Emerging Europe countries are well positioned to understand that a country such as Rwanda can emerge from difficult circumstances and can become a credible business destination.
Kigali is not the first destination that springs to mind for somebody focused on the emerging Europe region.
But, as I also discuss the region’s experiences in social and economic transformation — like in South Korea in 2020, when we tried to hypothetically predict what the process would look like in North Korea after a potential fall of the regime — or the development of the global businesses sector, I did last year go to Rwanda.
I had been invited by the country’s government, alongside a dozen location promotion and global business services experts, to help the country develop its value proposition and potential incentives for international investors in the IT and outsourcing industries.
I’ll be honest‚ my awareness about Rwanda wasn’t exemplary. I did remember the genocide of the mid-1990s and I had heard that Rwanda had since become the safest country in Africa, but that was about it. As always, however, when travelling to a new destination, I had an open and curious mind.
I won’t dwell on how developed the city of Kigali is and how it is working to transform itself into a model green city by investing in e-mobility. I instead want to concentrate on the great talent that I met. Of course, one could say that when you take part in a study tour you are bound to meet the crème de la crème. My answer to that is that if only a few per cent of the entire labour force is that committed and ambitious, flexible and eager to learn, highly driven and passionate, I can only imagine what they are capable of if given a chance.
I was really impressed by the half a dozen of female IT engineers working at Tek Experts that we were delighted to meet. But others shared my perception.
During a discussion set up by one of the experts, Steve Weston, managing partner at SKWeston & Company, emphasises that the talent is “full of energy, a can-do attitude, well educated, well spoken, really understood the industry that they were working in and had a lot of great ideas for how to move it forward and to better the overall BPO marketplace there.”
“They have the determination to succeed,” Simon Danczuk, a strategist, author and former British MP, adds.
“What really struck me was the readiness and willingness to learn, to grow, to relearn and continue to grow and continue to scale. You almost got the sense of oneness and unity as a nation and they’re moving in a certain direction,” says Mark Angus, CEO at Genesis Global Business Services.
“We are a driven people,” Pacific Tuyishime, chief investment officer at the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), tells me in conversation. “When people have given up on us, when they assumed that a country that had gone through something that difficult it is destined to remain there, but we have the leadership and the vision to say ‘no, it doesn’t have to be that way’ and collectively as a country we worked day in day out to build the country we wanted to see.”
And that effort has paid off.
“The most important thing for me was their investment readiness, transparency in government, all of the stuff that they’ve done in enabling government to operate digitally and reach out, internationally to look for best practice in terms of an investment,” says David Rumble, co-founder and chair at the Knowledge Group.
“I came back with a very much higher degree of confidence in their ability to attract – and more importantly retain – investment from western businesses. I think it’s a much more investment-ready location to look at than I perhaps thought, but probably more in a low-volume, higher skill way. They’re clearly building a capability that is much more focused at the top end rather than the high-volume transactional end.”
A recent study, Rwandan Jobs in the Digital Era, released by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and led by Elvis Melia, analyses potential scenarios for global business services (GBS) development — a failed take-off, a full take-off and a part take-off. Time will tell which scenario will become reality. In the meantime, in some global rankings Rwanda is now highlighted as an ‘up-and-coming business process outsourcing (BPO) location’.
Some GBS companies seem intrigued by several advantages the country presents, beyond the talent — stable economic governance, high ease of doing business scores, low crime rates, strong governance scores, low corruption, strong public health and Covid-19 response measures as well as strong technical tertiary education facilities.
“Africa will have the largest workforce by 2030. Our youth are hardworking, talented, optimistic, and driven. On the continent, Rwanda is well positioned to be an accessible investment entry point for those keen to take advantage of this demographic dividend,” Sharmi Surianarain, chief impact officer at Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator, tells me.
Currently, Rwanda’s population is 13.7 million and is projected to increase to 25.3 million in 2065.
A recent conversation with the CEO of a medium-sized Poland-based company providing business services for international clients and looking to optimise their operations, reminded me of the conversations we’d had back in Kigali.
I believe that Rwanda could be a go-to destination for some emerging Europe companies that are trying to balance the increasing costs of operations in their domestic markets and aiming at sustaining the high quality of services delivered.
And David Rumble echoed my views during an online session: “There are some amazing multilingual operators in Eastern Europe that might need anglophone capability at an economic price point. That’s attractive given the anglophone nature of systems and infrastructure. So, I think the growth that we’ve seen in Eastern Europe and those providers that have done exceptionally well and do an amazing job might want some additional software or support for some of those services.”
And as far as emerging Europe’s experience related to international perception and awareness is concerned, its countries should understand Rwanda. It took the region decades to build its GBS sector and attract international buyers: it has plenty of lessons to share.
“The emerging Europe countries are well positioned to understand that a country can emerge from difficult circumstances and can become a credible business destination,” Pacific Tuyishime tells me.
Targeting and connecting with emerging Europe companies should perhaps be one of the goals the Rwandan government should set when defining their promotion and go-to-market activities.
There are countries that have started doing that. Rwanda could too.
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