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.