Though scarred and decimated by the horrific 1994 genocide, Rwanda today is all about hope, an example of how rapid post-war reconstruction focused on social inclusion and gender equality has created new economic opportunities.
But Rwanda’s main industry exporting commodities like coffee, tea, tin, and wolframite, cannot sustain the phenomenal surge in the country’s population — youth under 35 years old account for nearly 40% of the overall population.
A challenge? Yes. But for Cephas, a 29-year-old science teacher, this is also an opportunity to turn his passion for teaching into a business.
“I preferred to show my students that the science we were learning was important,” he explains. “That it could be transformed into a business or product.”
Today he is the proud owner of Uburanga, which makes soaps, lotions, and natural jellies that remove bacteria that cause skin infections — products he developed while teaching lessons to his classes.
But the transition from school teacher to entrepreneur wasn’t easy or encouraging.
“Starting my business was very difficult,” he admits. “My salary as a teacher was very low.”
Cephas produced each soap by hand, a long and painstaking process. After school, he walked to the local markets with his soaps in a backpack to sell.
We’re working with our partners in Rwanda to inspire, train, and provide young entrepreneurs like Cephas with the tools they need to succeed through YouthConnekt.
An annual boot camp that teaches and coaches Rwandan youths in business skills, YouthConnekt also runs a competition to reward the best business plans developed each year and help them scale-up. The monetary award provides a crucial stepping stone for nascent businesses, as bank loans can be hard to come by.
Cephas won the competition after attending the boot camp skills training in 2013. With his award money, he developed his capacity, purchased equipment, grew his market — and hired employees.
Today, Uburanga employs 15 staff. But Cephas isn’t done yet.
He continues his scientific research. His dream? For his industry “to be the solution for the people of Africa with skin disease,” he explains. “To use our plants in Rwanda, help our society, and employ more people.”
Cephas’ story is but one of many. Within only three years, more than 4 million youths participated in social media hangouts, TV shows, innovation boot camps and conventions organized to engage them to actively participate in the Rwanda’s development. The boot camps alone resulted in the creation of about 1000 permanent jobs and 2700 temporary jobs.
UNDP is a YouthConnekt partner in Rwanda since 2013, and is supporting the extension of the initiative to 14 countries throughout Africa.
Text: L. Krasnoff & L. Lessire/ UNDP. Photos and video: A. Cathro & A. Hein/UNDP