Thanks for the Difference a Year Makes

One year ago we had no real evidence to prove that the idea of Karisimbi Partners was a good one. We didn’t know if we would be accepted by Rwandans. We didn’t know if we would be able to have a positive impact in the way we had hoped. We didn’t know how our families would adapt (or ourselves for that matter). It was a beginning filled with many unknowns.

We had different challenges then than we have now. We didn’t know where to go for good food. We didn’t know what vehicle to buy. We didn’t know if we would have enough money to pay rent after our first three to six months. We didn’t know all the cultural norms for interacting with our clients. We didn’t know the local tax laws. We didn’t know what we didn’t know.

We still have plenty of challenges and many of them aren’t so different from the ones we had originally, but we are somehow more comfortable with the uncertainty of it all. We still don’t know what we don’t know but by definition of having been here for a year, there is at least less that we don’t know now than we didn’t know then.

We give thanks to God for this incredible year and the opportunities we’ve had to experience His love and to share some of that love with others. We’ve seen children adopted and deep friendships forged. We’ve witnessed employees and interns see the world in a different light and client businesses grow and employ more people. We’ve had countless culture-changing interactions on the street corner and within the office of the Prime Minister. Thank you God!

Exhibit A: Over the past week, we attended a meeting with a group of seven leading mid-sized Rwandan companies, led by the Permanent Secretary (number two person) of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, where Karisimbi Partners was featured as the company “doctor” that could help turn around these ailing companies. We led a negotiation with a global software provider in order to develop a solution for Kigali City to manage its finances and serve its people better. We had lunch with an employee to celebrate his experience over the last six months and challenge and mentor him as he thinks about next steps. We advised a client on how to effectively use US Government grant money. We ended the week with a team meeting to discuss how to juggle what seems to be a growing list of opportunities that are in front of us. Compare that discussion to one year ago, where at least I was wondering whether I would need to find a side-job as a teacher or car mechanic in order to stay busy….

Maybe the best blessing in the last year is in our families. For one example, when my kids first arrived, they weren’t so sure about Rwanda in general. This week, my eldest daughter asked me if we could stay in Rwanda forever. I told her it was up to God. Pretty cool.


Poverty Alleviation via Choice Redistribution?

We live in one of the poorest countries in the world (Rwanda is #184 out of 194 countries ranked). Poverty could be described as a condition whereby people have insufficient resources. Certainly, resources such as property, employment, food and income are finite and competitively sought after. Ghandi once claimed, “There is enough for the world’s need but not the world’s greed”. This simple sentiment suggests poverty is not only a matter of insufficient supply, but of insufficient distribution of the available supply in the global community.

It is also possible to think about poverty as the simple lack of one particular resource: choice. The poor are depraved by the sheer lack of options they have at their disposal. Whereas I’ve been fortunate enough to choose among many possible foods, medicines, schools, jobs and neighborhoods, my gardener had no such options to choose from. Jean Pierre did not have the option to continue schooling past age 12. He claimed two of the best jobs available for boys in his region, but faced death daily in the mines and on his commute. Thanks to his Aunt, Jean Pierre was able to leave his hometown and experience the possibilities of the big city, Kigali, but he could not afford a place to live or the health care to enable him to be treated for an ulcer and keep his job. Once he married and began a family, he felt he had not choice but to withstand the ill-treatment of his employer. The poor can often feel stuck in a bad place few options for escape. While my family and I chose to make some sacrifices in order to move to Rwanda, we are pleased to report Jean Pierre seems to have a few more choices as a result of our move. We allowed him the opportunity to leave his former employer (and claim better, more regular pay). We gave him the chance to claim his preferred job title and responsibility, that of a gardener. At 42, he is taking coursework in English and learning how to drive (each offer a host of new options). He and his wife are now considering how to use his first paid vacation ever. These are small tokens of how our lives here have added some options to one additional life.

Perhaps one way to alleviate poverty might be to prescribe a sort of “choice transplant”. We might extend Ghandi’s claim to read: the world offers enough options for everyone, but not if some people claim the all best options for themselves. What would happen if more of us with the best options made a concerted effort to give or share them with those born with the least?

Because Karisimbi Partners is committed to private sector development, it is easy for us to point to the expanding options that accrue when a Rwandan is employed in a job that builds a company, sector and this emerging economy. However, I’ve recently been struck by what may be the most profound choice transplant of all: adoption. Post genocide and epidemics, estimates are that 21% of Rwandan children have lost one or both parents, classifying roughly 10% of the population as ‘orphans’. The Jukanovich’s adopted Nathaniel Nyanzima last March, providing an entire lifetime of new options to a boy who had few. The Urquharts are now on adoption journey as well. Such actions effectively transfer upon those with the bleakest prospects all the privileges and opportunities one would expect if born in one of the world’s wealthiest regions. At times, it can seem the problem of poverty is too pervasive and attempts to address it slow and ineffective. Consider, however, the shattered bonds and immense future of a single adopted child and be awe-struck, as I am, with what is possible.

If poverty is defined as a lack of choices, this condition is neither fatal nor permanent. Choice transplant is possible. As we speak, profound sacrifices are being made to create profound opportunities for those with none.

Onward and Upward,