By Gaspard Ukwizagira
I have some good news and bad news to share. First, the bad news. The unemployment in Rwanda is too high, reaching 1.04 percent last year. The good news is that there are many innovators in the country working to address this. One such individual is Jean Jacques Iradukunda, a successful young entrepreneur, the co-founder and CEO of Igire Rwanda Organization (IRO) and the president of the Kira Group.
Started in 2016, Igire Rwanda Organization has three programs: Academy for Women Entrepreneurship (AWE), the STEM outreach program and She Can Code, a 14-week intensive coding bootcamp that inspires and trains young women in Rwanda to start their new careers as software developers in just 14 weeks. Looking at the impact, She Can Code graduates find a full-time job in the tech industry or pursue advanced courses within three months of graduation. Roughly 80% of programmers in Rwanda are men; She Can Code is filling this void so that women can be much more involved in the software engineering field. The majority of AWE graduates own small businesses while the top six projects received a grant from the United States African Development Foundation (USADF).
Jean Jacques also runs Kira Group, a social enterprise that focuses on training and developing high school and university graduates to help them improve their competencies. Kira Group has a community empowerment program that teaches farmers to improve their practices and how they can use their resources to increase production. In partnership with the Rwanda Red Cross, Jean Jacques is currently working on a project that focuses on teaching women refugees how to create reusable sanitary parts. He hopes that it will help them in their menstrual hygiene while at the same time make money. The project is expected to provide employment to refugees in the camp and those around it.
I was very pleased and motivated to hear Jean Jacques’ story of social transformation. His career journey started back in 2014 when he finished high school with a diploma in Education. He then pursued a bachelor of arts degree in healthcare management at Southern New Hampshire University, Global Education Movement (SNHU GEM) under the Kepler Program. During his studies at Kepler, he became a teaching assistant and later, a course facilitator in a professional competencies course. He also became a reviewer at the Rwanda Assessment Center.
Despite the responsibilities he held at the time, Jean Jacques embarked on creating his organization in 2016 that was focused on empowering women and youth through education.
“I started an educational organization because I love teaching what people need to learn,” he said. “I cannot have a program that teaches information that people don’t need.”
As the organization demanded more effort from him, he decided to quit his job at the Rwanda Assessment Center to allocate more time and focus for his organization.
“I wasn’t being productive in my organization and I wasn’t meeting the employers’ requirements," he explained. "So, I decided to focus on my organization because I wanted to do my part to support the community.”
Tips on innovation
It was interesting to hear how Jean Jacques has been able to lead such initiatives at a young age. Here are some of his tips for the aspiring entrepreneurs.
Focus. “Know what you want and have a focus on that because there are plenty of distractions,” he said.
Continually seek knowledge. Jean Jacques shared that we can all acquire the skills that will help us pursue our goals. For instance, you can take online courses and connect with people who can help you in the specific field where you want to excel.
Invest. This can be time, money, commitment and patience, among other points.
Research. Understand the trends in the industry. Open your eyes to different opportunities available in your field.
Start small. Funds will come after you have already started.
As an aspiring entrepreneur, I have learned from Jean Jacques that money shouldn’t be the priority. Instead, the priority should be solving people’s problems and providing quality products and services. One has to make sure that they provide things that people need or that will impact their life. I learned from Jean Jacques that start-up capital shouldn’t be a barrier to start as long as one has a clear idea. Passion is important in everything that one does. I have also learned from him that I have to focus more on making my idea clearer and make sure that it will satisfy people’s needs.
All Jean Jacques' organizations and projects are focused on education which was his passion from an early age. Emerging entrepreneurs shouldn’t expect quick money because it takes time to be successful and patience is important as well. In this fast-changing world driven by technology, young innovators have to scan the environment and foresee what’s coming. It’s very crucial to have a clear understanding of online marketing, have social media presence, keep up with technology and provide a good product. Like Jean Jacques, commitment and passion are the things that will help me to pursue my career goals.
Jean Jacques Iradukunda is Co-founder and CEO of Igire Rwanda Organization, African leaders’ hub, and president of the Kira group. Connect with him on LinkedIn.
Gaspard Ukwizagira is a communications learning assistant at Kepler and a student at Southern New Hampshire University, Global Education Movement (SNHU GEM) Under Kepler program. He is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a concentration in Business. Connect with him on LinkedIn.