I have participated in the personal empowerment of young entrepreneurs as they progress to maturity as businessmen and women.

Other initiatives to target the younger generation include The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award programme that we are starting soon in Rwanda. This programme equips adolescents and young adults with the skills to become self-reliant men and women who will make tangible contributions to their communities.

A hopeful future

Moving forward, I envision increased awareness and access to information and resources that will help drive our economy to self-sufficiency, and hope to illuminate the giant economic strides made and the vibrant business activities of our region that are largely unknown to the rest of the world.

I’m optimistic that our youth, who make up more than 50 per cent of the continent’s population, will be exposed to great education and entrepreneurship opportunities to gain skills for their own and their community’s development. 

 

The writer is a YPO member and CEO of ROKA, one of the largest mining companies in Rwanda. He has mentored several young Rwandans to become successful entrepreneurs through his work as the first vice president of the Chamber of Young Entrepreneurs of Rwanda Private Sector Federation.

The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.

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