Made in Rwanda: Giving hope, how about the shadows

By Mutoni Queen
On 27 January 2020 at 03:29

“We have seen people’s lives changing tremendously. With our support, parents have been able to send their children to school, some moved to higher social statuses, mothers became entrepreneurs and many young entrepreneurs started their own businesses after completing our training.” This is how Kevine Kagirimpundu who co-owns UZURI K&Y explains her contribution to Rwanda’s development. The pious entrepreneur, speaking with an endearing business-like tone, explains how UZURI K&Y came in as the knight in shining armor for the youth and working-age adults.

UZURI K&Y is an eco-friendly shoe brand which goes by the mantra "Changing lives one shoe at a time". It was established in 2013 with the aim of “creating sustainable products and improve more people’s lives especially for women and youth.”

As a business which had modest beginnings, UZURI K&Y is nothing short of a success story. The business currently has two stores at Kigali International Airport and Kigali Heights complex.

Kagirimpundu says that UZURI K&Y currently employs at least 65 workers. The business not only helped curb unemployment but also inspires the youth to develop a self-reliant spirit.

“Our contribution is giving hope to young entrepreneurs that you can grow and that you can evolve along the people who share the same vision with you.”

She says that one of their objectives is reopening minds when it comes to working with small businesses. “Of course, the wage is not high but there is more to working with us than a monthly salary. Since 2014, we have been training people and arming them with the skills to create their own micro-businesses.”

UZURI K&Y partners with Workforce Development Authority (WDA) through their National Employment Program (NEP) and provides training or apprenticeship platform to youth aspiring for a career in the shoe-making industry.

Tackling the disruptive nature of technology

Long-term employment, however, remains a question given the fact that Rwanda is quickly transitioning into a technology-oriented economy. Many workers worry that in the next 5 to 10 years, their skills might be obsolete in the market.

Employers are opening up many new positions to compete for this economic growth but most of those are positions in software, service, sales, engineering, design, and other digitally-enabled roles. They demand more than just technical skills.

As a business that is evolving in a digital-oriented economy, Kagirimpundu says that they keep in mind to constantly train and improve skills of their human capital so that they remain flexible in the workplace and grow out of their comfort zone.

“We keep up with the digital realm and we have always been open-minded to flowing along with digital trends. We aim at developing a workforce which is familiar with the current technology tools.”

The ‘Made in Rwanda’ policy

The ’Made in Rwanda’ policy was introduced to address trade deficit and drive private sector development in Rwanda. However, as it took shape, it proved to be a multi-purpose policy and could help solve unemployment especially among the youth.

Since the introduction of Made in Rwanda, small scale businesses have evolved to control a fair share of the Rwandan market including brands such as Moshions, House of Tayo, Inzuki, Urwibutso Enterprise, Africa Lubricant Manufacturing, and UZURI K&Y to mention a few.

The Made in Rwanda Policy is aligned with Rwanda’s aspiration to become an upper middle-income country by 2035 and higher income by 2050.
“If unemployment is so low, why is my wallet still empty?”

Young people are ranting daily online saying "If unemployment is so low, why is my wallet still empty?" well, the answer is, wages are stagnant and don’t match the increasing cost of living.

Enabling the Made in Rwanda policy is a game changer though since most jobs which require using technical skills are paid by the hour and hence will give workers leverage when it comes to negotiating wages. Hopefully, in the near future, that will bridge the wage-cost of living gap.

Another portion of working-age adults are still not formally employed and have no apparent interest in sending out a resume because a university degree is to many a guarantee to land in a highly paying job.

They are simply not willing to stoop lower than their academic level or do menial jobs and that drowns the entire purpose of Made in Rwanda of creating jobs since most offers demand technical skills.

For another smaller portion, being stuck inside a loop of low-paying, low-prospect jobs can be as mentally and emotionally draining as being unemployed.

In August 2019, the working age population in Rwanda (16 years and above) was around 7.2 million. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) reported an increasing trend of unemployment rate from 14.5 percent in February 2019 to 15.5 and rose again to 16.0 percent in August 2019.

Over the years, the government of Rwanda strived to curb unemployment by investing in agriculture projects, hotels, and restaurants, construction, trade as well as wholesale and retail sale as sectors that provide the job opportunities. However, a few other national and state policy changes had to be made particularly to encourage self-employment or entrepreneurship.

The role of the Government of Rwanda

In August 2019, the working-age population in Rwanda (16 years and above) was around 7.2 million. The National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) reported an increasing trend of unemployment rate from 14.5 percent in February 2019 to 15.5 and rose again to 16.0 percent in August 2019.

Over the years, the government of Rwanda strived to curb unemployment by investing in agriculture projects, hotels, and restaurants, construction, trade as well as wholesale and retail sale as sectors that provide the job opportunities.

However, a few other national and state policy changes had to be made particularly to encourage self-employment or entrepreneurship.

The fight against unemployment remains a big challenge especially among the youth as Rwanda strives to create a socially and financially inclusive community.

Supporting the entrepreneurial development of young people is key to seeding a successful future.

To back the Made in Rwanda movement, the government of Rwanda invests in schools which inculcate technical and entrepreneurial skills among youth including TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training) centers, Integrated Polytechnic Regional College (IPRC) and created the Workforce Development Authority (WDA) to provide a strategic response to the skills development challenges facing the country across all sectors of the economy.

Through all those efforts, there is hope that in the future the Made in Rwanda policy might lower unemployment.

Kevine Kagirimpundu and Ysolde Ishimwe, founders of UZURI K&Y

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