A Work in Progress

The Kigali School of Finance and Banking is part of Rwanda’s plan to rebuild after the genocide in 1994. But first, the school must build its capacity, establish its vision, and redefine its role in a swiftly evolving region.
A Work in Progress

Donatha Musabende is a 43-year-old Rwandan widow. Vennah Mukumburwa is a 24-year-old who never thought she’d be able to return to school. Seraphina Mukameana is a 40-year-old woman who, in 1993, was studying to be a secretary. All three women lost hope for their futures after Rwanda slipped into war and genocide in 1994. Now, because of Rwanda’s renewed emphasis on education, all three are planning for careers in finance or accounting at the Kigali School of Finance and Banking (SFB).

“I had lost hope of going back to school after all these years,” says Mukameana. “I have three children who are still at lower primary classes, but I thank God for enabling me to succeed in my dreams.”

The Rwandan government hopes that once they receive business training, Musabende, Mukumburwa, Mukameana, and other young men and women will be catalysts for growth and prosperity. The country’s Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning is placing its bets on education and entrepreneurship to spark a bustling knowledge-based economy.

In 2002, when the government opened the SFB in the Rwandan capital of Kigali, the hope was that the school would be at the front and center of the country’s rebuilding efforts, creating a new generation of talented managers and passionate entrepreneurs. The government hired Krishna Govender, an educator formerly from South Africa, as the school’s rector. The government expects that, under Govender’s leadership, the Kigali School will become an internationally respected academic institution within the next decade.

The task for the school, says Govender, is monumental. “If you think not having nice shoes is a problem, try not having feet,” he says of the SFB’s situation. It is easy to be overwhelmed, but he believes the school will meet its goals. “We are trying to integrate teaching and community involvement so that each generation will have more opportunities to enrich itself and the nation.”

But first, says Govender, the SFB must build its infrastructure, train its faculty, and improve its technology. Then, it will be positioned to earn recognition for its programs and make a difference in the region.

Overcoming History

It is estimated that between 800,000 and 1 million Rwandans were killed in the genocide, mostly Tutsis who perished at the hands of the Hutu militia. The genocide wiped out the existing business and academic infrastructure. Ever since the fighting ended, the nation has been trying to rebuild its educational institutions, businesses, and banks.

Over the last decade, Rwanda has had an influx of investment from international aid organizations, banking institutions, world governments, and multinational companies. But without a stable economy and an educated populace, officials fear that these investments will fail to bear fruit.

In 2000, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning wrote its “Vision 2020” agenda, which outlined its goals of eradicating poverty and creating a vibrant middle class. To achieve these goals, the Ministry estimates that Rwanda’s economy will have to grow at an annual rate of 7 percent. The country will have to raise its per capita annual income from US$290 to US$900, decrease its poverty rate from 64 percent to below 30 percent, and increase its citizens’ average life expectancy from 49 years to 55 years. These are daunting benchmarks given the country’s massive debt, ravaged infrastructure, landlocked geography, and limited natural resources.

The good news is that the country is making progress. Key industries are growing at a rate of 5 percent to 10 percent a year, including construction, tourism, energy, communications, and the production of tea, coffee, and bananas. The challenge is to keep the country on its upward path. Rwanda is in dire need of talented managers and entrepreneurs to build its private sector and meet the needs of its small but growing middle class. That’s why the Rwandan government is investing heavily in education and training for its citizens at all levels.

Rwanda’s First MBA

The Ministry hopes that SFB will be central to the realization of its vision, as the main source for skilled managerial talent. When SFB first opened its doors, it offered professional training in accounting and insurance. In 2003, SFB formed an affiliation with the Maastricht School of Management (MSM) in the Netherlands to develop an MBA program, the first MBA in Rwanda. In 2006, the school collaborated with the Belgian Bankers Academy to transfer a number of students from another higher education institution to SFB.

Today, SFB faculty are qualified to teach nearly 50 percent of the program. MSM and SFB are developing seminars to reach out to the Rwandan business community and are exploring the possibility of entering into joint research projects.

In 2006, the Ministry of Education contracted with the William Davidson Institute (WDI) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Under that agreement, WDI began a five-year project to work with SFB to build its capacity until all of the school’s programs are internationally accredited. The project has five objectives: to improve the school’s curricular and programmatic activities; to create faculty development programs; to identify degree and nondegree educational needs for Rwanda’s business and civil sectors; to upgrade the school’s facilities and technological infrastructure; and to create a leadership and management structure to support the school’s mission. WDI also agreed to help the government train 100 senior ministry officials.

“We have adopted a spirit of cooperation and a desire to adapt best practices used elsewhere,” says Govender. “We do not rely on or expect the government to provide all the answers. That is one of the keys to SFB’s success.” With that mindset, the school hopes to build its faculty, strengthen its curriculum, and increase its outreach efforts to bring the vision of a stronger Rwanda to fruition.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Kigali School of Finance and Banking is to attract a strong base of students who are prepared for the rigor of its program.

Educational Evolution

Other fledgling schools of business in the region have faltered, primarily because they lacked support from external accredited institutions, says Govender. Although it may seem counterintuitive, SFB’s partnerships with WDI and MSM have fostered a sense of independence among SFB’s administrators and faculty, who are becoming more and more capable. In the beginning, for example, most courses were taught by European faculty. Over time, MSM and WDI worked with SFB’s faculty to develop their teaching and research skills.

The school now offers undergraduate BBA courses in accounting, finance, marketing, entrepreneurship development, strategic development, project development, production and operations management, and human resource management.

The two-year MBA is still offered in partnership with MSM. The 80-credit, part-time program consists of four primary segments. During the foundational segment, students complete eight core management courses, as well as a writing workshop to help students strengthen their research skills. During the integration segment, students complete four multidisciplinary courses designed to help them make connections across disciplines.

The specialization segment allows students to take courses in either finance or project management. Finally, students complete the performance segment, during which they write a master thesis on an issue of their choice drawn from the contemporary business environment.

Last year, SFB also launched a Certificate in Computerized Project Planning and Management, a vocational program that students can include in their BBA or MBA studies.

So far, the school has graduated three cohorts of students, most of whom have remained in Rwanda to work. In 2007, the school established an alumni association; it plans to hire a marketing officer whose primary role will be to energize the association and engage alumni with the school, each other, and the community.

For Govender, the growth of the school has been encouraging, and he appreciates the support WDI and MSM have provided. However, he sees these partnerships as “two-way streets” of education, which not only facilitate the exchange of a variety of educational experiences and best practices, but also provide students and faculty from Europe and the U.S. with on-the-ground knowledge of the African business environment.

Encouraging Women

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges facing SFB is to attract a strong base of students who are prepared for the rigor of the program. Because many of Rwanda’s secondary schools aren’t geared to college preparation, the SFB often must fill in educational gaps. “Our students have studied business-related subjects in school, but their levels of preparedness for higher education may differ,” says Govender.

The school now serves two categories of students. Government-sponsored students are selected by the Rwanda National Examinations Council. The council chooses more than 1,000 students to receive loans that cover 100 percent of tuition—US$10,000 for the two-year MBA. Additional students receive a loan that covers 50 percent of tuition.

Other students apply directly to the SFB and are screened for admission based on the strength of their academic credentials—as well as the school’s existing capacity. “Unfortunately, many students who could otherwise be admitted if we had the space and infrastructure must be turned away,” Govender says. Soon, he adds, the school will introduce two annual intakes—in September and June—to accommodate more students.

The school is particularly focused on admitting women, who have traditionally been denied educational opportunities in the country. The SFB is working with WDI and Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Women Initiative to award 15 full scholarships to underprivileged women each year, over four years, through the Goldman Sachs Business School Scholarship Fund. In addition to having her tuition waived, each scholarship recipient is paired with a member of SFB’s faculty, who will serve as a mentor and advisor.

More than 1,000 women applied to earn one of the 15 scholarships in 2008.

The women who attend SFB also may choose to earn a Goldman Sachs Entrepreneurship Certificate, through a six-month program that teaches them how to write effective business plans, secure financial backing, and launch their own businesses in the Rwandan economy. In February, 29 women earned their entrepreneurship certificates from SFB—a small fraction of the 600 women who applied. The program also included a business plan competition. Based on the strength of their plans, two women received $2,500 and five women received $1,000 in startup funds.

The school also aims to forge stronger links with the business community to further strengthen the country’s economic credibility.

Increasing numbers of women are attending the university, with or without the aid of scholarships. Currently, 42 percent of the school’s student body is female. At the school’s March graduation ceremony, 335 women received their academic credentials, including 292 BBAs and 26 MBAs. Seventeen received their accounting certificates.

In fact, in most disciplines, women outpaced the men in terms of academic performance: BBA student Charity Kagenza received the honor of “best overall student” and was awarded a presidential scholarship to continue her studies. Other women were at the tops of their classes in several other disciplines.

Toward a Position of Strength

Today, SFB serves about 2,300 undergraduate students and 120 graduate students, from all economic and sociological backgrounds. As the school has evolved over the last seven years, it has assumed a position of strength in its region and continues to make improvements. For instance, because most students face a poor job market after graduation, the school plans to make entrepreneurship a central focus of its curriculum. Last year, the SFB offered a seminar to teach students how to create more jobs through effective project management and grassroots efforts.

In addition, the school has announced plans to open a Centre for Entrepreneurial Development (CED), in collaboration with the International Finance Corporation, to develop and encourage entrepreneurship among Rwandans. The center will develop case studies and curriculum for entrepreneurs. It also will offer a capacity-building program to teach budding entrepreneurs how to navigate the Rwandan business environment, write successful business plans, keep financial records, develop effective sales and marketing strategies, and handle issues of organization and human resource management.

The CED will serve as a “knowledge center” for small- and medium-sized enterprises, says Govender. “The center will act as a focal point in linking the school to the real business world in order to make a significant contribution to economic development and poverty reduction in Rwanda,” he notes on the school’s Web site.

To spark further growth, the Academic Advisory Committee and faculty at SFB have teamed with the Rwanda Public Procurement Authority to raise funds for additional programs in the near future. These funds also will support new departments, encourage additional faculty and student exchanges with international universities, develop Rwandan professors into quality lecturers and researchers, and strengthen the school’s executive education unit so that it is more responsive to the needs of Rwandan business leaders.

The school also aims to forge stronger links with the business community. Govender is working with the World Bank to establish an Institute of Banking in Rwanda, a professional certification organization that he hopes will further establish standards and practices and strengthen the country’s economic credibility. In addition, he hopes to establish a Consumer Association of Rwanda to help protect consumers and improve the quality of products made in the country. Reaching out even further, he has been in contact with a local orphanage that serves 200 children. He plans to create a program in which SFB graduate students serve as mentors and advisors to the children, introducing them to higher education, business, entrepreneurship, and the possibilities that are available.

As Govender looks ahead, he also is considering the possibility of a name change for the school, to build a stronger brand and reflect more directly its focus on entrepreneurship and community building. As the school continues to evolve, he says, it will take time to “match our vision with reality.” Through partnerships and active exchanges with other management education institutions, he holds, SFB will succeed in helping Rwanda emerge from its embattled history to become a thriving business region ready to contribute to the global economy.

Gabriel Constans is a freelance writer from Santa Cruz, California.