Rwanda’s dream of becoming a middle income country by 2020 rests in the hands of women. The small East African country has gone through much internal strife including war, but it is now rebuilding its communities.
With a strong impetus through women economic empowerment, Rwanda’s women constitute more than half of the population, and fifty percent of parliamentarians are women. If the country is to achieve the economic empowerment it desires, then women have to not only be at the forefront of the political landscape, but also lead in the economic development of the country.
Claire Akamanzi, the Chief Operating Officer of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), tells the World Entrepreneur Society (WES) how they are assisting women entrepreneurs.
“RDB aims at fast tracking Rwanda’s drive to economic development. It was set up three years ago to drive women empowerment,” says Akamanzi.
She further adds that the government merged eight institutions, for example, tourism, ICT bodies, investment promotion agency and many others.
Radical reforms equal results
RDB has driven one of the most radical reforms in Africa which has seen Rwanda recognised as the 2nd most reformed country in the world next to Georgia.
“Three years ago, if you wanted to start a company in Rwanda, you would go through sixteen procedures which would take two weeks. Today, if you are starting a business, it will take you a procedure and a day” Akamanzi explains.
The World Bank named Rwanda the 9th easiest place to start a business in the world. More than 90 percent of the businesses in Rwanda are Small and Medium sized Enterprises (SMEs).
There is an estimated 70,000 SMEs in Rwanda, which contribute more than 10% of the economy,
“If we support SMEs and they grow, they can support the economy much more and if we double that 10 percent, our economy will double” said Akamanzi.
So what constitutes an SME in Rwanda, since the definition may vary from country to country?
The new SME strategy that was passed last year looks at the need to harmonise and define SME. In the new strategy SME defines turnover and number of people involved in the businesses. However SMEs at times lack clear focus and ultimately it becomes an uphill struggle.
SMEs have all sorts of issues, but one first has to understand their vision, secondly many of them don’t even know any management practice basic questions like how do I run a business with proper management?
Sometimes [businesses] are too sophisticated, so try not to get overwhelm them, it all depends on the SME. The other major issue is accounting, some entrepreneurs can’t tell if the business is profitable or not because they don’t keep any records - until they become bankrupt.
“So we have programmes to teach them how to keep books of accounts and we have a partnership with Chairman Michael Schneider of the company Kingston Smith. They’ve trained about 182 SMEs so far on accounting because that’s their area of expertise,” Akamanzi discloses.
She adds that such strategic partnership aims at supporting SME development work.
Last week, the Rwanda Development Bank (BRD) also announced a guarantee package to rescue SMEs, which are increasingly desperate for more financing alternatives.
Rwandan Franc 7.8 billion guarantee in the form of grants and funds will help SMEs access financial facilities from commercial banks. In a related development a $9.7 million fund supporting SME’s was unveiled.
The Fund is intended at making equity investments of between $50,000 and $1 million in medium enterprises and this is largely targeted to benefit women. The Fund shareholders include Rwanda Enterprise Investment Company (REIC), International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Business Partners International (BPI).
Women start off small
In Rwanda, the smaller a business, the more likely it is owned by a woman. Women participate in almost everything, especially when it comes to small businesses. For instance women have become the market traders, shop owners.
“There are two other areas that are predominantly women, agriculture, arts and crafts. We specifically target those areas because the people in that business are predominantly women,” Akamanzi explains.
However, women desperately need business skills and financial support.
Akamanzi said: “When it comes to support we help them to write a business plan in such a way that the banks can easily finance it. We also monitor how many of those we have supported have actually gotten the financing.”
In addition to that government just set up a fund in the Development bank of Rwanda. The fund will give guarantees because banks fear lending to an SME that doesn’t have collateral therefore doesn’t have a lot of financial back up.
“We have set up offices in all the 30 districts so that businesses owned by women are assisted in marketing especially the crucial area being financing. It’s important to know how to raise finance and they understand that they can actually expand by tapping into the financial system,” says Akamanzi
Last week sixty businesswomen began a four-day training organised by RDB in partnerships with the International Trade Centre (ITC) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The training aimed at strengthening capacity to access foreign markets and improving the quality of products.
It targeted women mainly in the business of coffee, leather, horticulture, handicrafts and services provision.
According to RDB, the training contains four components, including an export training course, business counseling, markets information and business advertising on the internet.
So the questions of the week are; how great a role should government play in assisting SMEs and women?
Is the empowerment of women entrepreneurs the answer to raising the standard of living in your country? Have your say.
World Entrepreneur Society