SARAH NICHOLAS BACK FROM SECONDMENT WITH THE AFRICAN ENTREPRENEUR COLLECTIVE IN RWANDA
As I struggle to warm my fingers after a freezing commute through London this morning, it’s hard to believe that this time last month I was spitting distance from the equator. I was in the land of a thousand hills – Rwanda – sharing my experiences as a communications consultant with some truly inspirational entrepreneurs and individuals while on secondment with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC) in Kigali.
Listening to the stories of entrepreneurs and colleagues there, it is clear that innovation is thriving in East Africa. But more than that, AEC’s mantra that ‘all solutions to Africa’s challenges already exist on the continent’ now feels more credible and tangible than ever.
Just one example is Marcel, who, having been orphaned by the genocide that decimated Rwanda in 1994, wanted to harness the main driver and instrument of destruction – media and youth – and turn them into a force for good. Now three years after launching, and with support from AEC, Marcel’s news website Umuseke is the second most read digital media outlet in Rwanda and employs 20 people – not bad for a 25 year old.
Another case in point is Rwanda’s answer to Uber, SafeMotos. The app combines booking software with black box technology to ensure customers are only hopping on the back of the safest motorbike taxi drivers in town, offering valuable peace of mind in a city where 80% of traffic accidents involve motos. Peter and Nash developed a go-to-market strategy with think – AEC’s tech incubator, funded by telecoms giant Tigo Rwanda – and the app now adorns billboards across the country.
But it wasn’t only the vision and determination of AEC’s entrepreneurs that blew me away, the passion and commitment of their own team was infectious.
A social enterprise with job creation as its ultimate goal, AEC is a collection of business incubators and accelerators who support local entrepreneurs enabling them to grow, employ others and make a long-term contribution to the economy. In two years, they have already helped 150 entrepreneurs to create 700 jobs and have big plans to expand to seven African countries within 10 years.
Having a soft spot for the entrepreneurial spirit and our own growing communications practice in East Africa, a partnership between Gong and AEC seemed a natural fit and I was luckily enough to be the first of the team to spend a month offering pro-bono comms consultancy and skills building to the organization and its entrepreneurs.
It was certainly a busy month! I created communications plans and marketing strategies, ran messaging workshops, edited websites, drafted press releases, held media training for a bootcamp full of social entrepreneurs and supported AEC’s launch into Tanzania – on which, more later.
But it wasn’t all work. In just 4 weeks I explored Kigali, met a four-month old gorilla in the Virunga mountains, kayaked on Lake Kivu, tested out my first shaky words of Kinyaruanda, got caught in some spectacular rainstorms, was laughed at relentlessly by market stall holders, flew to the foot of Mt Kilimanjaro in a really small plane, and leapt into a lake fully clothed (there was a reason for it!).
For now, while I immerse myself back into the fray of all important client work back at base, I want to say a huge thank you to everyone in the AEC family that made it such a great experience. I will be back!