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Rwanda: Innovative Businesses to Instill Entrepreneurship Spirit

Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

Eric Didier Karinganire

2 January 2012

Amidst unemployment affecting a great part of active population, officials say the only way to tackle it is to strengthen Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). Special programs are set up to support entrepreneurs with innovative ideas.

In Nyange sector, Musanze district, you find a woman mashing different biodegradable materials together, pressing it into a tightly packed mass and setting it out to dry for several days. While the raw materials are not expensive, and the production doesn’t cost much, the finished product is very lucrative. Cecile Nyirabahutu has found a way to manufacture fuel briquettes made of old paper and other garbage.

Nyirabahutu, a mother of 7, says that before she embarked on the venture in 2003, she used to survive by cutting wood. “Every day I used to trek long distances battling the heat and make my way into Volcanoes National Park in search of usable wood,” she recalls. “I was also involved in begging wherever I used to pass.”

The wood Nyirabahutu collected each day was then sold for charcoal, which supplemented her family’s meager living. But then, with the help of the organization Art of Conservation, she started her briquettes business, and ever since her family’s life has significantly changed. “When I now pass where I used to go begging, everyone is surprised asks: ‘Could you now know who she used to be?’ This gives me great strength,” she says.

Nyirabahutu says that her aim is to have dignity and support her and the employees’ children in education in order to help them becoming leaders.

She is not the only one in Musanze with such a success story in Musanze. Twelve years ago, Patrick Uwineza set up Top 5 SAI (Sound Art and Image) studio with some 7,000 francs. Today, the business is worth between Frw 70 and 80 million, and its now 29-year founder is boss over 14 employees, 5 of whom have university qualifications.

The government is keen to highlight such examples, not only to encourage the entrepreneurs, but also to turn the businesses into schools through which other people can acquire technical skills.

That is why the ministry of trade and industry recently launched a new program dubbed Hanga umurimo in order to stimulate an entrepreneurial spirit among people.

Under the program, a total of 1500 promising business plans will be prequalified, out of which the best 300 (10 projects per district) will receive financial backing by March 2012, while the remaining 1,200 will be funded by June after being trained on business plan design. The selection criteria for the competition include innovativeness of the project, potential to provide job opportunities to many people, potential to increase export and reduce imports, value-addition, and being identified among the top five district priority clusters.

200,000 jobs per year

According to Minicom officials, the program was conceived in line with the national policy to promote SMEs and incite young people to create their own employment. “Most of our graduates are job seekers rather than job creators,” pointed out Francois Kanimba, the Industry and Commerce Minister, at the launch of Hanga umurimo. “This attitude must be changed, and this is the starting point where young people should be encouraged on how to set up their own businesses after graduating.”

The program, the minister said, is mostly targeting women and youth with good ideas. People running innovative businesses will also get guarantee funds through the program.

“This will help us achieving our target of not less than 200,000 new jobs created every year,” Kanimba explained.

To achieve this target, school curricula will be adjusted to ensure pupils receive entrepreneurial skills. Entrepreneurs already running innovative businesses will also be equipped with more capacity so that they can teach others, the Minister added. “Another option is to work hand in hand with these brilliant entrepreneurs, and we hope that they can in turn help us train many others,” Kanimba pointed out.

A recent survey showed that Rwanda counts around 119,000 SMEs providing jobs to 225,000 people, meaning that on average one enterprise employs two people. For Emmanuel Hategeka, the permanent secretary at Minicom, the current figures should be multiplied by four times so as to achieve the targets of Vision 2020 regarding employment.

Cecile Nyirabahutu has proven that this is possible even with some rags of old paper.

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