Should you Work in Rwanda?

Moving to Rwanda to establish a company has certainly challenged our expectations, and the learning curve remains steep; the surprises many. None of us expected, for instance, that there would be so many people from North America and Europe interested in joining Karisimbi Partners. We have been approached by a diverse array of gutsy individuals… undergraduate students and CEO’s, people between the ages of 18 and 60, folks full of great intention, significant questions and interesting backgrounds. We did not fully anticipate the extent to which our unique model for offering socially-motivated business support services might strike a chord with a growing number of people in the West seeking to alleviate poverty, assist developing economies, contribute to Rwanda’s bold vision, or simply do something more meaningful than standard corporate jobs seemed to offer. Many of these people are determined to engage and contribute in more intimate ways than philanthropy and short-term trips can offer.

Because our venture is yet a start-up, it has not truly been in a position to support more than the three people who started it. Still, one Business Analyst intern has joined us for the past nine months, and another, Jon Porter, is joining us in January. We’ve also had countless e-mail, Skype calls, interviews and meetings with candidates of one type or another (most unacquainted with Africa and/or Rwanda). In the course of these discussions, we’ve begun to zero in on some questions that seem to matter in such considerations:

  • Are you committed enough to work in Rwanda for a significant period of time? Working remotely, visiting occassionally, or working ‘on-the-ground’ for less than two weeks at a time, is clearly not sufficient.
  • Have you already demonstrated excellence in a particular area? We contend that Africa’s development requires and deserves the ‘best’ the world has to offer. Much can be done with well-intentioned people, but much more can be done if their expertise is as strong as their motivation. This also contributes immensely to the dignity and development of the people served.
  • Do you bring expertise that precisely fits at least one real and pressing need in Rwanda? Amazing things happen when a specific need at one of our client firms can be connected to world-class expertise among our contacts in other countries. To start by cataloging our contacts and their skills in the West, in the hope they can be matched to a specific need here, is less likely to yield the mutual benefits we all seek.
  • Are you humble and flexible enough to adapt what you know to accommodate what works here? The most brilliant, experienced person in the world is useless here if they can’t translate and bend as conditions require.
  • Are you willing to work long and hard? Our mission is rarely characterized by quick fixes or instant results. Lectures, seminars, short-term visits and nice reports are never sufficient in fostering deep relationships, understanding, knowledge transfer and sustainable improvement. There remains no substitute for what can be accomplished through hard work alongside partners and clients.

We are grateful for the surprising interest we have received. While many conversations would benefit if every candidate could start by answering the above questions, part of what we continue to learn is how to connect the uninitiated to the type of work we do. A similar set of questions could also help people to evaluate their fit in other developing world organizations or refine what matters most as they set up a company of their own in such a country.

While we can’t hire them all, our sincere hope is that we can encourage more people to move to, and work in, places like Rwanda.

Onward and Upward,