Entrepreneurship and employment clubs: needed here and abroad

I just spent the most remarkable and memorable ten days in Rwanda. I was there to visit a beautiful country that is still healing from a genocide 19 years ago that killed over one million Tutsis and left thousands of orphans. I was also there to witness the graduation of my foster daughter Berthe, who had survived the genocide with her younger brother but who lost her father, mother and elder sisters and brothers.

The link to our story is here I supported Berthe studies in Rwanda and she has graduated with a degree in International Development and wrote her thesis on recycling waste. I am extremely proud of her - and want her to build a life and a family for herself and help to continue to build her country.

Berthe is still looking for work though, as were most of the 22 students our charity Ibuka Education supported. They have overcome great personal and societal defeats to obtain degrees in Accounting and Sociology and International Development, but like more than 25% of young educated people in the Middle East North Africa and Africa they are jobless - and many are hopeless of ever finding work.

Some graduating students from Ibuka Education

As we drove around Kigali I would look at the names on buildings and the names on the "fancy" cars and I saw Government and NGOs - very few private companies in fact. I did see enterprising young people washing cars and delivering fruits and vegetables - and even running vegetable stands - but I saw very few thinking of starting their own company or working in a young company.

Most of the students wanted to work with government or NGOs (which are run like semi-government organisations) and of course that reminded me of my students here in Abu Dhabi. Then I remember myself when I graduated with a degree in history... and well, I guess I wanted to work for government too (and as a professor I guess I will always work for government in one way or another!).

I saw though that government jobs are saturated, NGOs hire the best and brightest, but many/most come from other countries and there is little "local capacity development" which could be possible with internships (again, this is only what I saw). What can these bright young students do - who fear failure not because life has been too easy, but perhaps because life has been too hard.

Speaking with them I felt hopeless - as a large collective we had supported them in their studies and now they graduate with few opportunities. So I thought, well, they could start a club - call it the Employment and Entrepreneurship Club. They could write up a simple charter, elect/select an executive and members at large and write up their goals.

Then, they will need to organize their first event - I told them I would sponsor it and I truly hope they take me up on it. They could invite someone they admire, a business woman or man, to talk about how they started. They could knock on some doors to find a venue (with a written proposal that many wonderful people in Kigali would help them with), perhaps contact a newspaper to cover the event and just do it.

Each month they could organize an event, and hold weekly meeting to talk about job opportunities and free networking events they could attend. They could have CV writing workshops and interview practices... but at the end of the day it has to be organised by them for them. Yes, these clubs and events are held everywhere in the West... but I think it is in the developing world we need them most.

NGOs serve a great purpose of course, but there needs to be more focus on local capacity development through sponsoring such grass roots clubs... through help with writing press releases, finding venues, looking for local sponsors...

I hope the fresh graduates take me up on the challenge and use the Canada notebooks I gave them - one to write dreams and the other to write actions. We never reach our dreams in one days and the path to achieve them is rarely (if ever) straight and narrow... but if we do something each day or each week eventually there is an accumulation of effort that actually amounts to something.

I wish them luck and I hope they know how proud I am, how proud the over 100 foster parents are of them from Canada, Europe, the US and Rwanda... Bravo!

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