Sunday, July 31, 2016

Knowing God in Kigali

Last Sunday morning, Aidan, Coco and I decided to attend services at the Evangelical Restoration Church. Aidan had heard that church music in Rwanda is "not to be missed," so we decided to check it out.

Manuella, a young lady I met here, sings in the chorus. She loves it, and is at church every Sunday to sing from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30. That's a lot of standing and singing, and she loves it she says.

I wasn't sure what to wear. I went conservative with my dress - sleeves and below the knee. I already knew I would stick out among the crowd, and I certainly didn't want to make a spectacle of myself by wearing something eyebrow-raising by Rwandan standards. 
Waiting in line for church.

 I worried for nothing. I saw more high heels and skirts above the knee at one church service than I have seen in total since I've been in Rwanda.

We got there just as the 8-10 a.m. service was supposed to end. But there really isn't an "ending" per se. The chorus continues to sing right into the start time of the next service. Music dominates the two hours. It's uplifting and feels as central to the service as the sermon itself. And everyone sings along.

When it was time to go in, we passed through metal detectors. We have gotten used to metal detectors, x-ray machines and bag searches when entering office buildings and hotels in Kigali. But I wasn't expecting it at church. But at least this time, no armed soldiers or security guards, just church members getting it done, smiling and welcoming you as you passed through.

This is a big church. They do music right. There are acoustical tiles on walls and the high high ceilings. The lighting on the stage (not really an alter) is perfect for showing off the vibrant white shirts and brightly colored skirts the chorus wears. It's decorated with flowers and donation pots. Really pretty.

The choir sings through two services, a total of more than four hours each Sunday.
It was an inspiring service, even though we couldn't understand much of it. It was in Kinyarwanda and French. A few minutes after we got there, the pastor came to us and welcome us. Not sure how he knew we were from out of town. (smiley) But he offered to have us sit in the front and a translator would help us. 

The music was a modern folk, and a blend of Christian hymns, some pop influence here and there, drums and guitar. It was uplifting, you couldn't help but tap your foot, sway side to side, raise and sway your arms, and smile. Big screens on either side of the stage show the lyrics so you can sing along. 

At one point I excused myself for the restroom, and my timing was such that the littlest parishioners were headed to the basement for Sunday school. The young ones, maybe ages 4-6, couldn't stop looking at me. I honestly am not sure they'd seen a white person before. They didn't smile. But even so, they were adorable.


I didn't go for the religion, I went for the music. And I felt more inspired just from the music than I usually do at mass back home. You can see how central spirituality is to the people there, and for many Rwandans.

Even the teenage boys in the audience we attentive, if not singing. You just could tell that everyone wanted, almost needed, to be there. There is a connection to God that they cling to, and it seems to brings them peace.

Admittedly, in a way, I don't quite understand it. Churches, most notably the Catholic Church, was complicit in acts of genocide here to a very large degree. Many were chased from their homes and told to go to churches for safety, only to be massacred inside these places of worship while priests and other clergy stood by.

Later in the week, Manuela and I were talking about family and church, and being a young person in Rwanda. I asked her if her parents, who are devout Christians, had been affected by the 1994 genocide. Yes, they had.

Both came from families with 12 children. Of 12 children, Manuela's dad and one sibling survived. For her mother, she was the only one in her family of 12 to survive. Manuela's parents were already married at the time. A white priest helped them hide until the killing was over.  She was born two years later.

So while there is documented proof that churches were actively involved in the genocide, it seems there are small stories of compassion as well. 

Because of genocide, Manuela's mom says it is important to know God. It's part of the healing. I feel pretty sure most of the crowd at church here feels the same way.

So while in some ways it is hard for me to understand, in other ways, it is not hard at all. I am glad that families like hers have a place to go that gives them such joy. Where they can know God. I am glad I got the chance to see it.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Week 3 - Play Like Steph Curry

Teamwork with a view. Our regular morning meeting.
Wow, we are in our third week already. Only five working days left before we give our final presentations on the project! It's hard to believe. Like a colleague of mine says when he's off to play basketball with friends, it's time to "regulate" (i.e., kick some a#$).

Each day we spend completely focused and immersed in our projects. It's a luxury in some ways, as it is not often at my real job that I can focus on one strategy or project. Here, we focus on a single the goal---many deliverables, but all centered on that single goal.  We're working at a fast pace. Everyday we accomplish a little more. We're getting there.

I love the teamwork --- working side by side with Van and Richard, two techies and me, the marketing gal. We didn't know each other three weeks ago. Now we rely on each other for support. We respect each other. We joke and rib each other for comic relief. All in good fun.

We don't talk over each other or assume one of us knows more than the others. We listen with openness to ideas and consider them fully. Sure, we get frustrated and don't always agree. And I suppose if we were here more than a month things might be different. But here and now, there are no politics. No jockeying for position. I like it.

Being here in Kigali, discovering new information though meetings with Ministries, CEOs, the young talents at kLab, and our ICT Chamber staff has been the key to getting what we need. We are surrounded by sharp minds and a willingness to help.

Running a brainstorming session to find a name for our site.

On the other hand, we must deal with communication styles that are different from ours. Learn to "work on Rwanda time." Being patient with the slower pace here, while still trying to produce results quickly, aka US/UK/Germany speed---has also been an opportunity for, shall I say, "personal development." 

My favorite part of the day is returning to the hotel, sitting outside with our gang of twelve, recounting the day, bouncing off

ideas, having some laughs. Taking our group walks to the grocery store. Occasionally out for a nice dinner, or here at the hotel. We're in it together and we've made progress on all fronts.

So the pressure is on! We have made much progress, and as long as we stay focused and work hard, we will meet our requirements. My biggest personal goals:

    Van and Richard working with the kids at kLab on SQL database stuff.
  • Give ICT Chamber a plan that CAN and WILL be carried forward - our contribution to the country's economic goals
  • Leave young people at kLab and ICT Chamber with new skills and knowledge they didn't have before
My new friend Ruti at kLab stopped me at the coffee bar this morning to say hi and ask me how it's going. He is a Steph Curry/Golden State Warrior fan. Recently he bought a Curry jersey to wear when he plays basketball with friends. First time he wore it he was so excited, hoped maybe it would bring him good luck. But, he couldn't score a 3-pointer to save his life and his friends got a laugh. 

Anyway, I thanked him for taking part in our branding brainstorming session last week. He said it was ok, he and the others did it for themselves in a way. He said, "No, we thank you, for coming here and helping us."  It made me feel like what we are doing is worthwhile. I am terrible at hoops as they call it. But right then, I felt like I'd just scored my own 3-pointer.

That's is for now...I have a marketing plan, a business presentation and branding guidelines to complete. Gotta go regulate.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Rwanda Really - Interesting Facts

Every day I learn something fascinating about what it's like to live here. I thought I'd share a few:

  • Rwanda is the most densely populated country in Africa
  • Rwanda population: about 12 million people
  • English became the official language in 2011 (a shift from French)
  • The native language is Kinyarwanda
  • There is no word/phrase for "you are welcome" in Kinyarwanda - so in English, when you say "thank you" people often say "thank you" in response
  • Rwandans never really had telephones in their homes. They went straight to mobile phones, around 1998
  • 7.7 million people today have mobile phones; only about 50,000 households have fixed lines...and that number is shrinking
  • Most mobile phones in Rwanda are basic phones. Smart phones are still too costly.
  • The most popular way to pay for things among people ages 18-40 is to use "mobile money" - they pay with their phone  
  • Few Rwandans drink coffee, even though it is their number one export (and delicious, I might add)
  • Speaking of coffee, a new store, Bourbon Coffee, is all the rage. It's popping up everywhere in Kigali---a Rwandan Starbucks
  • There is only one cinema in the capital city Kigali, and it's not usually very crowded. Except when Star Wars came to town

Week 2 - Starting from Scratch

After a great team dinner Friday night and day of fun on Saturday (for me that meant going on Safari!) we started off fresh and ready to roll on Week 2. 

Sunday morning, we took part in an Africa Code Week event -- teaching Rwandan school teachers how to code with a program called Scratch - designed by MIT. If you are curious or have kids, check it out! It's a great way to make coding fun for them, and introduce them to a skill that can be very useful later on.

It was inspiring to see these women dress up and show up on a Sunday to learn something new that they could share with their students. The trainers were very good. They conducted the classes in Kinyarwanda and English, as not all the teachers are fluent in English.  The ladies were bright, and Scratch is simple. But if you've never used a laptop before, or have limited knowledge, it's not so easy. But they did it!

I enjoyed the class. I can now say I have learned to code! I have a walking kitty cat animation that says my name and meows as it walks back and forth on screen. And a stick figure that can jump rope. Thanks Scratch. 

After the training our team was invited to a special VIP lunch. We heard inspiring speeches from the Minister of Education about the need to increase digital literacy here in order to create a better future for all. We heard from a young woman from Intel who is working with the ministry to digitize classrooms across Rwanda. 

The head of SAP's Corporate Social Responsibility team in EMEA, and the MD of SAP Labs in Ireland both spoke about the promise of Africa in ICT, and why SAP is making such heavy investments in education and awareness, for example, sponsorship of Africa Code Week. 

Monday's Building Blocks
Monday was productive. Van, Richard and I were working on all cylinders, making great headway. We got to see our young Web developer's first try at a structure for the site we are building. We are now working on a wireframe and site map.

We had a very interesting discussion with a representative of the "National Capacity Building Secretariat."  This government entity is tasked with upskilling the Rwandan population in seven key sectors including agriculture---in which most of the population is engaged. 

Our contact there had some intelligent questions about the viability of our project. Alex, in turn, had extremely compelling arguments supporting the vision. It was a productive exchange that helped us validate both the challenges we see, and the great potential.

Tuesday - Adding On
Meetings continued, this day with the CEO of RwandaOnline. This private company has a 25- year contract with the Rwandan government to digitize services across all ministries. Things like paying fees, applying for a passport, etc. can be done electronically--online and on mobile phones. At the end of the 25 years,  the company will hand the platform over to the government. 

The meeting produced some very interesting information. In fact, we may have found a solution to one of our greatest challenges---establishing "channels" for getting our learning portal out to the masses in the key industries we are targeting. More to come.

Wednesday...Ah, we progressed with the wireframe, and the guys got some great advice from Mark from our Sabbatical team about designing databases---I stayed away from that conversation. All I know is that it is essential to developing the back-end of our site. I need not know another thing. Ha!

Tomorrow we are conducting market research at the big marketplace here in Kigali. Should be quite interesting and fun. It's been a great week. We have research, mockups, wireframe and more. We know a lot more now about our target audience. 

We no longer feel we are starting from scratch.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

See Saws on Sabbatical

Week 1 down!  What a whirlwind. Highs, lows, and in-betweens. Day 1, you are excited. Highly motivated. Day 2, reality sets in. You have some light anxiety. A lot of uncertainty. But you can't wait to get started.
Jurie told us during our group debrief on Tuesday evening, "That's about right. Feeling a little unsure, or overwhelmed, uncertain about your chances of success, is natural."
This is where he expected us to be at the end of two days.  

The way that SAP Social Sabbaticals are designed, the group of 12 is split up into groups of three to work with a specific local client organization.  Each team has highly diverse skills, and each teammate may have very different communication and work styles.

Richard, me, Alex and Van at our Monday kickoff meeting
Making it all come together, with a non-profit client organization---one with very different goals and resources from that of SAP, is part of the experience. 

 Let the Work Begin

It all started Monday morning. We got suited up to meet our clients for the first time. (Well most of us – a few of the guys “forgot” their suits.) We started by the pool with coffees and African tea (tea, milk and ginger - really nice!). 
My partners, Richard and Evangelos, and our client, Alex Ntare from the Rwanda ICT Chamber, hit it off right away. We were struck by how articulate he is, and how young he is. He looks like he's in his 20s but of course we did not ask.

Later, at the ICT offices, Richard, who is Scottish through and through, presented Alex with a good bottle of single malt Scotch, as a gift, but we quickly learned that Alex is Christian, born again quite a few years ago, and doesn't drink alcohol.

I therefore decided that the bottle of California wine I'd brought for him would stay in my suitcase.
ICT, by the way, is an acronym used in Africa and elsewhere to refer to the information technology/high tech industry. I was a bit disappointed when I first learned I would work with a technology-focused non-profit like ICT Chamber. I wanted to work with an organization in healthcare, or more directly involved with education and youth.

Alex gives us a brain dump on day 1, with Miriam an intern, looking on.
But the Sabbatical program director, Alexandra van der Ploeg, told me to keep an open mind. After meeting Alex from ITC Chamber, and listening to his presentation on the first day, I felt more optimistic that the project would be something meaningful for the people of Rwanda.
Alex wants to launch a digital business learning academy for Rwanda. To help educate tomorrow's talent; create demand among businesses for solutions; and therefore grow jobs, help the ICT sector grow, and bolster the Rwanda economy.

He personally is dedicated to the goal of 100 technology companies in Rwanda in 10 years. And to the SMART Rwanda goal to make Rwanda the technology hub of East Africa. He is super smart, very well educated, and you just know from talking to him, this guy is really good at what he does.

The first afternoon was spent in discovery with Alex. Learning everything we could about what he was trying to accomplish and why. "This sounds awesome!"
Our "office" is not yet set up, but we see the potential right away.

But my colleagues were not so sure. It became a running joke that Richard and I are a see-saw...I'm optimistic, he's cynical. Van helps to even us out. It works, us three.
Can we actually do this project and succeed? Is the client expectation realistic? What is it exactly that Alex wants? Does he know that none of us are programmers or website developers?

Fresh Ideas and Optimism

Across the hall, ICT Chamber has a workspace called kLab, where young people go to work on their own technology ideas. This seems to be where some of the best ideas for our project might come from.  

Young software developer gives a demo of her accounting
 application at kLab, a special workspace for young ICT talent
KLab is busy every day, filled with young people ages 18-24’ish. They spend time side-by-side on their laptops, creating new things, working solutions on whiteboards, and generally finding company and motivation to help them realize their dream solution or application.  
Coffee bar, fooze ball, balcony with a great view, lots of space to work and collaborate. It’s a great place for these young people. Especially because, in some cases, their living conditions at home are poor.
Our “office” on the other side of the building is a balcony, overlooking Kigali. It’s the only space they had for us. We are enjoying being outside. By end of Week 1, we had our “scope of work” document done.

We have a 180 view of the city from our "office." Here's a peek.
We continued all week to discuss, to try and figure out what Alex really wanted. We asked, who is the main target audience? He said in jest, "All of Rwanda." 
With Alex, we eventually reduced it down to students in high school, young entrepreneurs with big ideas they want to make real, and non-technology companies who don't yet realize what technology can do for them. 
But then, on Friday, the target had been narrowed down again, to non-tech companies only. At least in phase 1.

At end of week 1 we had a scope of work, a mission and vision for Alex's
online digital business academy, and a set of user requirements.
It was a challenging week, understanding the requirements, the immediate goals, and how to work best with Alex. There were bumps in the road that we are still trying to smooth out. But I remain optimistic.

We delivered our scope, drafted a presentation for stakeholders, and finished a set of baseline requirements for the side. Even though none of us has ever developed a website before.
Given everything, it was a productive week, and the hope is that a weekend of fun will help us reset and be ready for a great Week 2. I'll be ready!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sabbatical: Why Rwanda.

By Saturday evening, the 12 of us, minus one, had arrived. Jared, our US colleague in Philly, was supposed to be on my flight from Amsterdam to Kigali. Thanks to weather and incompetency at Delta Airlines, he arrived two days and eight flights later. Yikes.

Sunday we got right to it. We spent the morning getting to know each other. Jurie, our leader from Pyxera, a D.C-based company that helps organize our 10 yearly Sabbaticals, gave us an inspiring kickoff presentation about the mission of Pyxera and the impact that programs like ours are making worldwide. Check out the Pyxera Global site - it's very interesting and worthwhile work. 

Our Sabbatical alumni mentor Rainer Stern and others
on Team Kumwe at Pyxera kickoff presentation on Sunday.

We also heard our alumni mentor, Rainer Stern from SAP Germany, talk about the Sabbatical program as it relates to SAP's overarching business strategy and commitment to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around driving quality education, decent work and economic growth.  (That's a topic for another blog.) Rainer participated in a Sabbatical two years ago in Bogota, Colombia. He's here now giving us guidance and support. Having had this experience already, he knows like no one else how rewarding and challenging the Sabbatical experience can be.

A few hours in, we took a trip to the Genocide Memorial here in Kigali. A sobering experience. Not only was it educational, it gave us important context. The issues, challenges, and opportunities that we will address here stem in some way from the effects of that horrible period of time. As Alex Ntare, head of the ICT Chamber in Rwanda told us, "In Rwanda, everything starts after 1994."

Rwandans are such calm, soft spoken people. It is hard to believe what happened here; how government orchestrated such a horrific event; how they were able to manipulate neighbors to kill neighbors; family to kill family. It seems impossible. But it happened. We were told as part of our pre-work for the trip, to be careful not to ask Rwandans about family in casual conversation--almost everyone here lost someone in the genocide.

A few related facts:
  • About 1 million people died in the genocide
  • About 80 percent of children in 1994 lost a family member in the genocide
  • Of 3,000 children surveyed by UNICEF, about 70% witnessed a killing or injury
  • 90% believed they would die
Today, 61 percent of the population is under the age of 24. Unemployment is more than 20 percent. And 39 percent live below the poverty line. But, significant progress has been made. For example:

  • Life expectancy in Rwanda has doubled, to age 60+
  • 90% of Rwandans are enrolled in a national health plan and have access to care
  • Death from disease has declined, ex. malaria cases dropped 83% in 2011
  • Economic growth reaches 8% GDP annually (as of 2014)
  • Rwanda ranks as one of the easiest places to do business in Africa (World Bank)

Speech that creates ethnic divisions has been outlawed. Some see this as repression. Others see it as a necessary. Community work grounded in a Rwandan tradition called "umuganda" shows itself in the form of clean-up Saturdays once a month, where everyone stops what they are doing to participate in this community service. It is mandatory for all citizens and seems to foster community spirit, and the results include clean streets, new housing, freshly painted buildings and more. Kigali is so clean, it is impressive.
Excellent read on the new Rwanda.

What was once a nation shredded by misery and violence has become a model for economic recovery and for unity among its population. They've made an incredible turnaround both economically and socially. It is clear through our research and discussions here, Rwanda is on a mission to succeed. To be self-sufficient. To be an economic superstar in Africa. They aren't looking to foreign investments to come in and save the day.

With so much positive progress, potential, and drive, it is no wonder that Pyxera and SAP saw an opportunity to make a positive impact here. To help Rwanda run better. To improve people's lives. Let's see what we can do.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Smooth Landing in Kigali

The new Starbucks at AMS, near KLM gates
After 15 hours in the air, I made it! The trip was absolutely flawless. No delays, no turbulence. Smooth landings, good seats. At Amsterdam Schiphol airport I got my usual latte at the nicest Starbucks ever, with the best barista ever---due to the snazzy renovations the airport is undergoing. Everything including the internet lounge is pretty snazzy. 
Arriving in Kigali. Love walking the tarmac!
I arrived in Kigali on Saturday night around 7:15 p.m. local time. Talk about surreal. I was in Africa. In Rwanda. When I stepped off the plane, all anxiety was gone. I was serenely happy. I literally was smiling and talking out loud to myself, "Wow, I'm here, I can't believe it!" (Luckily no one noticed). Walking down the airplane stairs onto the tarmac; I was almost giddy.
The first thing I noticed was the beautiful warm breeze--it felt better than any other. A perfect night. Armed Rwanda National Police stood off to the side. I waved, and they waved back.

The airport is small and very clean. Not modern, but more modern than I'd anticipated. Easy going yet efficient.Visa and passport stamp took five minutes. Baggage claim, about the same. (Dorothy, we are not at Logan
Airport anymore.) 
Baggage claim at Kigali.

It was already dark in Kigali, but there was plenty to take in. (Unfortunately, no pictures. Stay tuned.) Lots of construction everywhere - commercial and residential. No freeways in Kigali. Lots of advertising for Tigo, the telecomm company. Lots of little cafes, bodegas, a few hotels, a mall. I had to laugh when I saw a sign advertising  "Pop Conn Internet."  Could someone in Rwanda have a New England/Massachussetts accent? A Boston sense of humor?

I don't know, but the thing I noticed immediately about the Rwandan people, starting at the airport, is that they are super chill. They have a peaceful easy way about them. They are pleasant. Helpful. They tend to speak softly. It's just their way. It's quite nice to be around.
After 12 months of waiting, I'm here in Rwanda, finally. Let the fun begin!

Outside of the Kigali International Airport

Saturday, July 9, 2016

What Brings You Here, Team Kumwe?

So the big question of course is, what will I do in Rwanda? Besides seeing Mountain Gorillas?

Here's the background.

SAP's mission is to make the world run better and improve people's lives. We do that every day in a variety of ways. Our software powers the World Food Programme, for instance. We provide NFL football fans with the ultimate fan experience.  Sitting here at Amsterdam airport, I met a woman whose company manufacturers cans for the vegetables and fruits you find in your grocery store. They are about to implement SAP to gain efficiencies and deliver safer, healthier cans to their customers. (She said, "we're scared, but it must be done!" My SAP colleagues will understand the signficance of that comment.)
But, in addition to putting our amazing business software into the hands of companies small and large, we also do a lot to help people in other ways.  Including SAP Social Sabbatical. 

Each year, the Sabbatical program sends teams of 12 SAP employees to ten countries all over the world, to work with non-profits and others who in some way are doing something to improve people's lives. We leave our regular SAP jobs behind and immerse ourselves in the project. It could healthcare related, educational, or entrepreneurial. 

The program runs all year, so depending on which country you are selected for, you may go in the summer, fall or winter. All assignments are four weeks long.

I applied for the program about 18 months ago. Only 120 people are accepted. It was a rigourous application process, and I was fortunate enough to be selected. The choices of assignment included Brazil, South Africa, Rwanda, China, and others. As you know, I was selected for Rwanda. 

I am joined by colleagues from all over the world. We don't know each other yet, but in the last 6 weeks we've gotten to know each other on the phone during our preparatory calls. Already we are starting to feel connected. 

Our team of 12 has a name. We call ourselves Team Kumwe. Meaning, "together, as one." The word comes from the native language of Rwanda, Kinyarwanda. The name is fitting since at SAP we speak a lot about being One Team. But also, in Rwanda, feeling unified, working together, is all important, and is very much a way of life. It is how they are building their future together. The book Rwanda Inc., says, "Rwandans are coming together, united by the country's ambitious goals: to rise from crushing post-genocide poverty levels to become a middle-income country."  

Team Kumwe will be working with the following Rwandan organizations:

  • HeHe Labs - a small mobile technology company started by graduate students. They look to digitize classrooms across Rwanda.
  • Partners in Health (PIH) - Bringing medical facilties and healthcare to some of the world's poorest countries. 
  • ICT Chamber - an umbrella organziation for tech companies in Rwanda, focused on enabling and encouraging growth of the tech sector, and enabling young people for careers in tech.

 I will be working closely with ICT Chamber. At first, I didn't see this as being the kind of organization that a Social Sabbatical would focus on. But I quickly realized how they fit in, and why it is so important to the future of Rwanda.

High tech figures prominently in Rwanda’s economic development. They are moving from a subsistence agriculture based economy to a knowledge based economy. But they have a massive skills shortage, especially in high tech. The lack of skills in high tech is in large part because the IT revolution didn’t really start for them until 1995, after the genocide. I’ll be helping them with projects to enable and educate young entrepreneurs and students.  I can't wait!

So now you know why SAP has brought me to Rwanda. Let's see where life in Rwanda takes me over the next four weeks.
As I end this post, I am just 88 miles from Kigali, landing in about 20 minutes. A completely different experience for me is on the horizon. My first time in Africa, my first opportunity to use my SAP experience to help an organization directly...and maybe, depending on we accomplish, to deliver something that will help ICT chamber empower young entrepreneurs for a long time to come.