Sauder student shares skills with fellow entrepreneurs back home in Rwanda
Arielle Uwonkunda came to UBC’s Sauder School of Business last year to acquire business skills that she could take back to her home country of Rwanda.
Little did she realize that opportunity would surface so fast. During her first year at Sauder, the 18-year-old Uwonkunda led the expansion of the school’s Arc Initiative into Rwanda, a program that offers an exchange of business skills and knowledge to empower entrepreneurs in developing countries such as South Africa, Ethiopia and Colombia.
Uwonkunda’s project took shape after meeting Sauder accounting instructor and Arc co-creator Jeff Kroeker in his BComm 101 class. “I told him about non-profits that have donated money to Rwanda following the war but didn’t make a lasting impact,” she says. “He showed me how the Arc program creates ongoing relationships with entrepreneurs in participating countries. Arc facilitators share a toolkit of marketing, finance and strategy that the entrepreneurs use to build sustainable businesses.”
Investing in entrepreneurs
Kroeker encouraged Uwonkunda to make a reconnaissance trip to Rwanda this year in the hopes of launching Arc sometime in 2015. The concept of Arc was immediately embraced by Rwandan officials who encouraged Uwonkunda to move up the launch date to this year.
“I presented a portfolio and impact book on Arc to show its value and how it could benefit the Rwandan population,” says Uwonkunda. “It just so happened that this was exactly the solution the government was looking for. They want to invest in small-to-medium enterprises but so far have found that after being given money, these enterprises don’t have sufficient knowledge to utilize it efficiently.”
Uwonkunda’s first Arc Rwanda workshop was held in June, in the capital of Kigali, and was attended by 45 entrepreneurs from a range of professions, including web designers, brick makers, artists, food and beverage professionals and clothing designers.
Sauder faculty, students and alumni facilitated the workshop, introducing participants to the latest business skills, tools and leadership tactics and exploring how they can be applied to their ventures.
Jacques Habiyaremye, owner of construction company BEMS Duhange, said he appreciated how the Sauder Arc team communicated with him in a way that he could relate to. “In our crowded market, your workshop opened our minds about business promotion,” he said. “You will definitely see a change in this company when you come back next year.”
Government support leads to expansion
Rwanda’s finance minister Claver Gatete was a keynote speaker at the event and praised Arc for giving workshop attendees the keys to success.
“You need to know how to manage your money, manage your staff and manage your ideas,” said Gatete, himself a UBC graduate. “This is the starting point – tapping into the brain of the entrepreneur to tap into the market of East Africa.”
Uwonkunda plans to organize an expanded Arc Rwanda project next year, including a longer workshop and internships with local Kigali businesses.
As the Arc Initiative continues to flourish in participating countries, Kroeker continues to mentor Sauder students and alumni interested in contributing their business education to international development. In 2012 he encouraged UBC MBA alum Jordan Gildersleeve to deliver the first Arc Initiative program in South America.
“I strongly support the power of business education to meet human need and facilitate the creation of economic opportunities,” says Kroeker. “Arc provides a unique platform to fuse this education with entrepreneurs in developing countries with the goal of building capacity, building relationships and ultimately, building a better future.”