In 2014, a dozen youth from Gatsibo district in Eastern Rwanda gathered to share ideas on how they would find an end to unemployment. Many ideas were proposed but turning them into tangible projects was a big challenge.
A more striking idea was fronted – they proposed collecting punctured car tyres to make all-weather sandals commonly known as rugabire.
As they continued making sandals, they got more innovative and began crafting leather shoes similar to those imported from developed countries.
The 15 former school dropouts established Star Leather Products Company Ltd producing hundreds of pairs of leather products and selling on local market.
They are among thousands trained across the country to come up with economically viable projects to boost their livelihoods under the National Employment Program (NEP).
“We had the ideas but without skills training under NEP we wouldn’t be able to make this project a success,” said Bruno Bisangwa – a founder member.
They make affordable leather shoes, belts, handbags, wallets and sandals. The shoes are priced between Rwf5000 and Rwf20,000 compared to similar imported shoes priced between Rwf15,000 and Rwf30,000.
The Gatsibo shoe factory has the ability to make 15 pairs of shoes (for children, men and women) on a daily basis and employees 15 youths who get a salary ranging from Rwf80,000 to Rwf150,000.
“We started small but have big dreams to supply the whole country. So far we have three retail outlets in Kigali and planning on increasing more distribution points,” Bisangwa said.
The shoe factory project is one of the initiatives increasing the Made-In- Rwanda products line on both local and foreign markets. Government is promoting such initiatives through the NEP ‘Kora Wigire’ program.
Under NEP, big investors have been gaining quality labor that, on top of improving the wellbeing of their families, is declining trade imbalance.
C&H Garment, an apparel factory located at Kigali’s Special Economic Zone has provided jobs to 300 youth including candidates from NEP sponsored trainings. The factory will take up another batch of 600 trainees who will complete their six-month courses this year.
Diane Uwiduhaye, a worker from C&H Garment who was hired after NEP training told KT Press, “NEP has been a window of opportunity. I am currently a competent worker; I know tailoring and for sure, even if I leave this company now, another apparel factory will hire me.”
Uwiduhaye is even confident she can create her own tailoring company to generate good returns.
NEP is bringing not only local but also international partners on board, to support the employment drive in the country. After one month training in welding under this program at Tumba College of Technology in Rulindo district, 37 trainees were granted with modern equipment worth Rwf 3 million from the Japanese International Cooperation Agency (JICA).
“We have been doing this job traditionally, but this support means we will even recruit fellow welders to use this equipment optimally,” said Alfred Niyonsaba, one of the trainees.
Empowering Rwandan Youths with Skills
Skills development and capacity building have resulted in various made-in-Rwanda innovations including; cloth making, lemonade, and bakery products started by creative and formerly unemployed youths.
These have partly succeeded through government financial support program running under the Business Development Fund (BDF) program. Fund start-ups can solicit loans and government provides a guarantee of up to 75% on the loan, get equipment needed or get financial assistance for bankable projects.
In the past two years, 7438 start-ups have been funded by BDF, 22,000 received financial advice and bank loans, and 2, 210 technical skills graduates received loaned equipment to start their businesses.
While skills development and innovation in making local products has taken tremendous steps in this five-year program ending by 2018, the need for soliciting local buyers, lack of raw material has dogged some of these initiatives.
Some are worried about the market for their fabricated products, saying Rwandans have not picked interest in buying locally made products. They also cite a challenge of depending on imported raw materials from neighboring countries.
For example the Gatsibo shoe project imports all its leather from Kenya, which is a big challenge for their production alongside the slow local clientele.
“The products are good but the cost of production is high because of lack of raw materials, which is coupled with low sales locally” John Nsabimana, a Star Leather shareholder said.
Taking into account the current population growth, which constitutes 70% youth of working age; this means there is a high need for more sources of jobs locally.
Rwanda has set a target of creating 2.2 million jobs in the off-farm sector by 2020 and so far over 80,000 jobs have been created since the National Employment Program (NEP) unveiled two years ago.
At least 30,000 direct jobs were created in 2014 fiscal year, and another 50,000 jobs have been by June 2016 under NEP as part of the contribution to the national target- which is also so far above 230,000 jobs annually.
“These are direct jobs created through skills and capital startups. We are doing better than our initial target. We will do a midterm review of the program to get clear statistics of indirect jobs created by those we supported,” said Abdallah Nzabandora the NEP coordinator.
Creating more Jobs
Despite efforts of creating jobs, access to finance is still a hindrance. The country guarantor – Business Development Fund (BDF) supports entrepreneurial projects at a rate of 75%, but the youth lack capacity to raise the remaining 25%.
This leaves a number of projects dormant with youth lacking capacity to acquire a loan and start a business. Even when banks offer products targeting youth’s projects, some with bankable projects have remained stuck with profitable skills gained under the NEP program.
This is expected to impact on the country’s target of increasing jobs; and most probably leave some of the youths on the streets looking for employment instead of creating jobs.
Joe Uwihanganye, 23, is a passionate cinematographer who is among over 60 photographers trained for a full month under NEP photography program run in collaboration with Kigali Today Limited.
After training, Uwihanganye is always playing around with his phone camera to take good pictures while waiting to get a camera which is costly according to him.
Uwihanganye says the training was a good experience to improve his career spectrum, but he has not gone professional due to lack of a quality camera and has resorted to using his phone camera to keep his career interests alive.
“The most challenging part has been to own a camera. They (cameras) are very expensive and I have no job so far, no way of raising the bank guarantee” Uwihanganye said, “The next option now is to look for a company to hire me.”
For Xavier Hashakimana who manages another leather products group at Masaka in Gasabo district. With equipment and skills to produce a range of leather products the group is yet to register a company but members lack management skills.
“We have not made any significant sales locally but our biggest problem has been to come together and form a company. We are yet to do this” Hashakimana said during the first graduation of over 25,000 NEP students at Amahoro Indoor stadium – Kigali on November, 18.
For now, these youths may have to think out of the box to succeed as research shows that only 3% of the 5.5million persons in the working age group are employable today. The unemployment rate is steadily increasing at a rate of 9% in Kigali.
Some entrepreneurship experts at the recent Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) in Rwanda said the level of entrepreneurship doesn’t stop at the idea, but the steps you take to make it happen- which include creativity, persistence and leadership skills.