Country with the highest share of female parliamentarians in the world, at 61%. Global Gender Gay 2017’s #1 place to be a woman in East Africa, and #4 globally. These are some of the accolades proudly shared with us by the Rwanda Development Board.
“If you want to achieve middle income status, private sector growth needs to be the focus on all that you do”
…said the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) Achieving a private-sector led economy is at the core of RDB’s vision and strategic plan. One such way they are executing on this mission are Special Economic Zones, which are “one-stop-shops” for enterprises collocating industrial and commercial land, reliable energy sources, transportation links, market access, and administrative bodies. Coupled with favorable private business incentives, such as accelerated depreciation to address capital-intensive starting periods without revenue, the SEZ aim to create skills in off-farm jobs and encourage knowledge transfer to boost Rwanda’s overall economic activities.
Later that day, our group visited three different production facilities within the Special Economic Zone – C&H (garments), Sahashra (LED lights), and a paper products factory. For example, we observed clothing assembly lines, bringing concepts that we learn in Prof. Singh’s Operations Strategy course to action, when individuals pass the same article of clothing down the line after performing the same task, such as sewing on a specific button on a construction vest. Through specialization, workers learn skills while increasing productivity with the words “JOB CREATION, EXPORT GENERATION” hanging on a banner along the walls. Speaking of which, businesses in Africa must still balance the tradeoffs between job creation and automation, and these priorities were not always crystal clear among the companies we visited.
In the evening, we enjoyed some of Kigali’s vibrant art scene at the Inema Arts Center, which is a collective of Rwanda creative artists started by brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza. On Thursdays, they have a great happy hour event including cocktails, live DJ & music, and mingling with the artists themselves. At the gallery, we noticed that Emmanuel is married to Lauren Russell Nkuranga, who visited our hotel this very morning to talk about the food distribution company that she founded in Rwanda, Get It. Get It is a leading procurement and food distribution company, supplying many of the food safe fruits, vegetables, and dried goods to hotels, including the Marriot where we stayed! She shared how as a foreign business owner, she appreciates her opportunity to have conversations more easily.
Perhaps one of my highlights of the trip was a trip next day to Sorwathe Tea Farm! Producing approximately 12% of Rwanda’s tea, our group met the parents of one of my clustermates, Tim Stenovec, whose extended family still direct the farm. We toured the factories and learned about the tea production process, from picking the tea leaves in the fields, to sorting, dehydrating, fermentation, chopping, drying, packing, and shipping – it was so fascinating! I learned that black tea, green tea, and white tea all can come from the same leaf, and it is through different processes such as fermentation that different varieties are created! In the sun, at the guesthouse, we enjoyed a lovely lunch (and some outdoor tennis!) hosted by the Stenovec family.
To wrap up the trip, many of us could not visit Rwanda without a trip to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre. Before arriving in Rwanda, our Kenyan tour guide advised us not to bring up three topics in Rwanda: tribes, sports, or politics. After a heavy yet informative self-guided experience at the Memorial detailing the tragic events, we walked away understanding our guide’s away. It is clear that while many will always remember and grieve, they also move forward with the believe that they are unified ‘Rwandans’ who are progressing forward for peace and prosperity.