As part of the MBA Capstone Consulting Field Project, I travelled to Rwanda in July with two other Global MBA participants. The three of us reached Rwanda with lots of excitement, and we were looking forward to exploring the culture and the business environment in Rwanda. We discovered that we can get almost any cuisine in Kigali and were never short of options to eat. The ‘motos’ (two-wheelers) provide an easy and quick mode of transport in hilly Kigali and are very easy to get. Also known as the country of thousand hills, Rwanda is blessed with beautiful landscapes and has sweeping views of valleys and hills wherever one goes. There are some wonderful places around Kigali to visit on weekends such as Lake Kivu, Volcanoes National Park (where one can see Gorillas), and Akagera National Park.
While working with the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), we got the opportunity to work with many local entrepreneurs – the three of us worked with ten clients in total. We started our engagements with these entrepreneurs by researching on the company and the industry sector in Rwanda. We then spent time with our clients to understand their business, analyze their business models, and identify the challenges in different areas such as sales, finance, operations, and marketing. After completing the analysis, we presented our assessment (the good, the bad, the ugly) to our clients with some business recommendations. Then, we worked with those entrepreneurs to select the recommendations to be implemented as part of the consulting phase based on priority and the available time frame. We then implemented the recommendations for the client working with AEC Analysts so that the Analysts could continue providing support to clients after we had left.
The consulting work that we did varied from client to client – online marketing, sales/pricing strategy, developing online presence, streamlining operations, website development, etc. In the consulting phase, we worked with our clients to implement the selected recommendations. We were amazed by the can-do attitude of these entrepreneurs. When they started, most of them did not have detailed business plans and had to learn on the go. They started something that they were passionate about and dealt with the problems as they came, running their business in an extremely agile manner. Several of these businesses were not highly structured and had an ad-hoc approach to pricing, sales, discounts, and data. The agile nature of their businesses gave them an advantage in the initial phase and they could quickly enter in their desired markets.
However, as they grew, and as operations and revenue increased with customer growth, the lack of structure became a bottleneck to profitability. With a lack of systems to manage data, they faced problems in making sense of their costs, sales patterns or customer habits, and faced difficulties in interpreting the unit economics or contribution margins on their individual products. Our consulting efforts as part of the Capstone Consulting Field Project helped them with exactly this. Through carrying out analysis and assessments, we helped them develop insights about their own products, customers, and costs.
The learning, however, was not one-sided. We learnt many valuable lessons of entrepreneurship from our clients. Our business education and concepts were supplemented with real-life practical approaches to business. We learnt that even the best business plans and market research cannot prepare us for all the challenges and scenarios one faces in real-life. Tackling problems with an innovative mindset and being open to new ideas is a skill that is indispensable for anyone who is aspiring to be an entrepreneur. Many entrepreneurs we met started the business without a detailed business plan and had to pivot their business models and offerings with changing customer requirements and as they gained a deeper understanding of their markets. Their journey was inspiring for us and had many lessons.
We are happy to have chosen Rwanda for our Capstone Consulting Field Project. It gave us the opportunity to work in Rwanda and experience the culture and business challenges in the country, along with the opportunity to put into practical use everything we learned during our MBA year. Seeing the impact of the work reflect on the business in real/short-time was exciting and rewarding, and we left Rwanda with experiences and learnings that will stay with us for the rest of our lives.