It has been said over and over that in the absence of significant natural resources, the future of our country lies in its people. Resources or no resources, human capital is the most important resource of any country since exploiting natural resources requires a skilled, smart and hard working population along with visionary leadership. It is therefore critical that we act smartly in developing and harnessing our human capital with a focus on talent development.
Recently, a young man who was once an “A” student and a student leader at the University of Nairobi died poor and alcoholic after several years drifting about in his village. During his days at the university as a student leader, politicians recognised his intelligence and influence on the student movement and used him. At his untimely death, numerous tributes were made acknowledging his brilliance, leadership qualities and contribution to the student organisation in particular and the nation in general. Several called it a national loss of a bright young man who had the potential to contribute to nation building had he received guidance, counselling and support from family, colleagues and more importantly, from a national system that identifies talent, directs it, exploits it and rewards it. I know several talented youths and not so young in Rwanda who are drifting without purpose and are very likely to go the same way as the young Kenyan. Shouldn’t we be doing something about it? They are after all, the most important capital we have.
During my time as a teacher at a Nairobi high school in the 80’s, one of my students in the physics and mathematics classes was an “A+” student in all his subjects. He was so brilliant that whenever I took the debating class to compete with other schools, we always came out on top no matter what the topic was, thanks to John. Not unexpectedly, he ended up at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston) and even before completing his degree, his talents had been identified by American corporate executives who visit top universities every year to scout for bright minds and talent, and offer them opportunities accompanied with alluring incentives to work in their companies’ research and development centres. Today, America is benefiting from the talents of an African because America has a system of identifying talent, exploiting it and rewarding it. The loser is Africa because it does not have such a system.
Successful firms are those which value, develop and take full advantage of their human capital. They vie with one another to recruit the best university and business school graduates, and the most enterprising and promising staff of their competitors. They take care of talented employees and give them space to exercise their creativity in exchange for top performance and productivity. There is no reason why such a policy shouldn’t apply to a nation especially one such as Rwanda. After all, our President on many occasions has appropriately been referred to as the CEO of Rwanda Inc. Many countries, regardless of whether they are well endowed with natural resources, rightly recognise the importance of developing their talent pool.
I am an advocate of a national system that scouts for and identifies talent in all areas of human endeavour. The search for talent should begin at the primary school level if not earlier. Once identified, appropriate strategies should be put in place to nurture, monitor, mentor and direct this talent. The ultimate objective is to exploit the talent for the benefit of the individual, family and the nation. There is no doubt that out there, if we care, we will surely find talent in engineering, medicine, education, law, science, social science, art, sport and even in politics. Different people have different innate abilities and regardless of their starting points and natural endowments, people can learn and improve. They can also make consistent improvements when they are developed in a systematic and deliberate way.
Rwanda is today associated with ingenious solutions to several social and economic challenges. In the formulation of the next vision strategy (Vision 2030/2040), one of the pillars of this strategy should be to invest in our human capital smartly. We should deliberately and methodically search for talented youth and begin to prepare them by providing them with strategic skills to serve our country and if necessary, export their talent and skills because human capital is as much a commodity as oil, gold, food, or timber. Such individuals are the ones who will create opportunities for the next generations. There are several countries in the world today whose export of human capital contributes very significantly to the national GDP. We should be planning in such a way that in another ten years, the current trend where Rwanda is a net recipient of human capital within EAC should be reversed.
There are countries such as Singapore and South Korea whose achievements in human capital and talent development can inspire us. For a small country like Rwanda, acquiring and nurturing human talent should be a matter of survival. Without much of anything else, we will continue to rely on human ingenuity and effort to build our economy and society. The future of our country lies in intelligently and effectively harnessing the creative potential and talent of our people.