Wanted: More Searchers, Fewer Planners

William Easterly is an economist by training and practice with a long career at the World Bank and in academia. His book, The White Man’s Burden, has become a ‘bible’ to some of those in the international economic development field. He believes that international aid to the developing world has been characterized by top-down planning in everything from World Bank loans to U.S. Military Intervention, which is why it has predominantly failed. In contrast, those individuals within developing economies themselves or even within international institutions who creatively ‘search’ for solutions to problems based on market demands have and will continue to come up with ways that work to truly alleviate poverty.

Easterly highlights an example of a well-known ‘Searcher’ in Mohammad Yunus of Bangladesh, the founder of the Grameen Bank and the primary individual attributed with the founding of ‘microcredit’ lending (and mentioned in earlier posts). After earning his PhD, Yunus attempted to help the poor by sponsoring tube wells for irrigation during the dry season to increase the growing period. He actually loaned the farmers some of his own money to implement the projects. In his work, he visited as many rural villages as possible to understand the true needs on the ground. He met a woman who ran a small furniture making business but had the majority of her profits eaten up with 120% interest on loans to buy the raw materials for her furniture. His first loan was to this furniture maker.Starting with a PhD dissertation titled, “Optimal Allocation of Multi-Purpose Reservoir Water: A Dynamic Programming Model,” his ‘searching’ led him to establish the microcredit model that has now impacted millions of people.

Easterly’s baseline thesis is worth remembering: Developing country economies need more Searchers and fewer Planners (both in their own countries and in the West). My corollary to his baseline is that humans are innately designed to be creative problem solvers, or Searchers. Karisimbi Business Partners is certainly made up of Searchers. We strive to exercise our own God-given Searcher characteristics while working alongside fellow Rwandan Searchers to solve one business problem at a time.

Dano Jukanovich

Received: The Biggest Check Ever!

Last Friday, Karisimbi Partners received its first client payment…. A check for over 2.8 million! I should quickly clarify that the check was written for 2.8 million Rwandan Francs (just $5,000 in US Dollars), but that should not depreciate the significance of this particular check. This was not only the first client fee received by Karisimbi Partners, in non-financial terms it may represent more than any check I’ve ever received.When I consider why this seems such a milestone to me and my partners, a number of reasons present themselves…

  • We were frequently told that “Rwandan businesses won’t pay our fees”
  • It is culturally normal to speak positive, even when there is no plan from prospective clients to follow-through
  • Rwandan business leaders do not easily part with their money
  • We are Westerners and many Africans expect Westerners to either write a check to them, or at least provide free services as a non-profit
  • I had met with this particular client more than nine times since last March (and exchanged countless e-mail and voice communications) to develop our relationship to this point
  • At this time, the Crocketts, Urquharts and Jukanovich’s had only been located together in Kigali for two weeks
  • A different client asked us to begin work without receiving any payment until the work was completed
  • This particular client has committed to engage our services on a significant level for at least the next two years
  • The Karisimbi Partners business model calls for client fees in order to be sustainable
  • What Karisimbi Partners is offering Rwandan businesses is fairly unique and new, hence frightening to some and hard to commit to for others
  • What began as a business concept in December of 2008 was validated by four Rwandan clients this week

There is great need here that fits what we do best….and the fact that clients are willing to pay for it suggests we may be afforded the privilege of doing it in a sustainable way for many ventures in the years to come.

Onward & Upward,
-Carter

When Good Ideas are Bad

 

Downtown Kigali, you are likely to be approached by vendors offering the opportunity to buy various printed material. Among the common items on offer: maps of Kigali. As a new visitor and now resident, I paid the $3,000 RWF (roughly $6) to get my copy, even though I could see it wasn’t going to be as useful as I hoped. Although this is a sizeable city of almost 2 million people, I have yet to find a good map. This is largely because the vendors sell the same map…one that is now outdated. This city has seen such change in recent years, entire neighborhoods (such as the one in which our children attend school) and key landmarks are nowhere to be found. The official language in Rwanda has changed from French to English recently, yet none of these maps are printed in English. And perhaps most frustrating, these maps have no way of showing elevation.In a city consisting of many hills, a 2-dimensional map simply fails to help the reader appreciate the terrain to Point B while sitting in the valley of Point A. As an entrepreneur, one’s mind races to possible solutions, and Greg and I struck upon the following idea: A pop-up map of Kigali! Such a map could be topographical in 3-D, include all landmarks and suburbs to scale, be written in English and hopefully printed at a price that still makes it affordable for the growing number of newcomers coming to this city. Among the army of registered vendors, imagine how popular the one with the new map would be!

Every day, walking in a setting with so much untapped potential, one is struck with such ideas (some better and more serious:). If necessity is truly “the mother of invention”, we should not be surprised to find so many opportunities, given the need is so great on so many levels. Good intention can be spread too thin, as many local NGO’s can attest. Since the amount of time and energy we have is finite, we must not try to do so many things that we fail to do one thing well. It is frustrating having to say “no” so often, yet if we can continue to do so, and pick our focus areas carefully, we increase the likelihood that years from now something truly excellent will have been achieved.

Someday, a vendor will offer us a new map of Kigali, and we’ll be thrilled someone else made a good idea happen.

Onward & Upward,
-Carter


Trust: An Illusive Virtue

Trust is a funny thing. Where trust is present, everything seems easier and better. Where trust is absent, it is difficult to earn or build. Trust is a critical asset that is easily broken and hard to fix. We would all do well to pursue it, but it is possible to have too much of it.It is risky to offer it, but can be very rewarding when returned.

In social settings, from families to nations, there are many benefits attributed to trust.It is often deemed a ‘lubricant’ that makes relationships and transactions run smoother and cheaper. It is also called a ‘glue’ that unites and holds people together. Trust is deteriorated by factions seeking short-term gain, but flourishes where factions subjugate themselves to a unified vision for the long-term.

In post-conflict settings like Rwanda, trust is desperately needed yet hard to build. As foreigners that have just moved here, we can begin to see the want and benefit of trust vis-à-vis settings more familiar to us. Genocide has to be the ultimate destroyer of trust, forgiveness the ultimate healer of what was broken, and a common commitment to a future vision the ultimate road to building something better. In some measure, we can find all these things in Rwanda.

As it relates to Karisimbi Partners, we have already begun to note some of the ways we can build trust and be trusted here in Rwanda:

Face-to-Face Relationships – very little progress of any substance transpires from a distance, or over phone or e-mail. Getting all relevant parties to meet face-to-face sometimes seems the only way to build trust, albeit business or personal. Less “rich” medium may be valued only insofar as they coordinate in-person meetings. Becoming residents and meeting often has helped immensely.

Common Motives – most new contacts dedicate some portion our meetings to discerning our deepest motives for being here. Many of those we meet blend social and financial aspirations…. they are clearly interdependent here and now. When they learn we are motivated by faith and social benefit, they smile broadly and say we are “most welcome”. When they learn we seek a practical impact and financially sustainability, they respond as if we’ve said something new or refreshing, and can work with them on what is needed most.

Commitment – people here want to know you’re “serious”. Good intentions have not been enough in the past. When people hear that we’ve moved here for years and brought our families to empower Rwandans pursuing a better future, they, in turn, take us “seriously”.

On the long road toward building trust, we’ve at least identified some initial steps.

Onward & Upward,
-Carter