This July I made my second trip to Africa as part of Project Umubano, set up by the Conservative Party five years ago to aid social and economic development in the continent. Over 100 Conservative MPs, MEPs, members and supporters took part in a range of projects spanning medicine, education, NGO development, sport and business development in Rwanda and Sierra Leone.
My week was spent in Rwanda, where I was as part of a team of around a dozen business people, including two MPs with business experience, working with SMEs. Many of these businesses were small co-operatives, mostly handicraft makers but also included bottling and shoe-making enterprises. A series of presentations sought to impart our experience covering preparing business plans and strategies, executing marketing campaigns, developing good external and internal communications and managing accounting and finance.
After the presentations we broke off into smaller workshop groups where we sought to relate the material to the participants’ business needs. Visits were made to some of the businesses and also to a local market where we gave our view of the presentation of goods.
The Rwandan business people I worked with were extremely well-motivated and it was uplifting to see their hunger for advice and eagerness to share business experiences. The irony was not lost on us that as we struggle to achieve a growth rate of barely above 1%, Rwanda is achieving 7% a year and changes were apparent just one year on from my visit with the Project last year.
As previously, despite the trauma of the genocide of 17 years ago and the lasting effects of this on families and communities, I was hugely impressed by the spirit of all those we were working with. No opportunity was missed to break into singing and dancing, including to mark the visit by International Development Secretary of State, Andrew Mitchell MP to our workshops (see photo with MPs, Jeremy Lefroy and Fiona Bruce in the background).
It was hugely fulfilling to take part in the Project and hopefully be of some assistance to the businesses who participated. To those who question the spending of money on international development at a time of austerity at home, go to Rwanda and see the potential that aid is helping to unlock with not just enormous benefits for Rwandans but also for the UK as well.
Geoff Lawler, Senior Adviser