Letter from Kigali: Through the eyes of others | The new times

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Oh, would the gift give us the power to see ourselves as others see us. (Scottish poet, Robert Burns)

International MBA students sometimes have a reputation for being highly intelligent and insightful, but also somewhat authoritative and demanding. The co-hosting of a recent study trip here by mature, curious and flexible students from two Dutch universities has only reinforced these positive stereotypes, dispelled the negatives and provided valuable insight into how Rwanda is now seen from the outside as a growing business partner and global company. .

This trip out of our comfort zone has given us a lot, a lot,” said a student. (Direct quotes from this and other written reflections have been lightly edited for grammar, clarity, brevity, and anonymity).

From the first formal dinner at Frere Aristide’s Cellar restaurant in Remera, it was clear that this group of 28 Executive MBA students from TIAS School for Business and Society and Wageningen University & Research was going to be very different.

Instead of shrinking from the traditional Ubugali (maize porridge) and urwagwa (banana beer) which we tested them with to start with, they actually asked for more and then enjoyed the buffet, which included roast goat and other more recognizable delicacies.

Business was the main focus of the trip and after two cultural and business orientation sessions on the first morning, students began working with selected local organizations on “living business cases” – or real-life challenges they faced – both in Kigali and on the ground. Each team was assigned a young local entrepreneur to guide them and act as a ‘cultural link’.

You have to look at a lot more than actual business when doing business here. It is much more complex than doing business in a developed market or country,” said a student.

Specifically, another student wrote: I enjoyed gaining a better understanding of how to do business in Rwanda: the importance of networking and relationship building before doing business; more improvisation and last-minute changes; short-term focus; indirect communication; practical approach; emphasis on community.

One of the students said; “As Executive MBA students, we learn to apply all kinds of academic models and concepts to deal with risk and uncertainty in business and society. Rwanda and its people have shown me that it is much more a matter of confidence, courage, inner strength and conviction to take a path that no one has taken before. Leadership sets an example of how to handle uncertainty, which is primarily a state of the heart – not so much of the mind.

The mostly Dutch students were also able to challenge some of the stereotypes they had heard about Rwandan businessmen.

Even though Rwandans are sometimes seen from the outside as rather bureaucratic and risk averse, one student noted: I was incredibly surprised by the… entrepreneurial ideas of the people we met and worked with. The incredibly open and transparent ease of doing business. They were… very flexible, resembling more the “entrepreneurial cowboy style” than the “planned administrative style”. They take more risks in business.

Likewise with the hierarchy. I found it very surprising to find that despite the relatively high level of “power distance” in Rwandan business culture, Rwandans act with great respect towards their subordinates and young people. They have a stage to introduce themselves and express their ideas. It really confirmed the Rwandan belief that young people have the future,” said one student.

The younger generation is more optimistic about the future because they see the whole world through the Internet. With strong leadership in the right direction, growth in Rwanda should be sustainable for years to come,” added another.

As its full name suggests, TIAS School for Business and Society is about much more than business and during their time here – which included a group visit to the Genocide Memorial – the students also thoroughly enjoyed, “the inner strength and resilience of the Rwandan people with whom they rebuilt their country after the enormous trauma of the genocide. The power to come together and let their country develop economically and socially.

And that genuine appreciation for all that Rwanda has achieved so far and all it has to offer in the future was reflected in a heartbreaking short speech by one of the Dutch students – written and presented in kinyarwanda – the last morning:“You welcomed us with your beautiful hearts and touched our hearts. You have shown us your strength, your love and your pain. It was a miracle to be with you. We have learned a lot from you and will do the same in the future. May God bless the people of Rwanda.

It certainly reflects my own experience of working here for six years and living here for three years and now I will be turning the tide on cross-cultural exchange when I travel with my Rwandan wife Merveille to visit the United States for the first time in early June . We will share our impressions when the column returns on July 14.

This is the latest in a regular series of personal columns, entitled “Letter from Kigali”. Each month, local resident and writer, Jeremy Solomons – born and educated in England of Jewish, Lebanese and Persian descent and naturalized in the United States – shares a unique perspective on what is happening in Rwanda, Africa and beyond. of the world.

the the opinions expressed in this column are entirely those of the author.

jeremy@jeremysolomons.com

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