Entrepreneurship Through Apprenticeship

Musanze Opportunity Center

By Wesley Cate

“What the whole world wants is a good job,” Gallup announced only six years into a 100-year poll to discover what the world’s 7 billion people are thinking. The only way to get good jobs to the planet’s 7 billion people, Gallup continued, is through entrepreneurs. According to the Kauffman Foundation, entrepreneurs do three things: they birth innovation, they grow new net wealth, and they create jobs. U.S. census data affirms the role of entrepreneurs in job making: New firms were responsible for eight of the 12 million new jobs added in 2007. That is certainly important information for the developed world, which is facing about 8 percent unemployment.

But what about Rwanda, where 90 percent of the population is engaged in mostly subsistence farming and where roughly 40 percent of the population is living below the poverty line? In Rwanda, whose labor force amounts to about 4.4 million people, the government and NGOs have the jobs.  But these entities alone cannot absorb Rwanda’s growing need for jobs. To satisfy the labor force, Rwanda needs to build a strong private sector that can widen and deepen the tax base, create net wealth, disperse wealth more efficiently, and of course give people good jobs. Entrepreneurs are the fuel for making that happen.

Enter the Musanze Opportunity Center, aka Musanze Inc. Located in Rwanda’s Musanze district, Musanze Inc. is an incubator for entrepreneurs with one mission: to create jobs. “Let me tell you the tagline of Musanze Opportunity Center because it’s all that matters to me,” says Russell Rainey the founding director of Musanze Inc. “Our graduates create jobs.”

Rainey is a literal jack-of-all-trades and serial entrepreneur from Little Rock, Arkansas. In 2010, Rainey took a lifetime of experience as an entrepreneur and set up shop in Musanze to help develop—not only the labor force—but a force of entrepreneurs that could create jobs and world-class businesses in Rwanda. For its advent, Musanze Inc. is focusing on building a world-class construction industry, especially geared for home building. Rainey says, “We worked with the government at the highest levels and they told us that what they were most interested in seeing developed here was a modern construction industry.”

Most Rwandan homes are based on some variation of a mud structure that can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 and may only last up to 25 years with most lasting only 5 to 10 years. That means that a Rwandan will spend anywhere from $25,000-$50,000 in his lifetime on short-lived structures that will get washed out by the rain. That means one less source of capital and one less thing to pass on to the next generation. “One of the keys to sustaining a viable middle-class is the transference of wealth from one generation to the next,” says Rainey.

But the home building isn’t all about economics: “We really spent about six months just walking around asking everybody in Rwanda from top government leaders down to dirt farmers—what are the hopes and dream that you have for the future of Rwanda?” Rainey continues, “And it boiled down to the Rwandans’ dream of owning a quality home and giving their kids a quality education.”

Musanze Inc. was built to help fulfill that dream. The opportunity center is a vocational training school where students not only acquire the trade skills they need to be homebuilders, but they also learn to create viable businesses around their skill set. In other words, they learn to be entrepreneurs.

The model that Musanze uses is similar to the European apprenticeship model. Rainey says, “We start by bringing Rwandans into basically an on-the-job program that would be patterned along the seven-year European apprenticeship model.” In the European apprenticeship model, apprentices worked under a master tradesman—blacksmith, carpenter, etc—for seven years at which point they became journeymen. As journeymen they traveled out to the next town to set up shop. They would then run a profitable business and become a master tradesman. Next they would take on an apprentice of their own and start the whole process over again. All the while they are creating jobs, businesses, and markets. Implicit is the idea that apprenticeship is a tried and tested formula for social and economic progress. “It’s the model that built the Western world,” says Rainey.

The model is especially conducive for developing entrepreneurs. “Look at any entrepreneur and you’ll notice that at some point in their life they have sat at the feet of an entrepreneur,” says Rainey, himself the son of an entrepreneur.  The two elements that Rainey identifies as the “non-negotiables” for becoming an entrepreneur are vision and hard work. “If you don’t have a vision for a better tomorrow you’re never going to be an entrepreneur because an entrepreneur at his core is a change agent.” He continues, “You’ll never find an entrepreneur who didn’t out work every single person that could even remotely be considered competition.”

But its not vision or hard work that Rwandans lack. “They don’t have a vision gap here, in fact their vision will blow you away,” says Rainey. “What they really need is to know how to do what they set out to do.” Musanze Inc.’s real contribution is to hone the vision of ambitious Rwandans, channel their work ethic, and give them the ability to execute their vision.

The first class of students—six men and six women—are currently arriving on campus. And for the first couple of years, they will work alongside tradesmen including plumbers, carpenters, and electricians to build out the opportunity center campus and then move on to building windows, doors, and furniture. Eventually, they will work their way to building houses. The ultimate goal is to build a vertically integrated modern construction business staffed and run by Rwandans. “I’m preparing them to be leaders of the construction business, not lifelong workers,” says Rainey.

For now, Musanze Inc. has enough money to run for three years. “At that point we need to have built a modern construction company that can take on for profit jobs,” says Rainey. And while the center is geared for profit, the profits actually pay for student tuition. Borrowing a page from the College of the Ozarks, Musanze Opportunity Center will function as a “Hard Work University” where students pay no tuition but work their way through school.

Of course, Musanze Inc. is still in its advent and no one knows if the model works for another seven years, which Rainey acknowledges. “Everything I’m telling you is theory, it needs to be taken not only with a grain of salt, but with a whole shaker of salt because until it proves itself to be true it’s just words.”

If Musanze Inc. proves itself to be a developer of successful entrepreneurs, the model could be exported to other vocational training schools across Africa.