In the midst of some aid cuts to which Rwanda has been subjected, the country is looking for sustainable ways to achieve self-reliance. And it is the young generation, which comprises almost three quarters of the national population, that holds the key to reach this goal.
Through innovative ideas, youth can contribute significantly to national development and social welfare. A good example is Ange Imanishimwe, who is in his mid-twenties and lives in Nyamagabe district of Southern province, and was recently announced the winner of the young innovators award during the YouthConnekt convention.
His innovation is beekeeping, with Imanishimwe through his cooperative called 'Inshuti za Nyungwe' (Friends of Nyungwe), having built a cultural center in the middle of Nyungwe park and employing 650 people from communities within and around Nyamagabe.
To Imanishimwe, innovation means creating new ways of doing things, or even improving the ways through which ordinary things are done. "There were already beekeepers in my home village by the time I thought about it. I had observed and studied the way they went about their business, and I thought I could do it differently," he told The Rwanda Focus.
His cooperative deals with preparing natural honey, and the waste is transformed into candles.
Imanishimwe, who has not finished his secondary school because of the need to concentrate on his project, has so far saved about Frw 50 million. His plan, together with other members of Inshuti za Nyungwe, is to build an Frw 900 million factory, which will help add value to his natural honey which has a ready market in the UK and the US.
"What is impossible if even me, who hasn't gone through secondary school, can employ 650 Rwandans?"
"The problem that most of youth have, is that we like to copy 'the foreign brains.' We all believe that we can innovate things like Facebook, but why don't we start by what we have in our villages?" he asks, adding that thinking outside the box doesn't mean leaving out local ideas and only adopting foreign ones.
"Imagine if we were to compete on the international market, would we beat those people, who have since their childhood been busy with those things we like to adopt? I have chosen bees, because they are what I was used to and believe that I could do better. I was trained by an old man from my village, and started small, and step by step I got where I am today. I really feel happy to see 650 individuals earning a monthly salary and surviving due to my initiative," Imanishimwe explains.
Dream big, start small
Therefore, Imanishimwe advises other youth to be hard-working, disciplined, be confident and always innovative. "What is impossible if even me, who hasn't gone through secondary school, can employ 650 Rwandans? Some of us are victims of our own lack of confidence. Yes you can," he says.
He also urges youth to strive for self-reliance. "You might be from a rich family, but your father's wealth is his, he struggled for it without you knowing. You have to work for yours. For those from poor families like mine, I advise you to work hard and look for all the possible opportunities. You have no choice," remarks Imanishimwe, who believes that with such a mindset the youth will easily help the country develop.
He also calls on youth countrywide to come for free advice on how to start and keep a business.
At the YouthConnekt convention, the permanent secretary in the ministry of youth and ICT, Rose-Mary Mbabazi, advised youth to dream big but start small. "We sometimes see young innovators bringing big project proposals when they have not even managed small ones," she said. "They should think big but start small and get the basic experience in order to advance in the future, when they'll be able of handling huge innovations."