Rwanda Building Success on Business from the Heart

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KIGALI, Rwanda -- Rwanda has become one of Africa's surprising success stories. Just 20 years ago, genocide left the country's economy in ruins. But today, the economy is growing, thanks in part to home-grown entrepreneurship.

Regent University is in the country helping hundreds of citizens to turn bright ideas into successful businesses.

Jean Bosco Iyacu is the chief executive officer of Regent University's Business Development Center in Rwanda. The former banking executive is also a graduate of the program and the creator of two successful businesses.

"When you look around in town you can see the country has a direction," Bosco told CBN News. "We know where we are coming from. We know where we are. And we know where we are going."

Growing a Country

Many credit President Paul Kagame for the giving the country that direction. It was Kagame and the Rwandan Patriotic Front that led its people out of genocide in 1994. The "Land of a Thousand Hills" saw nearly a million people killed in just 100 days of ethnic violence.

During those 100 days, Serge Kamari returned to Rwanda from Congo and joined the RPF Army in fighting.

"There were so many problems going on. At one time, you have one group of people who are killing the others and you also have another group of people who are working hard to stop the killing, and to also bring back so many Rwandans that were living outside the country," Kamari told CBN News.

"And it happened. That is one thing that I am proud of being Rwandan, that we solved our own problem," he added.

Kamari is now helping boost his country's growing economy. He owns J. Lynn's Bakery, a spot for tourists and Rwandan transplants to socialize, satisfy their "sweet tooth" and grab a freshly baked bagel.

"It's only two and a half months that we are here and it is a success," he said.

Business from the Heart

He began writing his business plan as a student at Rwanda's Business Development Center. It is a hand's on, 14-week school created by Regent University's Center for Entrepreneurship.

"It changed what I knew about business. And one particular thing I remember is they taught us not to do business from our head, but from our heart," Kamari said, recalling his time as a BDC student. "And that is who I am as a person."

Kamari is one of more than 200 entrepreneurs who learned to build his successful business through Regent's Development Center. That kind of success has allowed the school to expand its programs to Uganda and India.

"We exist to help transform people and nations, using business," Jason Benedict, who helped get the center running, said.

"The government here in Rwanda threw the door open for us and said 'we want to be the first'. And so they actually helped make that happen," he continued.

"We are among the top and fastest growing economies in Africa and a place where doing business is convenient," Bosco told CBN News.

"Our aim is to make sure the graduate has a viable and a profitable business," she continued. "When you reach that, you are friend to BDC and we are proud of you as a graduate."

A Gift to the Community

The BDC pairs graduates with mentors from around the world. But Bosco sees an even bigger lesson taught by the school. It forces students to ask, "How do you give back to the community? How do you support other individuals to reach their full potential?"

The lesson comes to life back at J. Lynn's Bakery. The shop is named after Kamari's wife, Jennifer Lynn, who moved to Rwanda from Canada as a missionary.

"I remember particularly they said it's good to find a business that you have the skill or you know people who will work with you who have the skill," he said. "And I remember that in my own family, I have a wife who is an excellent baker."

His wife described the baker to CBN News.

"It was just like here is a gift from God, so that is how we are treating this place. It's a gift," Jennifer Lynn said. "So, we are responsible for that. We are accountable for that."

Kamari and his wife employ 20 people, 17 of them struggling women.

"I know one of them for sure is HIV positive," Jennifer said. "They all come from situations where they would not be able to pay the rent, put food on the table, pay for school fees for their children and they earn a small salary here."

"So they are able to do some of that," she continued. "We help them out with their medical needs on top of that."

Getting Them to Dream

And as the women learn to make cupcakes, cakes, and cookies, Kamari and Jennifer work "to get them to dream."

"To even think that they were created with purpose, and that they have a role in the kingdom," they said. "And it's not about making money at all."

The bakery is a mini business development center. Jennifer Kamari described exactly how.

"In 18 months to two years they will have their little, feasible business plan. It is going to work," she said. "They can go and implement their business. We will help them do that. If they have saved some capital, we will add to it, whatever that looks like."

"And they can start their own entrepreneurial businesses," she continued. "It's great that they work here. I love each one of them. But I want them to move beyond me."

Beyond that, Kamari and his wife use profits from their bakery to fund International Teams Rwanda, his longtime ministry to Rwanda's most vulnerable people.

The organization works with former street children, men and women with HIV/AIDS, and young Congolese refugees.

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Efrem Graham

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Efrem Graham is an award-winning journalist, who comes to CBN News from the ABC owned and operated station in Toledo, Ohio.  He received his master's degree from the Columbia University Journalism School. He also holds a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey.  Follow Efrem on Twitter @EfremGraham and "like" him at Facebook.com/EfremGrahamCBN.