Monday, December 12, 2011

New Blog Location!

Hello friends!

RCE has moved its blog posts to a new address. To continue following the exciting updates on the Center, please Click Here.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

I Can Do That, I Can Do That... How Can I Do That?

Friday, October 21

Mark and Brandon’s last day in Rwanda. We visited the Center where Mathilda and her husband minister to the widows and children in an impoverished area. We met several children who had been near death with malnutrition and AIDS, but are now looking healthy and energetic thanks to the nutrition and medical attention they are getting from the Center. Mark and Brandon bought baskets made by the women who meet in the Center. Without the Center, the children would be left alone all day in their tiny homes as their mothers look for work around town. Mathilde is not only caring for the children, but she is providing income generating opportunities for the mothers and spiritual food for all. We joined with the group in fervent prayer, led by one of the mothers.

Made a brief stop at the only fast food chicken restaurant in Kigali—Quick Kuku—owned by someone who attended the seminar yesterday. The Chick fil-A guys enjoyed it.

On to a meeting at the Rwanda Development Board to discuss their need for training small ICT company owners in entrepreneurship. They want 100 of these owners to complete our 14-week program in early spring. I felt like the TV commercial—“I can do that, I can do that; how can I do that?” A great opportunity. We just need to determine how we can assemble the facilitators and visiting execs (from IT world) to do it.

While Mark & Brandon did a little last minute sightseeing, I returned to the office to meet with Mats Tunehag (BAM leader from Sweden) and Chuck Welden (entrepreneur from Alabama). Kigali seems to be the place for meeting people interested in international development.

Could hardly keep my eyes open for the last class of this trip. The learners blessed me with prayer and with the gift of a traditional walking stick. They insisted it signified “strong man”, not “old man”.

After class, I took a cab to the Serena Hotel to meet with Dale Dawson, founder of Bridge2Rwanda, and six others. I mentioned the customer service training we had done this week. Much to my surprise, I was sitting next to a couple who had just completed training the staff of the Serena. They had worked at the Four Seasons Hotels for 15 years and were from Rwanda and Uganda. We exchanged contact information for possible collaboration in the future.

Saturday, October 22

Up early to pack. This is my last day. I’m looking forward to getting home to my family, but still plenty to accomplish before my flight at 8 pm.

David Lamar, videographer hired by Winshape Foundation to document the Chick fil-A team’s visit, interviewed me first thing. Men on the lot below us were breaking rocks with sledge hammers. That, rooster crowing, and the cars entering the gravel parking lot at our guest house provided some challenges to sound quality.

Apollo, our contact at Rwanda Development Board, came by for breakfast. It was good meeting him in a less formal environment than his office. Our relationship with him has been growing as we continue to have successful events. We talked about Regent University's proposal to train the presidents, deans and faculty of Rwanda’s 18 universities. I invited Apollo to visit Regent to finalize details. He was very excited about the prospect. He hasn’t been to the U.S.

Now to take care of next steps for three business opportunities. Dona picked me up to go see trucks for sale. He wants to convert them from fuel trucks to dump trucks and run them for the BDC. Lunch with Sandrali to talk about next steps on the mining project in Congo. He had the results from the analysis of the first samples. Finally, Jean Pierre stopped by my room to do a skype call with Dale Fenwick, Regent MBA who visited Rwanda this Fall. Dale has been extremely helpful in gathering information and strategizing with the team to help them get an insurance company started. God is using Dale’s expertise and contacts to move this project along. This kind of follow up from a Visiting Executive is exactly what we had hoped for when we designed the program.

Off to the airport—early this time. Last time I got stuck in a crowd of 1,000 people trying to fit through a single door and a single security line. I was so early this time, though, that check in hadn’t started yet. They were nice to open it for me. I didn’t like my seat, so I asked for one with more leg room. They sent me to the manager’s office. I told him about our customer service seminar and how the Civil Aviation Authority wanted us to train everyone at the airport, but that he seemed to have it down already. He said he had no seats at that time, but he would call me when check-in closed. He did, and I got a seat with great leg room—praise the Lord!

God always provides an interesting contact as I’m leaving Kigali. I thought Ronald, the ticketing manager was it for this trip, but there was one more. As I was standing in line for boarding in Amsterdam, a woman standing next to me said she saw me on the flight from Africa. We started talking and I found that she is president of a foundation that funds projects in Africa. We might not fit their profile exactly, but it is worth a follow up call. If not RCE, then perhaps our law school. The firm that funds the foundation is involved in international human rights law.

Smooth flight home. When I mentioned all the amazing leads that this trip produced to a friend, he said it sounds like you have created a lot of work for yourself. True, but it is such worthwhile work. We just need more people and resources to do it.

Friday, October 21, 2011

More Success than We Imagined

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Incredibly busy day getting ready for the all-day seminar on Wed and Thurs. Chick fil-A visiting execs, Mark and Brandon, were a huge hit in class tonight. Their detailed knowledge of operations of their stores amazed the class. I have never seen a class this animated, with non-stop questions that took us 30 minutes past break time to finish discussing.

Wed-Thursday, Oct 19-20

Fabulous but exhausting two days, delivering a two-day seminar with Mark and Brandon from Chick fil-A followed by our usual class 6-9. The seminar was a huge hit. Had about 110 leaders from 19 of Rwanda’s largest companies. Rwanda television covered the first day. Print journalists there both days.

Attendees loved the interaction—games, role plays, exercises. They commented that it was much more interesting and fun than the usual training. They were very animated and very sharp.

Couldn’t have asked for better contacts. Many said they want to attend our entrepreneurship course. The information technology division head at the Rwanda Development Board asked if we can run 200 small IT businesses through our program.

Three of the companies in Crystal Ventures holding company say they want us to provide in-house training to their ten companies. The Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority wants us to give the training to the airlines, immigration, customs, and all other airport personnel. The largest cell phone company wants in house training. One banker said he wants follow-up training specifically for banks.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Busier Than a One-Armed Paper Hanger

Monday, October 17, 2011
Rich Tapestry of Current Learners, Graduates, Visitors, and Visiting Execs

I was a bit worried when at 6:05 the visitors outnumbered the learners in the class. Eventually, a good number of the class arrived. They heard encouraging words from Jacques and Hamim (Cohort 2 Football Academy) about life after graduation. Then Sandrali (Cohort 2) told them that the program changed him from a technician working “in” his business (he is a famous architect in Rwanda) to an entrepreneur working “on” his business. The class was encouraged to hear that the idea works, since it is what Jason and I have been telling them for weeks. They were also honored to be able to share the BDC affiliation with someone whom they respected so highly.

Ntense, a Nigerian businessman who is ICCC director for Africa, happened to be in town. He gave an impassioned charge to the class to rise up and be the leaders who develop Africa.

Robert, Executive Director of Churches Together and soon-to-be BDC licensee, shared his heart about how God called him to work in Africa as a result of a visit to an orphanage with AIDS-infected children in S. Africa. He preached a great mini-sermon.

Ntense and Robert are only here for one night, so I allocated them more time than the Chick Fil-A operators who are here all week. Mark and Brandon gave short introductions that will lead to further one-on-one consulting meetings.

Sunday, October 16, 2011
Busier Than a One-Armed Paper Hanger

Expecting to eat breakfast by myself, imagine my shock to hear Brandon call my name. I was planning to meet Mark & Brandon (Chick Fil-A Operators) at the airport tonight. I had the day wrong, and they had to get a taxi to Solace. Not a good first impression. Fortunately, Mark had been here before. I arranged for Bernard (taxi man) to take them to the Genocide Memorial and a tour of town.

The afternoon schedule felt like something you would see on a sit-com. Pascal (Cohort 2) stopped by to introduce me to his fiancé. We had a very nice visit. Then Jean Pierre (Cohort 3) came to discuss his insurance company project. As we were talking, Dale Fenwick (Regent MBA and visiting exec to Rwanda) called on Skype. That was providential timing since Dale, an insurance expert who was here a few weeks ago, is researching some international connections for the project.

As I was praying with Jean Pierre about a difficult issue in the project, Patrice (Cohort 1) called to say that he was waiting in the dining room of Solace. Patrice came to sell me on giving a BDC scholarship to the winner of his Africa Innovation Prize for high school entrepreneurs. I thought they would be too young, but he said they would be 19-20, so I agreed. Seemed like a win-win-win. We support one of our graduates, we help a young Rwandan entrepreneur, and the BDC gets some publicity.

Before I finished with Patrice, Alphonse (Cohort 3) arrived for help with the financial calculations for the business he is working on in the program. I asked him to gather his thoughts while I greeted Jacques and Hamim (Cohort 2) who were there for help with their Football (soccer) Academy.

Now I was overwhelmed. Fortunately, the Chick Fil-A guys had returned from their touring. I rushed up to their rooms and asked them to work with Alphonse on his Profit and Loss Statement. They jumped right in and did a great job. They really know how to do P & L’s. And it was a chicken business! Imagine that.

I sat down for a soda with Jacques and Hamim. They have registered their football academy as a non-profit and they are looking for help in many areas—funds, equipment, and a character curriculum so they can build winners in football and winners in life. I connected them to Oscar Benitez (Regent MBA in Guatemala) who is running a national program to develop character in youth through soccer. He is glad to help. I also volunteered to bring an extra suitcase with soccer jerseys that a Canadian has collected for them. Shipping to the U.S. is far cheaper than to Rwanda. We had a good discussion about long-term strategy.

Quick dinner and then off to pick up Robert, head of a non-profit that is considering licensing the BDC concept in Uganda or South Africa. Fortunately, it was the correct day, and we picked him up with no trouble.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Rwanda - The "Bread Basket" of Africa?

Saturday, October 15, 2011
Could Rwanda Become the “Bread Basket” of Africa?

A week with Willy and Ben has made me a believer in their vision. As God showed Willy how to restore 8,000 acres of depleted land into a thriving farm and then Africa’s leading ecotourism park, God was also planting a vision for agriculture throughout Africa. As Ben healed emotionally and forgave (by God’s grace) those who took, without compensation, his 14,000 acre farm in Zimbabwe, God gave him a vision for training African farmers in the principles of farming God’s way.

Together, through the Foundation For Farming, they plan to disciple nations in God’s principles of farming, which will bring about a huge increase in the productivity of the land without depleting it. They believe Rwanda will provide the prototype for other nations.

In an earlier post, I said that Serge (Cohort 3) was putting his big agriculture idea on the back burner to focus on his baking business. God may have other ideas. Serge has been interpreting for Willy and Ben, and they have been training and discipling him. Willy drew up plans for a model training center on Serge’s 25 acre farm. Willy and Ben both believe that Serge could be the leader to oversee the transformation of Rwandan agriculture and to develop a training center that would serve all of East Africa.

Some people can articulate a compelling vision. Others can demonstrate practical skills needed to accomplish a vision. Rarely can people do both. Willy & Ben are the rare exceptions. They conveyed the vision to me, but they also taught 100 uneducated widows how to plant maise in a 35 square meter plot. They are farmers who have had their hands in the soil for 30-40 years, so they can demonstrate what they are teaching.

The vision is powerful, but it is also fragile, because resources are tight and cultural and educational barriers are high. Despite the challenges, it looks like God has put all the right ingredients in the pot:

• Rwanda’s land is well-suited to the vision—two growing seasons, plenty of water, and hilly land that forces farms into small plots, which are ideal for farming God’s way.

• Rwanda’s government is visionary, growth-oriented, and stable.

• The Business Development Center provides a hub for training leaders and connecting Rwandans with international experts. We have a steady flow of very sharp, educated, motivated entrepreneurs targeting agriculture. We can see many of them becoming leaders in this transformational farming movement—the ones who see the big picture and have the skills to train the farmers and organize them into larger production units.

• Because of this “infrastructure”, Willy and Ben are excited about investing their time in Rwanda.

I can’t wait to taste the “stew”.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Despite the Rain, Our Legacy Shines Through

Friday, October 14, 2011
Our Legacy:  The Next Generation (and the generation after that)
Twenty-two year old Patrice was a fountain of business ideas in our first Cohort of the BDC.  We were wondering when he would choose just one and start it.  Winning the 2011 Africa Innovation Prize (AIP) was the catalyst for his launching Eden Flowers and Business Support Ltd. 
The concept of AIP was birthed from a public policy lecture given by President Paul KAGAME at Cambridge University, UK in December 2008.  KAGAME’s lecture inspired a team of Cambridge students to start a new venture—Africa Innovation Prize—to stimulate entrepreneurship among university students in Africa.
Patrice didn’t stop with winning the Africa Innovation Prize and starting his horticulture business.  He was inspired to extend the competition to high school students as a way to encourage youth entrepreneurship and to build a strong youth-led private sector. With personal funds and modest support from others, Patrice launched a pilot competition in four high schools.
Jason and I just received a letter from Patrice asking us to help with his competition (excerpt below):
We greatly acknowledge various efforts of the Rwanda Business Development Center to support entrepreneurship in Rwanda, and we identified it as one of our greatest stakeholders. We would like to request your support in judging the copies of the competition and selecting the winners, next week preferably between 18-20/10/201.
What a joy to see a young graduate with such vision for his nation.  We constantly marvel at the mix of leaders that God has brought to the BDC—established leaders, like Sandrali, Fabrice, and Dona, who are well-known and respected throughout Rwanda; and emerging leaders, like Patrice and others, who will keep the movement going.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Rained On, but not Out
When you don’t have a car, rain is a big deterrent to moving around town.  Unfortunately, it rained hard all afternoon today.  Since most of our students don’t have cars, only half showed up for class tonight.   A few hardy ones braved the elements.  Some came on Moto-taxis—that is, they rode on the back of a motorcycle—and arrived looking pretty wet.  I pray for better weather Friday.  We have a lot of material to cover. 

Thursday, October 13, 2011

When You Are #2 You Need to Try Harder

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Had an interesting encounter at Tigo, the second largest cell phone company in Rwanda, today. In the cell phone business in Rwanda, Tigo is to MTN as Avis was to Hertz in the U.S.—a distant #2. Tigo is the up and comer—energetic, edgy, ambitious, but also chaotic.

They dropped the ball on our invitation to the Leadership and Customer Service Seminar we are doing for big companies next week. Dona and I decided to give it one more try with a personal visit, because we want to have representation from as many of Rwanda’s top companies as possible. We met the new HR Director—so new that he didn’t even have a business card. He hadn’t heard about the seminar, but after checking said they definitely wanted to come. I told him that we could no longer honor our invitation to bring 5-10 of their executives, but we would open up two places for them.

MTN is sending twelve.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Many Irons in the Fire but Only One Cook in the Kitchen

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's Time to Focus

This is week 9 of 14 in the Entrepreneur Training Program. Several people in the class still have two or more business ideas they are working on. This isn’t unusual for Rwanda. Entrepreneurial people here have many “irons in the fire”. However, I told them that it will get very difficult to carry two business ideas forward. It is crunch time—they have to crunch the numbers for their businesses and they have to produce polished presentations.

Serge is putting his big agriculture project on the back burner while he pursues a more manageable baking business. He and his wife have already delivered two orders of special cakes for a wedding and a birthday. He got another wedding inquiry today in class—Pascal is getting married.

What a Pleasant Surprise!

I returned to my room at 9:30 p.m. after a long day with nothing to eat except a sandwich at my desk. I was expecting to snack on a piece of bread, cheese, and a banana. Imagine my surprise to find a full dinner on the table in my room. Ben, the farming trainer from S. Africa and formerly from Zimbabwe, had procured a delicious Zimbabwean meal for me. His note said it is called Potjie Kos—a stew-like combination of meat, rice, carrots and potatoes in a sweet sauce. I felt as though angels had visited the room in my absence.

P.S. I found out the next morning that Ben had actually commandeered the kitchen and cooked the meal himself, simmering it in a large skillet for two hours.