Karisimbi Partners launches Asili Natural Oils and moringa oil cosmetic product

In 2012 Karisimbi Business Partners, in a joint venture with international investors, undertook the establishment of Rwanda’s first oilseed processing company. The company, Asili Natural Oils, is a social impact company focused on the production of specialty oils for use in personal care and food applications. Its first product, Cold-Pressed Moringa Oil, represents an African product with incredible potential in cosmetics. Read the below Company Profile for Asili Natural Oils, and visit the website by clicking HERE.

Asili Natural Oils is a supplier of natural ingredients to customers in the personal care and specialty oil industries around the world. Asili, a Swahili word meaning “from the source”, conveys our commitment to quality natural products from the ground up. Located in the country of Rwanda, Asili Natural Oils is a social-impact business occupying a critical link in the supply chain – connecting hundreds of small-holder farmers to high value international markets. We are committed to serving our customers with professionalism and integrity, thereby ensuring benefit for farmer and customer.

Asili Natural Oils was launched in 2012 by socially-motivated investors in order to bring a business solution to address the debilitating effects of development-sector programs that encouraged Moringa Oleifera cultivation by smallholder farmers in Rwanda. Nearly ten years after thousands of poor farming families were promised large increases in incomes from planting moringa and selling its production, Asili Natural Oils made the first private sector purchase of Moringa Oleifera seed – and the poor communities in Rwanda’s Eastern Province celebrated. Said one moringa farmer, “As long as Asili continues keeping its promises, moringa is going to change our lives.”

Asili Natural Oils processes the Moringa Oleifera seed directly in its own processing facility by mechanically cold-pressing the kernel to extract the natural oil. Care is taken to ensure all processing methods maintain the oil’s natural characteristics, which are uniquely suited for personal care formulations.

Due to its incredible oxidative stability, moringa oil enables personal care formulations to avoid rancidity for a long period of time. The rich emolliency created by the behenic acid provides a distinctive, nongreasy after-feel. Noticeable qualities of the oil in personal care applications include its silky texture, long-lasting moisturizing effect and ability to soften and soothe skin. Proven applications include bath & massage oils, creams & lotions, hair preparations, liquid makeup, lipstick and suntan lotions.

The personal care industry has taken notice of moringa, but the potential for this oil in cosmetic applications has only been scratched: its physical properties, the beauty of the tree’s flowers – even the name, “moringa” – combine to ensure that moringa oil will flourish as a cosmetic ingredient.

We believe that developing strong relationships with a short-list of ingredient suppliers is a key “ingredient” in our success and the success of the farming families we support. We seek not only to sell a quality product, but to share a powerful story of impact being made in another part of the world and have that story shared all the way up the value chain and to the end consumer. And we endeavor that all of our relationships – with buyers, suppliers and our employees – be defined by professionalism, integrity and genuine care.

Karisimbi Partners’ New Director: Hunter Thompson

Hunter Thompson is the newest Karisimbi Partners’ employee, filling the position of Director of Consulting. After actively recruiting for this position for more than a year, Hunter’s appointment feels like one of the greatest accomplishments of 2013. Hunter joins the leadership of Karisimbi Partners at a critical time in the growth of the company, and he contributes essential expertise from the fields of consulting and banking that have already begun to offer great value to every business process and client challenge in which we engage.

Hunter brings 10 years of business management experience to Karisimbi Partners, experience that has centered on developing and delivering strategic plans and driving operational efficiencies. Hunter began in this new role March, 2013, leaving Capital One Bank (the 6th largest American banking institution) after more than three years of service. While at Capital One, Hunter led a team charged with improving the customer service experience, and he also served on the Operations Strategy Team, conducting due diligence for possible acquisition targets and supporting strategic transformation of Capital One post company acquisition(s). As Lead of the Bank Portfolio Office Process team, Hunter defined process requirements, guided change initiatives, prioritized technology and other investments, and managed the process and impact associated with implementation schedules. Previously, Hunter worked as a Senior Consultant for Dominion Digital, a boutique management consulting firm working with clients in the Banking, Insurance, Credit Card, Pharmaceutical and Non-Profit sectors. In this capacity, he managed teams, mitigated risks and led process improvement initiatives related to over 60 business functions for multiple clients. Prior to this, Hunter has also worked to maintain accurate monitoring, reporting and communication as a Litigation Paralegal. He additionally held responsibility as a Financial Aid Counselor in higher education and as a School Support intern for the U.S. Department of Education. In and through these various responsibilities, Hunter has earned a reputation for rapidly learning and assimilating data, identifying core issues to be addressed, making sense of chaos, and maximizing business value.

Hunter graduated from Wake Forest University with distinction, earning B.A. degrees in two majors: Economics and Political Science. He has earned additional certifications as a Six Sigma Green Belt, a Certified Agile Project Team Lead, Lean Process Improvement, and as a Certified Change Management Professional. Furthermore, Hunter has sought out opportunities to serve in his church, his community and is drawn to global issues such as those he experienced in Calcutta, India while working with Mother Teresa’s Sisters of Charity.

Onward and upward,


“No Hire” Decision

In seeking to fill a critical role in your organization, or any role for that matter, often the best decision you can make following an interview with a potential candidate is NO HIRE.

On the surface this assertion seems counter-intuitive at best and downright ridiculous at worst.  How could the decision not to hire for a key role, to leave an important position open rather than hire a prospective candidate, be a good decision for your company?  Here’s why:

When companies find themselves in a difficult labor market such as exists in East Africa, where qualified, experienced resources are in high demand and short supply, there is a strong tendency to “lower the bar” related to hiring decisions.  Hiring managers find themselves considering candidates that would normally be quickly eliminated from the recruitment process. As job roles, particularly leadership positions, remain open and unfilled, the greater the incentive for hiring managers to transition from seeking the best candidates to just finding a candidate that meets the minimum job requirements. What is often not understood is that mistakes in hiring cost more when there are few good candidates. Why is this so?

  1. When you hire a substandard candidate, you are cutting short the recruitment process and effectively forgoing qualified candidates. It also means that your competitors will be the ones to secure the better candidates. While top candidates are difficult to find and take more time and energy, they are out there, and it is well worth the effort for the long term contribution they will bring.
  2. When you hire poor candidates, the costs of hiring increase. Typically, a poor hire results in a termination or an early resignation, requiring your company to re-recruit for the same position again, incurring duplicative recruitment and potentially severance costs, not to mention lost training investment and other intangibles.
  3. It is a well-known truism that poor performing employees tend to take 80% of a manager’s focus, which would be better spent with the best employees.  This loss of productivity therefore includes not just the poor employee but the hiring manager as well.
  4. Top performers like to work with other top performers.  If you lower your hiring standards and accept to bring in mediocre employees, the pressure on and experience of your top employees will also suffer and they may begin to consider other employment options.  If they are truly skilled they will be highly sought after by recruiters and competitors.

In reality, lower hiring standards are somewhat inevitable in a labor market where skilled, well-educated, experienced candidates are in short supply. However, short supply does not equate to non-existent.  It is worth the extra effort to apply the right resources to recruitment, to ensuring you offer competitive compensation, and carefully aligning a candidate’s fit for the position. Never take information provided in a C.V. at face value. Be sure you verify the education and employment data that has been provided and complete reference checks that extend over the candidate’s last two or three jobs. If you have reservations, don’t move forward.  Continue the recruiting process and hold out for the right candidate.

The best companies always point to their people as their greatest asset, so secure your own organization’s future success by maintaining hiring standards and processes that will ensure true talent.

– Greg

Training for Impact: Embedded Role Models

The need for training or building the capacity of people is immense in a place where world-class education, experience and role models are lacking. There seem as many methods for conducting training as there are organizations engaged in training here, since many practitioners have crafted their own methods to fulfill their particular mission.  Karisimbi Partners has had the opportunity to observe and understand the efforts of many approaches across a diverse array of organization types: schools, healthcare institutions, churches, government agencies, NGOs and businesses. While there is good reason for different methods to co-exist and compliment each other in the race to develop human capacity, clearly some approaches are more effective than others.

Training can be defined as “the process of bringing a person… to an agreed standard of proficiency… by practice and instruction”. The disparate approaches to training we have seen in Rwanda may be grouped along the following dimensions: number of participants, number of trainers, frequency, location, and accountability.  It is far too easy for a foreigner to fly to Rwanda, speak in front of hundreds of grateful attendees, and fly back home claiming a tremendous training accomplishment.  When training success is measured in terms of lasting impact, however, it is clear that there are better methods available.

In a context like Rwanda’s, what a world-class expert needs to convey often represents a dramatic new paradigm or way of looking at things.  Two of our favorite examples of organizations that have developed a training method for introducing dramatic change are: Wellspring Foundation and International Education Exchange.  Both are addressing the needs of public primary and secondary schools; both have been ‘on-the-ground’ refining their methods for many years in Rwanda.  These International NGOs are tasked with teaching educators a new language (English) as well as a new pedagogy (student-centered learning), so in a way they are introducing two dramatic new paradigms at once.  Furthermore, the stated development goals of the Government of Rwanda suggest they have a critical and urgent role to play in the development of the country.  According to one of these organizations, “A teacher training session, by itself, is a complete waste of time and money”.  As such, both organizations are more concerned with what happens after centralized training sessions, where both engage in training that looks more like one-on-one mentorship or apprenticeship and takes place on-site in each participants’ school.  These organizations have achieved significant and lasting impact with a new model: embed instruction in the schools they serve by embedding people in each school that can model it for others.  This also allows for keen evaluation and refinement, since mentors observe training impact where it matters most: in the classroom.

In our experience, the way these organizations are training educators suggests an effective training principle that applies to medical centers, churches, businesses and other types of organizations as well. The ideal training method for lasting impact in any type of organization attempting to embed big concepts and new ways of thinking may be stated as follows: embed experts in an organization long enough to allow their contribution to take root and spread.  Put another way, if you can, expose at least one person to “best practice” in the new way of thinking/doing things for long enough to allow them to internalize the new standard as an individual; then, place at least one such person in the organization to model “best practice” for others until the new standard is internalized as an institution. I say this as a former university business professor who now understands the limits of the one-to-many format a classroom represents.  Too much can be lost in the translation between classroom concepts and workplace practice.

The suggested ideal is certainly not the most cost-effective or easy form of training (each organization may only train a small number of others in so ‘deep’ a fashion). Human capacity building is difficult but noble work, and if you care more about impact than about trainee intake, it is an ideal worth striving for.

Onward and upward,


Is it Possible for a Country to Dream Too Big?

Hope is required for big dreams, and Rwanda is certainly a small country that dreams big.  As exciting as it is to be in a place with so much collective momentum toward a common goal to alleviate poverty, it seems healthy to ask if it is possible to dream too big.

At the end of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 document, the author(s) seemingly anticipate the reader’s response to their audacious dreams.

”…Some will say that this is too ambitious and that we are not being realistic when we set this goal. Others say that it is a dream. But, what choice does Rwanda have? To remain in the current situation is simply unacceptable for the Rwandan people. Therefore, there is a need to devise and implement policies as well as mobilize resources to bring about the necessary transformation to achieve the Vision.”

Certainly Rwanda has more justification to dream big than most:

  • Rwanda had little, and lost even more, in the terrible genocide of 1994
  • It is ‘unacceptable’ for a dignified people to maintain the status quo in such poor conditions
  • You cannot underestimate the impact of one good leader in office for many years (especially in Africa today)
  • When starting from such poverty, any improvement is striking
  • It is easy to impress when the world expects little, and similar countries in the region disappoint
  • In a small country, with a common local language and culture, collective progress is easier
  • If you could succeed in Rwanda, you may establish a model that could be translated to other countries needing rapid development
  • To try and fail is better than not to try at all (or to aim low and hit the target)

I happen to believe, on the whole, Rwanda’s leaders have good intentions: they genuinely want, first and foremost, what is best for Rwandan citizens.  As a result, I like the direction that the leaders of Rwanda dream.  Dreams pursued with the wrong motivations are certainly problematic, but I don’t believe that is the case here.

Unfortunately, I do believe there can be some “downsides” to dreaming big.  Chief among them comes with initial success.  In right measure it is called confidence, but it can easily slide down the slippery slope into “pride”.  Without discounting the successes Rwanda has achieved, I cannot help but be disappointed by some decisions taken in recent years.  Why do the main roads from the airport get paved and re-paved so often when many of the roads that non-visitors (i.e. residents) travel remain nearly impassable?  English has been made the official language for education in schools, but couldn’t the transition be handled in a smoother, more professional fashion? Does Kigali City really need the cost and size of the current Master Plan, one that might rival such prescriptions for a developed country?  Does RwandAir really need a large luxury “787 Dreamliner” super-jet (recently publicized to join the fleet in 2015)?

In our work, Karisimbi Partners has seen enough over-development of agri-processing plants (beyond realistic demand) and luxury hotels (room capacity under development far outstrips current occupancy levels) to suggest that more careful and measured spending, by public and private entities alike, would be a better way to achieve Rwanda’s grand dreams without the perception of vanity spending commonly attributed to the ruling elite in other African countries.

Big dreams can be realized, and can inspire amazing achievements, but if the dreams are associated with a moral failing (pride), they will quickly lose their inspirational characteristics.  It would be wonderful to see Rwanda claim its place as a world leader, but to do so at a pace that accommodates the current realities on the ground.  Even grand ambitions benefit from a reasonable action plan, especially if they hope to be sustained.

Onward and upward,

– Carter

A big day for Karisimbi Partners in Nyagatare

Early July proved to contain a very big day for the Karisimbi Business Partners team in the Rwandan district of Nyagatare.

The President of Rwanda spent that day touring and inaugurating two new additions to Rwanda’s thriving business environment. One was a four-star hotel; the other, a brand new granite factory. But these two very dissimilar companies had one very interesting thing in common: the business plans and marketing strategies for both companies were developed by Karisimbi Partners.

The 61-room, four-star “Epic Hotel” brings a quality standard to a region of the country that was void of it until its development. East African Granite Industries is the newest, and largest, entrant to the growing domestic and regional market for granite products.


Malawi – The Next Rwanda?

Karisimbi Partners was fortunate to recently be engaged by an advisor to the new president of Malawi to join a team evaluating the economic state of the nation by engaging in early dialog with key private sector players, development partners and policy influencers.  Our primary purpose was to learn from those on the ground, to listen well and begin to help outline the priority issues and challenges to be addressed by the new administration.

It is a great honor to meet and work with any head of state; particularly one as passionate and inspirational as Joyce Banda.  This recent article in The Guardian provides a good portrait of the new president, her country, and how she endeavors to use her experience thus far to lead Malawi further and higher than has seemed possible in recent years.

Why is it that resource rich countries across the continent often continue to languish in poverty and remain far behind development goals and promised milestones?  This is a question often asked and highly debated over the past 50 + years.  I would posit that stories like Rwanda, and potentially this early chapter in Malawi’s new start hold the answer. Leadership makes the difference.

People want justice.  They long for fair play and predictable, logical decision-making from leaders.  They want to rally behind someone who puts the interest of others ahead of their own.  They want a merit-based society and the opportunity to show the world that they are capable of defying the odds and developing a country rich in industry and services, displaying dynamic growth and worthy of investment in key sectors like financial services, agri-business, and tourism.

In speaking with many CEOs and other executives less than two weeks after her Excellency was sworn in, the pride and hope of the Malawian business community shined through.  Emerging from an increasingly unjust political environment which saw the exit of critical development partners, punitive business regulations and a crippled economy, they know the challenge is great and that tough decisions must be taken by new leadership to address the errors of the past. In the short term things may get worse before they get better.  Without a doubt, this is a defining time for the country, its people and in particular the new president who must put aside past wrongs to embrace the future and all its potential.  The leaders we met with had many thoughts, opinions and perspectives on what was needed to ensure success moving forward.

Despite being intended for the new president at this specific time in the country’s history, the recurring themes of their counsel represent simple truths for us all:

  • Surround yourself with the right advisors
  • Rebuild and maintain key relationships
  • Take the hard decisions to correct mistakes of the past
  • Always tell the truth

We are excited to see this story unfold and look forward to supporting Malawi’s growth short and long-term.

–          Greg

HOPE: Rwanda’s Greatest (un)Natural Resource

Rwanda is a small, land-locked country in the middle of what some have called the “hopeless continent”. Rwanda cannot claim diamonds, gold or oil among its natural resources, as some African neighbors can. Worse, eighteen years ago this month, something akin to hell on earth devastated this impoverished country and decimated what infrastructure and social systems it had. While I am presently located near the center of the terrible atrocities of 1994, there seems no doubt that more has been accomplished to-date than anyone thought possible. With little in the way of land, few natural resources and no port, nobody would have bet on Rwanda recovering after the genocide the way it has. What is the source of the magic? After three years living here in Rwanda, I’ve discovered that the missing ingredient is easier to identify when I visit a country where it is in short supply (like my own United States); I think the best word for this ingredient is “hope”.

An insightful newspaper editorial recently pondered why the rest of the world is perplexed by Rwanda “as a little country with such big ambitions.” The author helps us understand why Rwanda has a self-determinism that outstrips what can rationally be achieved from its current resources. Grand vision inspires grand accomplishments; good leaders develop consensual policies for collective well-being; international best practices illuminate a path to progress locally; traditional values blend with (even guide) modern development theory. Hope fuels this cycle to reach seemingly impossible destinations, and as participants surprise themselves with what they have accomplished, hope is fueled to do more of the same. Without this key ingredient, there is insufficient vision, leadership, progress and development for such a cycle to gain momentum. With sufficient quantities of hope, however, the virtuous cycle races faster and faster. Rwanda has momentum. Rwanda is on a roll unlike any other country I know.

John Rwangombwa, Rwanda’s Minister of Finance & Economic Planning, recently published an article in the Wall Street Journal. In it, Mr. Rwangombwa states, “As Rwandans, we know a thing or two about the resiliency of hope. We have learned it can endure and thrive in the most difficult conditions imaginable.” In the article, he describes some of the impossible accomplishments Rwanda has achieved against the odds: Since 2006, the poverty rate has been reduced from 57% to 45%, child mortality rates have been reduced by 41%, mothers now give birth to an average of 4.5 children instead of 6.1 (particularly important in Africa’s most densely populated country), and the number of children attending secondary school has doubled. Such progress could make even a small country believe anything is possible.

Rwandans and foreigners are drawn to this amazing case study, not because of what the country has, but because of what the country hopes. Today’s resources need not get in the way of implementing tomorrow’s dreams. Every country would do well to do exploration for hope. I can honestly say I’d rather live and work in a place that has hope than in a country with any amount of oil or other resources.

Onward and upward,

– Carter

Karisimbi Partners Supports Team Karisimbi Cyclist

Karisimbi Partners believes in helping businesses and individuals reach the summit of their potential.  Over the past few years as we have had the opportunity to work across various parts of the country and among a wide variety of business sectors, we have come in contact with some remarkable people and organizations doing amazing things.  In line with our social motivation, we have sought to support  inspiring organizations and individuals here in Rwanda.

One such organization is Team Rwanda, a non-profit focused on building and developing the Rwandan cycling team. Their Mission: “Team Rwanda Cycling searches for talent to empower, enable and to inspire not just individuals but families, communities and a nation through cycling.” These young men are taken from extreme poverty and given an opportunity to develop their skill and talent for the good of their families, their country, and in pursuit of personal dreams.

Janvier Hadi of Team Rwanda competing in the 2011 Tour of Rwanda
Janvier Hadi of Team Rwanda competing in the 2011 Tour of Rwanda

Janvier Hadi is a promising nineteen year old rider that Karisimbi Partners is pleased to support in the development of his racing career.  Far from a hobby, cycling can allow this young man (with only a primary school education) to provide for his family and serve as an inspiration for the youth of his country. In April of 2011, he won the Kigali to Butare Single Speed Race and earned the right to be evaluated in Musanze (Team Rwanda training headquarters).  He tested quite well, had an excellent pedal stroke and fit the bill for an up-and-coming cyclist: tall, thin and young.  He was mentored by one of Team Rwanda’s veteran riders, Gasore Hategeka, who was featured in an article in this summer’s New Yorker by Philip Gourevitch, Climbers.

Janvier has shown incredible promise.  As a rookie, he made the top team, Team Karisimbi, for Team Rwanda for the 2011 Tour of Rwanda, and had a very strong showing.  Based on Janvier’s performance, he was selected as the third rider to attend the UCI training camp in South Africa in February and March along with Gasore and another veteran rider, Nicodem.  Sending Janvier to training camp in South Africa is essential to his growth as a rider.  Karisimbi Partners is honored to provide the required support to cover Janvier’s camp fees and travel costs to attend this critical component in his development. This will be Janvier’s first time on a plane and first time outside Rwanda.  He will come back in April transformed.

The week before training camp, Team Rwanda coach Jonathan Boyer was invited to Janvier’s home village to see the new house he bought with the winnings from the Tour of Rwanda.  He bought the house for his family of seven!   Janvier is another young rider giving hope to all the young boys…and girls…in Rwanda, hope that they too can make a difference to their family and even their country through cycling.

Janvier stands proudly in front of the house he bought for his family
Janvier stands proudly in front of the house he bought for his family

Onward & upward,

Milk for Health and Wealth

A recent news article highlighted the forthcoming Rwanda National Milk Campaign to be launched in January 2012 and continuing throughout the year, with a primary goal of fighting chronic malnutrition among the young.  Read article here

Karisimbi Partners has worked closely with a number of key industry processors in the milk value chain and welcomes this move by the Ministry of Agriculture to emphasize the importance of milk consumption for health and well-being of the population. Of critical importance to the success of this goal is the strength of the overall dairy sector and the value chain that supports it.

While milk is a desired commodity within the country and the region, the financial viability of players within the sector has been tenuous given the competition between raw (unprocessed) milk and pasteurized (processed) milk.  Karisimbi Partners has been a strong proponent of government support to sensitize the public to the benefits and importance of processed milk consumption vs. the milk traditionally available in the informal channel.  Given the low per capita income of the vast majority of the population, processed milk represents a price premium over that of its informal competitor, consequently limiting the market size for processors and the incomes of dairy farmers and other suppliers.

Karisimbi Partners has worked closely with key industry and government players to evaluate options for reducing processing costs and increasing efficiencies to bring pasteurized milk products to the general public at prices as close as possible to those found in the informal market.  The National Milk Campaign should provide critical visibility and support to drive consumers to the formal dairy market. This can drastically change the market dynamics within the country, providing health, wealth and employment benefits to many families and dairy providers in this sector.