How a digital entrepreneur in Rwanda changed my life

When I mention Rwanda, most people associate it with ‘genocide’. To many, Sub-Saharan Africa is diseased kids with distended bellies and flies in their eyes lurching from crisis to crisis. Hardly surprising – it’s how the media and many charities portray it. So I was intrigued to meet Douglas – a young digital entrepreneur in Kigali. I say meet, we communicated entirely over Skype. Only months later did I even discover what he looked like.
I first volunteered with enterprise education charity Grow Movement to gain practice for a coaching qualification. Little did I realise when I started with Douglas,what a profound impact our interactions would have. His energy and determination inspired me, contradicting every preconception about Africa.

As a former flying instructor and innovation consultant, I thought I knew all about influencing people. Douglas confounded my arrogance. Could I persuade him that the product he brought from Nairobi was wrong for Rwanda? I tried and failed. As a last resort, I sent him a video by Stanford University’s Steve Blank.

The penny dropped. Not with a soft thud, but a resounding crash. It turned everything Douglas believed about business upside down. You don’t take a product to market; the market determines the product – obvious when you see it. The impact on both of us was profound. Douglas stopped his digital agency while I helped him share his new insights with 50 others through Kigali’s first ever Startup Weekend.
Why so amazing? My failure showed me how humility trumps ego. I learned a profound respect for those equally capable, but just lacking the advantages we take for granted. Influencing people is not teaching them, it is setting the stage for their enlightenment. Again obvious, but only when you see it for yourself. Helping those with less helps us so much more.

About the author
Mark Neild was an innovation and enterprise coach before his project with Douglas inspired him to become Chairman of Grow Movement leading it through substantial growth learning from the insights provided by over 1000 African enterprise projects. Mark founded social venture Grow Inspires to share this amazing learning experience with aspiring corporate leaders. Mark is convinced that if we can fund sustainable interventions against poverty by developing company leaders, then the opportunity is far too valuable to leave to charity.

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