Five young people participate in a TV program, become successful entrepreneurs, and end up creating jobs and improving living conditions in poor communities in Rwanda. If that sounds too good to be true, you’re in for a surprise.
In 2013, in partnership with Rwanda’s TV10 and with funding from the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we created ZAMUKA, a reality show that took young contestants on a journey to discover their potential as innovators and entrepreneurs. In each episode, the contestants received mentorship on how to better manage their own businesses. Three years later, we visited five of them to hear how the experience reshaped their lives.
They have taken various paths and invested in different fields. What they have in common is the ability to improve their own communities with creativity, enthusiasm, and an impressive business acumen.
Take Samuel Zizinga’s story as an example. He is the winner of the first edition of the show and a graduate in Graphic Design. Motivated by his passion for technology, and recognizing the need to expand educational opportunities for Rwanda’s youth, he started his own media company, Cartoon Hub Network. Samuel and his colleagues create animated films for students in primary and secondary schools, themed around what they study in class. Their aim is to help children learn, think critically, and express themselves freely. Samuel believes that ZAMUKA encouraged him to push himself beyond his limits and hesitations and create something truly innovative. Today, his shows reach hundreds of pupils in Rwanda.
While filming the show, Samuel became friends with fellow contestant Augustin Nsengiyumva. Augustin has been on his own since 1994, when, at age six, he lost his entire family during the genocide. Through his school years, he developed a passion for math and eventually graduated in Computer Science. His goal was to open a cyber café, and that’s precisely what ZAMUKA helped him do. Thanks to his participation in the show, he received the mentoring he needed, refined his business idea, obtained a loan, and opened the café at the Kibogora Polytechnic. Augustin’s business is going well and he is already planning to expand it, much to the delight of the Polytechnic’s students, his devoted customers.
Samuel and Augustin aren’t the only ones to have turned their interest in technology into a profitable business endeavor. Gilbert Masabo, an electrical engineering by profession, also used his technical expertise and what he learned through ZAMUKA to improve lives in Rwanda. Before the show, he was making electrical water heaters from low-power machines, with the aim of providing hot water to people who depend on an unreliable power grid. One day in 2014 he heard on the radio an ad for Season 2 of ZAMUKA and decided to give it a try. “I sent my business plan to the ZAMUKA panel, and after a series of interviews I was selected to be one of the three contestants,” he explains. The show’s experts gave him advice that helped his business thrive. “They helped me with the marketing side and I went with them to search for new customers,” Gilbert says. Even though he is now working for the government, his wish is to start producing water heaters again soon.
Just like Gilbert, Jean-Bosco is another young entrepreneur who is working on innovative solutions to energy and environmental problems in Rwanda. He is the creator and owner of Habona Ltd, a company producing briquettes and biogas from organic waste. He had just launched his business when he joined ZAMUKA, and the experience completely changed his approach. “The exposure I got from the show helped rekindle my thinking,” Jean-Bosco explains. “I realized it’s not about what you think is great as an entrepreneur, but what your society values. This [goal] is achieved when the solution you are proposing answers society’s most pressing problems. I believe that this is exactly what I am doing, as we are using waste […] to solve the energy crisis and at the same time improving the sanitation and wellbeing of our communities.” His incredible work earned him an invitation to a panel discussion in the United States with President Obama himself. Today, Jean-Bosco employs more than 25 people, but he plans to double that number and open new branches by mid-2017.
The last participant we visited is Jean de Dieu, the owner of a chicken farm. He too is creating job opportunities for people in his district. When he decided to participate in the second season of ZAMUKA, he had 30 animals. Now, he owns 400 and started raising other bird species. Jean de Dieu credits his success to what he learned about business management and farming through the show. “I became a celebrity, and in turn I was able to give people jobs,” he explained. “This certainly improved the wellbeing of my community.”
These five entrepreneurs demonstrate that business coaching, particularly in the form of innovative media, can unleash the talent of Rwanda’s youth. Most importantly, they prove that once youth are put in a position to contribute, they always become a force for progress and positive change.
Today, as it continues healing from the violence of the past and emerges as a united country, Rwanda is becoming one of the most thriving economies in Africa. With continued investments in youth by the government and the international community, Rwanda’s peace and development will be truly sustainable.
Martina Gastaldello is an International Intern at Search for Common Ground, based in Kigali.
Banner photo: Gilbert Masavo at the Kigali Institute of Education.