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A traveler’s take: Rwanda is ready for business

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Astounding, when you think about how our perceptions are colored. Most of us like to feel we are pretty well-informed, abreast of news and other developments unfolding beyond the sphere of our daily life and social circles. Worldly.
 
My passport contains dozens of country stamps, cherished reminders of great opportunities to visit far-flung destinations, to meet intriguing people with customs different than my own. The music and the food! To be fortunate to travel and sample cuisines from all over the world — that’s a gift. Now I’m hungry.
 
I’m hungry for more experiences like I just enjoyed in Rwanda, located in east-central Africa.
 
Though my visit to the capital city of Kigali was brief, the observations I collected — from the very moment I stepped off the plane — left me in awe. It was then that I realized my expectations did not match what I saw, heard, and felt. I’m still in the process of reconciling my initial perceptions with the reality I witnessed on the ground.
 
I said to myself, a lone traveler, “Wow. This place is organized, clean, welcoming, and prospering in ways I did not imagine.”
 

Patience? Didn’t need it

“Pack your patience” is time-honored advice for people traveling abroad because you really never know what you might encounter in a foreign land. I took that mantra to heart, fully expecting my phone might not work reliably, transportation to my hotel might be a little tricky, my tourist attire might make me a magnet for hucksters, and maybe I’d run out of hand sanitizer.
 
I thought I’d have to be hyper-vigilant to make sure I’m not run down by those buzzing motorbikes we’ve all seen on TV. Could I manage the local currency properly? Then there was the visa thing. I read that a visa was not required to enter the Republic of Rwanda, but what if my information was wrong? What would I do if a visa were demanded and I couldn’t produce one?
 
Every one of my concerns was unfounded — either grossly exaggerated, based on outdated information, or just flat out false. My biggest takeaway: infrastructure.
 

New construction, new perceptions

In downtown Kigali, it seemed like there were high-rise buildings going up all around me. Lots of office capacity for companies to settle in quickly. A new sports stadium (45,000 capacity), shopping mall, teaching hospital, and airport are among the big projects under way.
 
Rwanda is among the fastest-growing African economies, with 7.2% growth expected this year according to the World Bank.
 
Billboards promoted data centers, cloud-based companies, and the expansion of the country’s fiber optic network — the communications infrastructure that’s vital to any business. Skeptical, I thought: Let’s see how well my phone works throughout the trip. First myth debunked: Signal strength and audio fidelity were exceptional. No disruptions or dropped calls. The Zoom videoconference call I started in an office building, continued in a taxi, and wrapped up at my destination was never interrupted.

Lots of office space available. CREDIT: Michel Kabengera

This country is well-equipped to support our business, I thought to myself. Companies will thrive here and I am excited that TTEC’s newest contact center in Africa is located in Rwanda.
 

A sweet ride

Local transportation in Kigali surprised me, too. In Paris, where I’m based, you see few motorists wearing helmets but here, everybody was wearing them. Ride-hailing motorbike services (taxi bikes) provide helmets and other protective gear to passengers. Contactless payment is convenient for residents and visitors alike.
 
After day 1 of my visit, my views expanded to take in more of the terrain and that’s when I noticed many motorbikes were battery-powered. And at the end of a work shift, drivers return spent batteries at a public corral, where they collect a fresh battery for the next day’s work shift. I started to count yet more electric vehicles, vans, and small buses used for public transportation.
 
That’s when I realized: Electricity is more stable here than I thought. It had to be.
 
Riding on the back of a motorbike revealed surprising cleanliness of the roadways. No trash on the streets, much like my visits to Singapore. Properties were well-manicured and lovingly landscaped. I started to relax more with every passing hour.

Coffee and a good run

As a husband and marathon runner, there were two matters of paramount importance: 1. I must bring home Rwanda’s famous coffee for my java-My wife loved the java. CREDIT: Michel Kabengeraloving wife 2. I needed to keep up with my training.
 
I was directed to a coffee shop by a teacher from the Czech Republic who’d lived in Rwanda six months. I knew I couldn’t trek to the shop until evening. Would I be safe? I must admit, the atrocities that happened here 30 years ago weighed heavy on my heart. She said, “Sure, it’s safe. It’s open until 9 p.m. and I walk there alone all the time.”
                                                                                       
I procured wonderful coffee that evening but thought the training issue would prove more challenging because Kigali is a very hilly city, like San Francisco. Another resident pointed me to a public, closed-to-traffic, running track near a golf course. Four lanes of rubber-padded track got the endorphins pumping and eased the guilt of my indulgent dinner the night before.
 

A motivated, energized workforce

My visit to the offices of Harambee, a youth employment accelerator that TTEC partners with to foster work I got my training in. CREDIT: Michel Kabengerareadiness, left me humbled. My one-on-one interactions with students reminded me not everyone enjoys the same employment opportunities I have had. Young women and men told me how Harambee prepared them not only with technical skills to perform well in the contact center, but also the social and other “softer” skills needed to deliver a superior customer experience.
 
One young student named Juliette fluent in French and English, shared her Harambee training experience: “They reveal talents in us and are making them come to life. For me, personally, I knew how to type,” she said with a big grin, “but I did not know how to type watching the screen” instead of the keyboard. Now Juliette types with speed, accuracy, confidence, and her head held up high.
 
“They taught me to be humble,” she added, “to accept one another and never be judgmental about anyone. That’s cool. I love that. I am sure we are ready to shine out there.”
 
Rwanda may be only a little larger than the size of New Hampshire but it packs a big punch of potential with a large talent pool of eager, young workers, political stability, and a robust infrastructure. I’m looking forward to my next visit to see how progress plays out in the months and years ahead.