By Alexandra Gamboa Dwerryhouse
Walking up the hill on my first day of work with AEC, the warm sun melted away all memories of my corporate life in London, leaving behind a mild sense of nervous excitement. Having lived, worked, studied and travelled internationally I felt prepared for whatever may await me in my new life in Africa. However, I am very pleased to say that I was wrong. I was not prepared for the wealth of opportunity and experience that awaited me in Kigali.
On my first day in the office I was instantly welcomed by colleagues, quickly learning of their individual stories and the team’s collective mission. This unity and ambition was inspiring and made me increasingly eager to meet with my clients. Meeting with my first, second and third client it quickly became apparent that the passion I had seen in my colleagues was also shared by my clients.
Working as a mentor I partnered with entrepreneurs across several sectors. Noella – “The Fruit Lady” of Wawili – was the first entrepreneur I met. She had identified a clear need and was working hard to meet demand and bring her product to market but struggling to scale. Working together we were able to put an operational plan in place that in time allowed the business to turn its first profit. Alongside Noella I also worked with Alpha and his Discorvery pre-school, helping secure vital funding and growing student numbers to +40, and Pascal of Medicslist.com, launching the application pilot scheme for his hospital and health directory in November 2016.
I feel honored to have worked with such dedicated entrepreneurs and to have played a role in the next steps of their success stories.
Beyond the traditional mentoring role, AEC also offered me the opportunity to get involved with some of their latest initiatives including the GAIN International Business Plan Competition and the launch of its refugee investment and business development program. It was very rewarding to put my experience to use helping a local entrepreneur develop a robust business plan that could not only compete with but also beat several other international parties competing for significant start-up investment. However, it was the chance to help launch the development scheme, working directly with the refugee community, that was truly awe-inspiring. With the help of AEC, refugees can access guidance and investment to grow a business and change the lives of their family and community. The combination of skill development and investment is an essential tool and the first step on the road to recovering much of the life they were forced to leave behind. This was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life; a real chance to make a lasting difference in the lives of those in need and determined to action change.
Having spent months in Kigali, there was obviously much more to life than work, and my AEC family never let me forget this. Rwanda offers a wealth of nature and history that must be experienced to be believed. There is always something new to see or do, not to mention the fun times in the house or office. Trekking to national parks to find the gorillas and golden monkeys, exploring the Kigali food scene, attending live outdoor music festivals and my very first goat party are just a few of the wondrous things I have been lucky enough to experience so far during my time in Rwanda.
I have already recommended to any one that will listen that they must try to get involved in the exciting world of entrepreneurship and starts-up businesses. Specifically, I would recommend AEC and Kigali to anyone looking to experience entrepreneurship in a very pure and exciting form – not to mention the chance to immerse themselves in a beautiful and exiting culture and landscape that can be experienced nowhere else. Through this experience, I have witnessed the passion and curiosity that sits at the heart of life and entrepreneurship in Rwanda, developed new and unique skills and gained a new understanding of myself. I cannot wait to see what adventures and experiences await me in Tanzania when I continue my journey with the AEC family.