Read an Excerpt
In the River They Swim
Essays from Around the World on Enterprise Solutions to Poverty
By Michael Fairbanks, Marcela Escobari-Rose, Malik Fal, Elizabeth Hooper
Templeton Press Copyright © 2009 OTF Group and Michael Fairbanks
All rights reserved.
The Backbone of a New Rwanda
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H. E. President Paul Kagame, Republic of Rwanda Kigali, Rwanda
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RECENTLY, I spoke to a young person on the streets of Kigali. I asked him, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" He said he wanted to start his own business and move into the private sector. This is wonderful news. I felt as if I knew this young man by the height of his ambitions. It is very exciting and interesting that people are beginning to think like that young man; indeed, it shows the shifting in mindset away from when people thought the only jobs they could do were with the government.
In the old Rwanda, everyone looked for a job in government because of the benefits and the security. But nowadays they are thinking that the private sector holds the promise of a better life for their families and themselves. More meaningfully, I think that it is better if they join the private sector because there are more opportunities, opportunities that have a higher payback than simply working for the public sector. I believe that this is a huge step forward for Rwandans, given our history, given the whole history of Africa.
Rwanda is a nation with high goals and a sense of purpose. Our vision is to create prosperity for the average Rwandan citizen. We are attempting to increase our gross domestic product (GDP) by seven times over a generation, which increases per capita incomes by almost four times. This, in turn, will create the basis for further innovation, creative thinking, and a host of progressive human values: interpersonal trust, tolerance, and civicmindedness. All this together will strengthen our society.
We know that this is a tremendous challenge given our status as a land-locked nation, emerging from conflict, with few natural resources, little specialized infrastructure, and low historic investment in education. But, in fact, we have reasons to be optimistic: we have made a clear and explicit strategy to export based on sustainable competitive advantages. We sell coffee now to the most demanding purchasers in the world for very high price points; our tourism industry attracts the best customers in the world, and Dubai World invested $230 million to participate in our tourism vision; and market research reveals that perceptions of Rwanda tea are improving at a rapid rate. In all three cases, we have learned to integrate a complex customer experience with product development. This has resulted in wages in key sectors rising at more than 20 percent on a compounded annual basis. While these developments are encouraging, we believe the road to prosperity is a long one.
We understand that achieving prosperity requires a metamorphosis of our economy. We are fundamentally changing our economy to move away from a dependence on agriculture toward a knowledge economy. The Rwanda of tomorrow will be a regional hub for Eastern and Central Africa.
Rwanda must become a world-class competitor in information and communication technology (ICT), logistics, financial services, and education. This metamorphosis will significantly increase average wages and help us graduate into a middle-income nation.
How can Rwanda join the ranks of the more successful developing countries, those that have transformed themselves in a single generation?
It is increasingly clear to us that entrepreneurship is the surest way for a nation to meet those goals and to develop prosperity for the greatest number of people. In fact, government activities should focus on supporting entrepreneurship not just to meet these measurable targets, but to unlock people's minds, to allow innovation to take place, and to enable people to exercise their talents.
In all people, you find different kinds of talents, and entrepreneurship is about harnessing those talents and making sure that it takes people to another level in their personal development. So, for us in government, it is essential to develop the private sector and to create an environment that enables entrepreneurs to flourish. We have much more to do, and it will take time. We are focused on lowering the costs of electricity, providing access to finance, building roads, and training managers.
We decided after our liberation struggle that if we could develop economically, then there might not be the basis for conflict. To achieve this goal, we needed to create our own strategy. Many leaders are overly influenced by the multilateral institutions and by bilateral donors. We have had the strange benefit that, early on, not a lot of nations wanted to give us foreign aid, and we turned that into an advantage.
We insisted that Rwandans would create their own strategic vision. We began by seeking to change some of the thinking that is common with many of our people. And that is the belief that aid will come and solve everything or that people will come from somewhere else and do what we ought to be doing for ourselves.
It is very simple: nobody owes Rwandans anything. Why should anyone in Rwanda sit back and feel comfortable that taxpayers in other countries are contributing money for our own well-being or development? Why should we not be doing what we are able to do and raise ourselves up to higher standards and achieve more and better and get out of this poverty that we find ourselves in. Change has to start in the mind. And that is what we have been working on over time. Once the mind gets correct, the rest becomes simple.
This is the reason that we are focusing on creating an entrepreneurial mindset in every Rwandan. This mindset begins with a sense that one's life, choices, and actions matter to the whole country. It begins with a clear understanding that business as usual is not acceptable. Every day, every Rwandan from all walks of life has a unique opportunity to change our country for the better.
The Rwandese entrepreneurial mindset must be characterized by ambition, moral purpose, respect, openness to new ideas, and self-determination. This entrepreneurial mindset must inform our actions whether we are in the private sector, government, or civil society. This mindset must inspire our entrepreneurs to aim ever higher. It must compel our civil servants to reinvent government. It must encourage our civil society to work for the greater good.
Ultimately, this mindset holds the key to our prosperity, our development, and our future.
We do appreciate support from the outside, but it should be support for what we intend to achieve ourselves. And no one can assume that he or she knows better than we what is good for us. Our supporters should also start to value the fact that we really want to be the ones to decide where we go and what we do and that we are capable of defining what we want to achieve.
One thing we have decided is that competition in an economy is good for poor people. I think competition is good everywhere. Competition is compelling because it stimulates people and unleashes people's capacities and potential.
The most interesting part I see in competition is that it gives people a feeling that they are valued and have meaning, that they are as capable, as competent, as gifted, and as talented as anyone else. Asking our citizens to compete is the same as asking them to go out there into the world on behalf of Rwanda and play their part.
On the other hand, shielding them is something that travels deep in the mind. If you allow a process where some people are shielded from the forces of competition, then it is like saying they are disabled.
Our job in leadership is to provide opportunities. We must use all the means available institutionally to do the things that will help people develop their capacities, their potential, and their talents and then allow them to compete.
I consider entrepreneurship to be, simply, the backbone of a new Rwanda. It is, indeed, my hope that others will come to know Rwanda, as I came to know that young person on a Kigali street, by the height of our ambition for the private sector and our commitment to achieve it.CHAPTER 2
Flight VS 56: Riding the Cultural Divide
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Malik Fal Over the North Atlantic Ocean
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THE FIRST-CLASS CABIN on Virgin Atlantic's flight VS 56 was dark, quiet, and glossy. The bright red and purple upholstery, the Belgian chocolates, Scandinavian delicacies, and French pastries spread on an extravagant all-night buffet, the massage therapist on board, the reassuring humming of two 747 Rolls-Royce reactors were all clichés of Western comfort and sophistication.
A legion of overpaid, overcaffeinated New York executives and I were making our way to London. My duties as a young PepsiCo operations executive involved frequent trans-Atlantic travel, and I would sometimes be on flight VS 56 twice in as many months. This time I was with a team of managers who worked for a wealthy African franchise-bottler in the process of buying new production lines. Our consultation meetings at Pepsi Cola International's Somers, New York, headquarters had been intense. We were still above the Atlantic, a few hundred miles away from the British Isles, and my fellow travelers, as well as the rest of the people in the cabin, were now fast asleep. My watch indicated that the time for Fajr was at hand.
I was a yuppie caught in the lightheartedness of the boisterous 1990s. To some, kneeling and pressing one's forehead on the carpet of a first-class trans-Atlantic cabin did not exactly fit with that picture. For a Muslim, having the courage and detachment to pray on airplanes could, therefore, be a spiritual challenge. As I approached the only remaining stewardess "on watch" in the cabin, the words of our ulema, the morning Muslim ritual prayer, echoed in my mind: "Do not fear people, who are created beings, but fear your Lord who created you and created them."
My praying-in-airplanes routine had been tested and so far had never failed me. With an engaging grin on my face, slow and reassuring body gestures, and as friendly a tone of voice as I could muster, I made my move. "Excuse me, Miss. I am Muslim, and I need to pray the morning ritual prayer. The morning prayer is the only one of five daily prayers that cannot be postponed. Since people can become uneasy when they see a Muslim praying, especially on an airplane, is there a small place in the cabin where I could pray without causing a riot?" As expected, she responded without the slightest hesitation: "That's absolutely fine, sir. Why don't you set yourself up to pray in the galley over there, and I will make sure that you do not get disturbed."
I then proceeded to the small bathroom to make wudhu, the obligatory ablution. Having to do the three-times washing of head, hands, forearms, face, and, most importantly, feet in miniscule airplane bathroom spaces was always a challenge to my body's flexibility as well as my dexterity at keeping spurts of water within a microscopic sink. However, this meant that I would not miss a compulsory ritual prayer, and I was happy to comply. In a sense, I felt that I was defying the clash of civilizations, and I loved every minute of it. I was also conscious that such moments were more the exception than the norm. September 11 was going to make things more difficult.
Several years have passed since those flight VS 56 PepsiCo days. During that time, I went to graduate school and spent a few years working in America. I have returned to my continent of origin, Africa, and continue to ride the cultural divide. For me, this means being a Frenchman who does not drink wine, a Senegalese who speaks better English than Wolof, a Muslim in America, a busy consultant who prays five times a day, and a dad who wears business casual in the morning and jellabiyahs in the evening. In my new life as an economic development advisor to African leaders, I look at intercultural dynamics on a far larger scale than just through my own experience.
Two interesting observations are increasingly catching my attention. The first is that intercultural interaction issues are no longer a matter of geography. They are no longer an issue of North versus South, or West versus East. Waves of modern migrations in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s have transformed thousands of living and working communities around the world. Both developing and developed countries are experiencing such tensions and have to revise default understandings of their national identity. France has its North and West African communities. Senegal has its Lebanese, Beninese, and Guinean communities. England now has to deal with a freshly arrived wave of Polish immigration that is profoundly changing its labor landscape, as well as with a Muslim community whose allegiance is being increasingly questioned since the July 2005 London bombings. Countries like the United States, Australia, South Africa, or New Zealand have long been cultural melting pots and are still struggling with community integration issues.
From an economic development perspective, these demographic realities matter tremendously because they affect firms, and firms are the ultimate creators of wealth. In order to create wealth and lift millions of people out of poverty, firms in developing countries need to develop unbeatable competitive advantages. The ability of firms to develop competitive advantages depends on their ability to foster work environments where innovation and seamless communication occur. Creating work environments where people with different backgrounds, religions, and experiences interact well with each other, innovate, and communicate is hard. For leaders who are able to create such environments, the benefits can be outstanding because, when it works, employee diversity can be a very powerful problem-solving asset. Firms in developing countries face increasingly complex problems, and when the people tackling those problems bring a diversity of perspectives, solutions are easier to find than when everyone thinks from the same perspective. In fact, it is often the way that innovation and competitive advantage occur.
I saw this happen in Mauritius. The Pepsi franchise bottling operation was owned and run by an originally Indo-Pakistani Muslim family. It had a white Christian marketing director, a Hindu corporate affairs director, and a mixture of all of the above in the workforce. Our meetings were invariably held in English. My counterparts would all switch to French or Creole over lunch and switch back to English in the afternoon when returning to the meeting table. Planning marketing promotional campaigns with such a diverse but functioning group was always a pleasure.
Excerpted from In the River They Swim by Michael Fairbanks, Marcela Escobari-Rose, Malik Fal, Elizabeth Hooper. Copyright © 2009 OTF Group and Michael Fairbanks. Excerpted by permission of Templeton Press.
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