Some things are just too good to have enough of. Two of such occurred in the last one month. One was a colloquium organised by the Rwanda Private Institutions of Higher Learning Association (ARIPES) on December 6th, 2011.
Being an academic function, a colloquium (an academic round table), typically tends to be an occasion for academics to get all pompous and verbose with fancy theories which in the final analysis don’t achieve very much in terms of providing the way forward,.
Mercifully, in this colloquium, that urge was checked and discussions were very much focused.
The theme was poverty reduction in Rwanda (through adoption of organic farming techniques; soap making using local plants extracts; influence of family in students’ performance; and even the role of religion).
The event was graced by the Minister for Higher Education, and even diplomats. It was characterised by robust and bare knuckled debate on each topic. You would not have come through with shabby preparations.
For example; the presentation on saponification (soap making) from local plant and animal extracts (like avocadoes and lard from pigs among other was heavy on the organic chemistry bit and virtually empty on the business part.
They could make the soap alright; they even showed us samples. They just did not think about getting I to the customer based on his/her tastes and preferences, at a price and place that is convenient.
This was promptly pointed out. In fact, what the audience was saying was that we need practical, homegrown solutions to the poverty problem. This way of thinking in academia is good and should be encouraged through such fora.
The second event was on December 10th, 2011, was the award ceremony for the winners of the Terimbere Business Plan Competition organized by the Junior Chamber International that doubled as their change of guard ceremony too.
The new minister for youth and culture as in the house! (I hoped MINICOM guys would have been present too!) It was quite inspiring to here the winners speak of their business ideas. So much so that it would probably be good idea to have a session just for this.
The thing about entrepreneurs is that they are such motivated and imaginative individuals. A brainstorming/ best practice sharing session would definitely do us a world of good. It would be a forum not only for sharing experiences but also developing partnerships and there is no doubt that new ideas will be developed and old ones refined. This is important.
There should also be further thought into what should be the next steps…for both winners and those that did not win. A business idea only wins when the customers love and buy the resulting product.
So the danger of participants of a business plan competition developing ideas just for the competition must be curbed as it is counterproductive. This is where business incubation programs come in handy
These two seemingly unrelated events have a lot in common. They were both about improving our lot (except that though ‘poverty reduction’ is cliché, it is not ambitious enough phrase for where we should intend to be!) Two, both represent our own attempts; attempts by our people from different walks of life to find our own solutions to our problems.
A very noble gesture and a welcome change from the ‘begging bowl approach that has been our lot. Three; they indicate a growth in ‘chutzpah’- audacity. This chutzpah builds confidence and a can do spirit that get things done.
More importantly, it nurtures and grows hope and inspires others to get involved and do even more. This increased participation of private institutions and citizens in the economic growth process is what vision 2020 envisages.
The governments’ keen focus and participation is very laudable. Let’s have some more of it. Further, there should be more interaction among such activities so as to harness the synergy. All in all, we need more of these…too much is not enough.
Sam Kebongo teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College. He also is a Director at Serian Ltd that provides skills and business advisory services consultancy.