Local Social Enterprises Key to Bridge Gaps in Africa

Growing up in Burundi, Henri Nyakarundi had a dream… run as far as he could from what his young mind thought were dearth of opportunities. So, right after his high school he made way to the United States and pursued his higher education in Computer Science. He tried his hand at multiples work stints, including owning a trucking business and tasted some success too!  Yet living it up seemed a distant dream.  After spending 17 years abroad, he dreamt of a new dream… to come back home.

With all his savings, Henri founded ARED Group, a social entrepreneurship delivering “business in a box” in Kigali, Rwanda in 2009. He started operating a solar kiosk that provided application, and software platform that offered Internet WIFI; intranet solutions for offline users; and phone charging services. “I noticed that most Rwandan companies were focusing on providing digital services for urban areas, yet rural areas were neglected. There was a deficit in the efficient distribution of digital services and access to low-cost connectivity in low-income areas. Some people had to walk miles just to get basic services; we knew there was a need. I saw an opportunity to narrow the gap to access digital services including government services and connectivity in those areas”, says Henri. The social enterprise provides last mile digital connectivity through prepaid services. The solar kiosk uses 100% renewable energy  that also provides airtime, mobile money, prepaid electricity, and tax payment services through its application.

Thanks to Al Jazeera English for this wonderful documentation about ARED! For more information click following Link: www.bit.ly/shirikihub #shirikihub

Gepostet von ARED GROUP LTD am Dienstag, 7. Februar 2017

It was not easy moving back and adapting to the business environment in Africa. The lack of basic amenities and infrastructure threw opportunities for his enterprise. Yet setting up was riddled with unforeseen challenges. An unfavourable tax regime for start-ups popped its head as a daunting task. Though neighbouring east African countries are socially and economically akin, yet starting and even thinking about branching out came with unseen barriers. A fragmented African business ecosystem blocked these possibilities. Raising money also was not easy. Yet, it was his hardwork, dedication and the ability to keep pushing himself  that has kept his enterprise going.

“I thought about giving up every day, this thought comes to me even today but then I get over it and continued fighting. I am too stubborn to quit, plus I know that a quitter never wins! We only have one life to live, and I refuse to have any regret at the end,” says Henri with a touch of pride in his voice, attributing his success to his survival spirit.

As he hails from the community it was natural for him to find ways of overcoming the initial hiccups by scouting for solutions around him. A lot of it came through introspecting within. He realized that doing business in Africa is all about networking, he knoew he had to listen to the needs of the people and look for gaps to create demand for his services. Like a self-fulfilling prophesy as the solar-kiosks started rolling-out giving digital access within the neighbourhood the community lapped up the services helping Henri find his market niche.

A local community member using the Wi-fi connectivity at the solar kiosk.

ARED group has created employment for local youth particularly those with a  physical handicap.

“We are not your traditional renewable energy company; we are using renewable energy application to power our solutions in rural areas. Our focus is digital services and connectivity, but without energy, you cannot develop it, that is why renewable energy was perfect for ARED as a source of energy. We have developed a micro-franchise business model where we recruit, train the local community and employ them to operate the kiosk and generate revenue out of it. Our goal is to create income-generating solutions in the communities we serve,” adds Henri.

It is perhaps this deep-rooted understanding of the community that deepens the social impact of ARED Group. In their quest to create self-relient communities they employ mostly women and people with disabilities to run the solar kiosks.

The enterprise has helped create 48 micro franchisees in Rwanda and Uganda. Very recently, in Uganda, they achieved gender  balance along with providing ecological connectivity as their new solar kiosk boasts of employing 100% women agents. The long term vision is to expand in 10 more countries in the next 5 years and develop a strong partnership with NGO’s and telecom companies.

Henri strongly believes that social enterprises through partnerships have the prospect to become trailblazers with long term solutions to empower people in low-income areas. “I will go as far as saying local social enterprises is the key because no one knows the challenge of a community better than someone from that community or country. Without social entrepreneurs, the gap between the rich and the poor will keep growing. They need the right support, in terms of tax framework and proper funding.”

An ARED women agent helps powering a mobile phone at the Arua refugee camp in Uganda.

Having faced with similar issues Henri is cognizant of the ground realities that hold back enthusiastic youngsters from following their entrepreneurial dreams to tackle issues that plague their societies. Along with running his enterprise, he has also taken up the role of a mentor and motivational speaker. He feels a sense of responsibility to support promising African minds to looks at opportunities around them and not chase illusions as he did as a teenager.

Managing Director and Chairwoman of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde takes a look at the connectivity options offered by the Smart Solar Kiosk in Rwanda in 2015.

“When you look at the media or google Africa, the narrative is often negative, that has an impact on the youth. I mentor and speak to a lot of young entrepreneurs and students across Africa, and the perception for most of them is always the same. If they got a chance to live and go to the west, they would because they believe it is better out there. This is why I wrote the book and titled it “My African Dream” because I wanted to document my journey of moving out and coming back to highlight the unexplored horizons in our continent,” adds Henri. The subject of his book is a metaphor for the collective aspirations that Henri believes a vast number of young people nurture. He hopes to inspire those living in the developing world through his journey. Running his enterprise for the last five years have sure come with their share of challenges yet Henri feels he has found his nirvana, a quality of life along with discovering his true self and where he truly belongs!

Henri Nyakarundi is a native Rwandan who moved to the US in 1996 to study Computer Science. After graduation he soon realized that a 9-5 job was not his calling, and he was an entrepreneur at heart. The green sector is his true passion. He returned to Rwanda to startup this company ARED.

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