I spoke to two girls in their early teens in Remera last Sunday. I asked them which they would prefer upon completing school; to be formally employed or to run a business. They both told me they’d prefer the latter.
This is encouraging especially because when you look at the six pillars of Rwanda’s vision 2020; you notice that four of them (pillars 2, 3, 5and 6) are hinged upon entrepreneurship for their successful achievement. That is quite a bit, wouldn’t you say? With ten years to go there are things that have to change, and change fast.
To start with, I see a scenario where we will have young people brimming with entrepreneurial ideas but helping them grow will still be hampered by a lack of capital, poor co-ordination, and a long-standing culture that puts more emphasis on employment upon completion of formal education.
This culture of emphasis on formal employment has led to this ‘paper culture’ that we need to get over. I try to get my students to look beyond the degree certificate that they aspire to have and it is a bit like asking a young bride to look beyond the white gown.
I would rather have the paper backed by good practical skills but I see a lot of people seeing the paper as the end in itself. Now, don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against people having a degree certificate, quite the contrary I even help them acquire it.
I just want them to realize that it is a certificate, it certifies (confirms or verifies that there has been knowledge acquired). It only confirms the bigger truth that you have the knowledge and so the focus should and must remain on the knowledge acquisition which I say needs to be more and more practical.
At Rwanda Tourism University College we have started actively engaging with players in key areas of the economy and invite them to come and give a talk,and not just for our students.
This dialogue is meant to give both parties a ‘hands on’ and real time appreciation of the matters at hand. It helps both parties get out of the straight jacketed approach that characterizes business as we know it.
We need classes to encourage the students to nurture a spirit of entrepreneurship. We need to help them grasp ideas and products that can offer solutions to communities and turn in a profit but we also need to ensure progression of the initiatives beyond high school and university.
The systematic entrepreneurial training we have begun is good because it teaches principles. To succeed in business, you’ve got to understand the basic principles. If you don’t, you will not make it however passionate you are about business and these help enterprises prove their own thereby stand a better chance of accessing credit.
The problem with the current education system is that it still propels learners to seek employment as opposed to setting up their own businesses. Apparently, Rwandans, and indeed East Africans, would rather have the pursuit of education rewarded through corporate jobs rather than self employment.
We also need to have a healthy savings culture. Lifestyles need to be geared towards save-invest- buy rather than our preferred borrow and buy system. A Savings rate of at least 25 per cent of GDP would provide funds that would hasten economic growth.
The key is to change the way we think about entrepreneurship as of now.
Sam Kebongo is a skills development and business advisory consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.