In 2004, Paul BARERA a 26 years graduate in Management from Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management (KIST) decided to establish a telecentre in Nyamata. Paul’s ambitions were quite different from other graduates in terms of employment in Rwanda. While the majority of fresh graduates choose to search for jobs in the government or private sector, Paul decided to set up a telecentre in Nyamata, a small village located at 30 km from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.
As a young and fresh graduate, Paul lacked the required capital to start his project, but he received support from the Academy for Educational Development (AED) comprised of computers, chairs, desks, VSAT and a backup power system. The power back up system was very important at that time, because there was shortage of electricity in many parts of Rwanda. AED and Paul entered into a contract for managing the new business and the new equipment which were handed to Paul.
One of the major elements of the agreement was that the equipment would be transferred to Paul after a one year evaluation to assess his success, sustainability of the new telecentre and its impact at community level. As Nyamata telecentre was the only centre providing ICT training services in the whole district, Paul was able to raise enough revenues from ICT training in the first year to meet all contractual obligations, hence received the equipment from AED. The official transfer was done towards the end of 2005. Together with other entrepreneurs from different parts of the country who were supported under the AED initiative, Paul received one week of training provided by USAID aimed at managing a telecentre.
In the beginning Paul faced some critical challenges, such as unreliability and high cost of internet. The internet quality was not good and Paul had to pay 400 USD per month for the connection. Since there was no other option for internet connectivity in Nyamata at the time, there was no solution to the challenges. During the second year, Paul faced challenges of competitors in ICT training. This was the biggest challenge, since ICT training was the major source of income for Paul. He started mobile computer training; the process involved moving from village to village with computers and generators and train those who could not manage to come to the Nyamate Telecentre because of the distance.
A total of 500 villagers were trained through mobile classes and were happy to see such modern service coming to their villages. FROM BASIC COMPUTER SERVICE TO MORE DIVERSIFIED SERVICES In 2006, Paul started other services such as representing various companies in Nyamata. Companies represented included business communication solutions (BCS), Lotto Rwanda, courier companies and many more.
In addition to business representation, Paul concluded a contract with the National Electricity Company of Rwanda (ELECTROGAZ) to start selling electricity in Nyamata using mobile phone, because no such services existed before. These new services increased revenue and allowed Paul to extent the telecentre by building his own telecentre. In addition to existing and basic ICT services, Paul introduced non-ICT services such as cafetaria, meeting rooms, a big garden for social events, etc. MAJOR CHALLENGES As mentioned before, competition was one of the challenges at the beginning of operations, but later those who had set up similar centers closed down because of insufficient market viability.
Lack of ICT awareness within the community and lack of local content were other barriers that limited many to use telecentre services; the knowledge of how a telecentre or ICT could help was limited within local communities and the language was a problem. The telecentre operated without any government support, although it was high needed, especially in subsidizing internet connection or facilitating community trainings.
LESSON LEARNED FROM NYAMATA TELECENTRE EXPERIENCES
•A certain level of education is required to run an ICT based enterprise successfully. Even though it is not necessary to have a university degree in ICT in order to manage a telecentre, at least secondary level education is needed.
•Success comes from determination: failure is part of the entrepreneurs’ daily life, regardless of the type and the geographic location of the project. When an entrepreneur has a strong vision of where he or she wants to be, in principal a small failure should not prevent him or her to move forward. Sometimes they are part of motivational factors.
•ICT entrepreneurs are found in almost all villages in Rwanda. There are a number of similar entrepreneurs who are currently running their cybercafé or ICT related business, but it is unfortunate that nobody cares about them. If these young talents are assisted, government efforts can be leveraged in bridging the digital divide.
•Networking is critical in the success of any business. Giving a chance to entrepreneurs to meet each other not only allows them to know that they are other doing similar activities, but also gives them time to share challenges they are facing and find solutions in their own terms.