Greetings from Kigali, Rwanda! My name is Heather LeMunyon and I’m a Master’s degree candidate at the Fletcher School at Tufts University in the US, where I’m concentrating in international business relations and development economics. I’ve been in Rwanda for about one month now, and have been gaining incredible experience diving head-first into the challenges and opportunities that the Rwandan economy and its businesses have. During the summer break between my first and second years at Fletcher, I am working with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), a non-profit business accelerator for young, growth-oriented entrepreneurs in Africa to create jobs for the unemployed in their communities. To reach these goals, AEC works through local business development partners in order to best tailor services to the communities of each country. In Kigali, I am working through AEC’s local Rwandan partner, Inkomoko Entrepreneur Development, a full-service business development firm focused on developing start-up, small and medium enterprises to grow them into effective businesses.
In Kinyarwanda, inkomoko means “the source” or “origin.” Inkomoko is industry-agnostic, meaning that they do not focus their business development services for any one particular sector. However, their clientele is fairly representative of the Rwandan economy – about 40 percent of their clients work in agriculture or food processing, with other large sectors being construction, professional services, information and communications technology (ICT), and energy. My role with AEC through Inkomoko has been to work directly as a short-term consultant and business mentor for two of their clients, HPS&B, a rice processing company, and Hollanda FairFoods, Rwanda’s first potato chip company. My background is in agribusiness development, so the opportunity to work hands-on with two of Rwanda’s promising post-harvest agricultural processing businesses has been incredible.
The work that AEC, Inkomoko, and their clients accomplish on a regular basis is quite impressive. On my first day in the office, I read an article on the front page of The New Times, one of Rwanda’s national newspapers, on the impressive business growth of one of Inkomoko’s clients, Green Harvest, a company producing hot sauce and spices. Four out of the fourteen national finalists for Rwanda for the international SeedStars Business competition were Inkomoko clients, one of which was Hollanda FairFoods. I was honored to be here for the last day of Inkomoko’s fiscal year on June 30 when all of their nine full-time staff celebrated the 80+ new clients they brought on this past year and the impressive successes many of them have had in growing their businesses.
My work has been busy, rewarding and fun! My assignments thus far have included updating market analyses and financial projections for both HPS&B and Hollanda FairFoods; liaising between clients and international investment firms looking to invest in emerging markets, particularly in Rwanda; collaborating with my clients to develop data collection mechanisms for market information; coaching Hollanda FairFoods on its first pitch to international investors; compiling funding opportunities for Rwandan agribusinesses into a centralized database; and analyzing Inkomoko’s metrics for organizational development.
Life isn’t all work, though. The Inkomoko staff work incredibly hard but also know how to let loose. Last weekend, we celebrated the end of the fiscal year with a day-long goat roast, complete with about 100 brochettes (kebabs) for all of us by the end of the night. They’ve also had a bit of fun teaching me words in Kinyarwanda as I slowly learn a few phrases in the language. Living in a large group house with AEC’s other short-term business mentors has been fun as well—a great platform for getting to know other graduate students and young professionals interested in entrepreneurship in emerging markets, and great for planning weekend trips to explore Rwanda outside of Kigali.
Time is already going by so fast! I’m looking forward to meeting up in Uganda this coming weekend with some this year’s other Blakeley Fellows in East Africa, too – Anisha Baghudana, Manisha Basnet, Owen Sanderson, and Anjali Shrikhande. More updates to come during my next few weeks in Rwanda – until then, many, many thanks again to the Blakeley Foundation for making all of this possible for me, and enjoy the photos of life in Rwanda thus far!