21 May 2019

Rwanda: How Student's Passion for Youth Empowerment Gave Rise to New Business Opportunity

opinion

Back in 2017, while a student at Akilah Institute, Ella Stella Ishimwe, along with her friend Phyllis Uwase Kabano, came up with a platform, known dubbed UniConnekt.

UniConnekt provides career guidance events for high school students and helps connect them to learning opportunities.

How the idea came up

The idea, she said, came up after seeing many of her friends and students studying things that they were not passionate about.

She sought to help the younger generations avoid making the same mistake, thus the birth of UniConnekt.

Phyllis presents the idea during Akilah Entrepreneurship Fund business plan competition, as Ishimwe looks on. Lydia Atieno

This was about the same time when doing her internship at kLab, a technology and innovation incubation hub in Kigali.

"During my time there, I could see children learning and doing amazing things by using technology. From that time, my interest in youth empowerment and technology went to another level," she said.

According to research by UniConnekt, more than 70 per cent of high school students do not know exactly what they want to pursue at the university level.

In fact, many are influenced by trends and their peers.

This, she said, leads to students majoring in fields they are not passionate about or completely dislike, which eventually result in a low productivity in the future.

As a twenty-five year old, who is also the managing director of the platform, she says they aim at helping students to choose the right programme according to their passion and strength.

"We normally do it through career guidance events and inform them about different learning opportunities available," she says.

Moving forward

After she was done with her studies, the duo came up with an online platform as well where students are able to find learning opportunities.

She said that they have so far managed to impact more than 100 high school students during their career guidance events, which they plan them with schools and normally take place on Saturdays.

Besides, they are also developing a soft skills program that aims to helping students.

Just like any other businesses, Ishimwe said they have not been immune to challenges that normally come along with this kind of business.

The main challenge, she said, they faced was gaining trust of schools, especially at the start.

She said most schools want to know what value the firm adds to their students. To address this, she said that they came up with a curriculum which has since helped them gain trust from schools.

She explained that when it comes to curriculum, they focus on self-awareness to help students gain an understanding of their skills, abilities, attitudes and interests among others.

In addition, she said that they have been refining their services to meet their customers need better.

In the near future, the duo is planning to add soft skills in their program.

"We have realised that students graduate with good technical skills but not enough soft skills. The soft skills that I am referring to, for example, include problem solving, critical thinking skills among others. We want to bridge that gap by equipping students with soft skills that will help them in their career," she said.

Her message to young people out there, is to never to get afraid of starting out a venture.

"Sometimes as youth, we have so many 'what if statements', what if it doesn't work, what if it fails and so on. But the problem with this is that they are assumptions. The best way to know is to test and do not be afraid to refine your idea/business," she says.

She added that young people should remember that when refining their business, they shouldn't focus on themselves or their passion instead, focus on the customers.

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