The New Times (Kigali)

14 November 2012

Rwanda: Celebrating Global Entrepreneurship Week in Rwanda

opinion

DURING the week of November 12 to 18, millions of people in 125 countries are participating in over 37,000 events to encourage people worldwide to celebrate the power of individuals with ideas to drive sustainable economic growth.

Global Entrepreneurship Week will connect young people everywhere to help them explore their potential as self-starters and innovators.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said that "the Obama Administration is dedicated to boosting entrepreneurism both in the United States and in other countries where talent is widespread, but opportunity often is not.... Global Entrepreneurship Week reflects a sense of collective responsibility to encourage young minds to pursue fresh ideas and unleash the full range of human potential."

Innovative young people need to have the freedom to take risks. As business owners or as experimenters, they need the chance to learn from mistakes and start again.

Thomas Edison conducted more than 10,000 failed experiments before turning on the first incandescent light bulb. Milton Hershey faced three unsuccessful starts before satisfying the American sweet tooth with the product that bears his name. Even Steven Jobs confronted failure when Apple fired him from the company he created-only to welcome him back to transform the marketplace once again, this time with the iPod and iPhone.

Entrepreneurs here in Rwanda are following the trend. Women like Gloria Kamanzi Uwizera are taking their ideas and moving forward with business plans. Kamanzi, an alumna of a U.S. embassy exchange program to the United States, has taken her inspiration from batik art and is expanding her GLO Creations fashion business here in Kigali. Martine Umubyeyi, a macadamia grower and owner of Macadamia Hotels, is expanding the resources for entrepreneurs by working with others in the field to start the country's first African Women's Entrepreneurship Program Alumni Association.

Rwandans understand the importance of entrepreneurship for a strong country.

But it takes more than individual initiative for entrepreneurship to succeed. Wise political leaders and economic managers understand the value of supporting entrepreneurship. They know that even the most daring risk takers need confidence that the merit of their ideas and effort will affect the profitability of their products and services. They know that young entrepreneurs are often women and others traditionally outside the economic mainstream of their countries. They know that these entrepreneurs often have strong ties to their communities and make civic contributions such as promoting education, supporting charitable organizations, upgrading local infrastructure, advocating environmental protections or encouraging responsible stewardship of natural resources.

Local businesspeople can start gleaning new ideas this week: the U.S. Embassy in Kigali is sponsoring two entrepreneurship workshops in Kigali and Gisenyi for the next wave of Rwandan entrepreneurs.

Globally, as we apply the lessons learned from the economic downturn and restart the engines of growth, we will need to turn to the entrepreneurs in our societies and unleash the potential created by their own experiences with both success and failure. Global Entrepreneurship Week gives us the chance to assess where we are and to move ahead and make this potential into reality.

The author is the U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda

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