Murabeho Rwanda, but hopefully not for long

It’s hard to believe that I’m sending my final greetings from Kigali. Today is my last day in the office with the African Entrepreneur Collective’s local partner, Inkomoko Entrepreneur Development. These past ten weeks have soared above and beyond any expectations that I had about my work this summer – I’ve learned so much, witnessed the hard work and long hours that my clients and all of the Inkomoko staff put in every day, and had fun getting to know them in and out of the office, too. Rwanda has definitely found a permanent place in my heart. 

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Mwiriwe from Rwanda

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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!

Exploring & Experiencing the Pearl of Africa

As I write this, I am quickly approaching the end of my first full month in Uganda. By now I have settled in quite well at my guesthouse in Kampala, attended a local wedding and traveled to over 9 districts in Northern Uganda; it seems unbelievable that up until a few weeks ago I had never been to Africa!.

I arrived Kampala in May with a mixture of anticipation and apprehension. On my ride from the airport I noticed that Kampala was very similar to Kathmandu (my home town in Nepal) at first glance. Both are surrounded by hills and every road has ample potholes, street vendors, not-so-cautious motorcycle riders, and similarly lined rows of shops along main roads with advertisements painted for Coke, Pepsi or telecom companies. It felt good to be ‘back’. Since then comparing Uganda with Nepal (albeit superficially) comes naturally to me; there is less deferential here…women ‘seem’ relatively more empowered…people are equally laidback…sodas and food cost twice as much etc. Generally though, Uganda is similar to Nepal in that the truly poor population does not have nearly enough and the truly wealthy have way too much. In Uganda this gap seems slightly wider, as Nepal has a relatively larger middle class, but the principles of disparity are there and our countries are suffering for it. .

In the days following my arrival, I began my work as a Consultant for FIT Uganda, an agri-business consulting firm. The work includes assessing the implementation of Farmer Record Management Information System (FARMIS) in North Uganda, and providing recommendations based on the assessment to facilitate delivery of enhanced results. FARMIS is an innovative project that provides farmers with market information and intelligence, financial literacy, as well as a web and mobile-based farm record management capabilities. My trip to Northern Uganda was a part of this project. We met and interacted with over 300 farmers. I am now working on financial linkages component of the project for which I have presented a concept note that proposes a framework on access and use of credit by farmers that links them to the formal financial system. Additionally, I am also contributing to and editing the Market Analysis Report, an annual national agri-market analysis publication of commodities in Uganda. Before my time ends here, we are working to outline the design of a financial literacy program in partnership with Mercy Corps, GIZ and Bank of Uganda. The program is intended to provide farmers in rural Uganda with financial management and educational information through SMS and radio. .

Everything is coming together well! All in all it is shaping to be a productive and a fulfilling summer. The night is coming to an end so I’ll leave you with some pictures: .

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Manisha Basnet is a Development Economics candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy (MALD '15), as well as a Blakeley Fellow.