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Archive for the ‘Entrepreneurship’ Category

Last week I participated in a working group about professional mentorship, organized by the Babson Rwanda Entrepreneurship Center (BREC) as a follow-up to their “Workshop on Supporting Entrepreneurs” that I attended last month. The initial March workshop convened around thirty representatives from organizations in Rwanda with similar visions that support entrepreneurship in different ways. As I am the point person for entrepreneurship trainings here at Generation Rwanda, I attended along with our Program Director. Some of the other organizations/institutions represented were Bridge2Rwanda, Kigali School of Finance and Banking (university), Youth Employment SystemEducat, DOT Rwanda, and Rwanda Village Concept Project, to name a few.

In an effort to help foster the budding culture of entrepreneurship in Rwanda, the BREC leaders presented the four main challenges to entrepreneurship that they had identified through a recent survey of entrepreneurship resources in Kigali: lack of access to finance, cultural and mindset-related obstacles, lack of communication, and a weak culture of mentorship. Last week’s meeting was a follow-up to continue the discussion about mentorship.

There were several interesting conclusions from the initial mentorship brainstorming session. Here are some of the highlights:

– The culture of mentorship in Rwanda is weak because of a lack of commitment, time, or interest on the part of mentors; a lack of initiative on the part of potential mentees; and because many people simply don’t understand the meaning or value of mentoring.

– For organizations setting up formal mentoring programs, successful strategies to maintaining mentorship programs include setting clear expectations from the beginning, dipping into the “alumni” pool from organizations that build human capacity and train people, setting a schedule but being flexible,  and providing sufficient initiation and introduction to mentors.

– For individuals hoping to be mentored, successful strategies include being persistent, actively seeking out mentors, and keeping in touch with employers and professors.

At last week’s follow-up meeting, the working group discussed potential tangible projects that would improve the culture of professional mentorship in Rwanda. Some ideas were to hold focus groups to better understand the experiences and challenges for potential mentors (established businessmen and women) and mentees (young professionals), create a database of professional mentors in different fields, compile and share best practices for organizations working to establish sustainable mentoring programs, publicize existing resources and guidebooks for mentors, and facilitate awareness campaigns to add the term “mentorship” to the Rwandan vernacular.

BREC is planning to create an online portal where all of these projects and resources will be available for public access. Once it’s up and running I’ll post a link.

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One of my favorite parts of working at Generation Rwanda is coordinating workshops and trainings for students. Not only do the students enjoy them and get a lot out of them, but I also find the content interesting and enjoy the opportunity to hone my skills of organization, coordination, management, networking, public speaking, and more. Throughout the academic year and during vacation, Generation Rwanda offers students a variety of workshops led by professionals, staff, volunteers, trainers, other students, or some combination of the above. The majority of the workshops are mandatory and a few are optional; the mandatory ones are offered several times throughout the year.

My first opportunity to coordinate a workshop was during September’s new student orientation, when I helped organize one on conflict resolution. It delved into theories of macro- and micro-level conflict, examples of conflict from daily life and from Rwanda’s history (there are unfortunately a lot there), and tools for conflict management and transformation. The workshop was led by a professional conflict resolution trainer and also featured older student leaders who shared their experiences resolving conflicts in their daily lives. A few weeks ago I organized and led a workshop on “How to be a Mentor” for WE SHARE, a student community service group dedicated to sharing their skills and experiences with younger students in need. WE SHARE is planning to start a type of “big brother / big sister” mentoring program between Generation Rwanda WE SHARE students and students in secondary schools who are also orphans and have experienced similar hardships. Mary, my friend and colleague here who is getting her Masters in social work, helped develop the curriculum and led the training with me. It was well-attended and the students all said that they found it very valuable and were now comfortable becoming mentors for younger students. I realized how much I enjoy leading workshops, facilitating discussions, and speaking in front of a group – it’s really quite fun and rewarding.

I’m currently organizing what I think will be one of the most exciting workshops yet: a series of entrepreneurship trainings led by high-power Rwandan entrepreneurs. The training will take place over 5 days and will cover topics like opportunity recognition, SWOT analysis (strength, weakness, opportunity, threat), competitive advantage, cost/benefit analysis, market research, product development, advertising and publicity, negotiations, record keeping, budgeting, taxes, government regulations, business plan writing, and more. Those of you who know me well know that, being a bit averse to economics and finance, I couldn’t have developed the curriculum myself. However I have been in charge of singlehandedly connecting with Rwandan entrepreneurs and convincing them of why they should donate a day of their busy lives to share their skills and experience with our students.

Starting out a few weeks ago with little more than the curriculum materials and the assignment from my supervisor to set up a workshop series for mid-November, I contacted the Generation Rwanda Entrepreneurship Club. They proved to be extremely proactive and had already compiled a list of local Rwandan trainers and organizations to contact for entrepreneurship training. I got in touch with the first contact on the list, who is the current president of Junior Chamber International – Rwanda Chapter. It was almost too easy: he and I set up a meeting, he invited other JCI members who are certified trainers with relevant experience and fairly flexible schedules, and all four were very enthusiastic and committed to leading one day of the workshop each. The trainers include the CEO of the largest medical supplier in Rwanda, the managing director of a large bookstore in Kigali, a management and development consultant at a global consulting group, and a finance and management consultant certified by the International Finance Corporation.

Meeting with these entrepreneurs from diverse fields and facilitating a surprisingly productive meeting made me realize that when I set my mind to something, I can actually be pretty effective. It was especially rewarding to see such generosity and excitement from these businesspeople at the chance to impart their skills to university students from vulnerable and underprivileged backgrounds. I’m excited that the workshop will be entirely Rwandan-owned and Rwandan-run because I believe one of the most important aspects of international development work is that it is locally owned and locally resonant. I’m sure it’s going to be rewarding for the students – and maybe I’ll even learn a thing or two myself.

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