So it has been five days that I have been in Rwanda. So far, we’ve seen a variety of production facilities and met with government authorities, ministers, and foreign aid representatives. What we see as an everyday schedule is actually quite packed with things that are unique to this CAP program. I know for sure that if I would have traveled to Kigali on my own, I would likely not have the opportunities that I had thanks to GW.
We’ve seen a tea plantation and manufacturing facility, with a production record of 3000 tons per year. We got to walk the line and see the processes and got a taste test of all the teas the company makes. Not all teas are the same, and as an example, it was explained that the white teas (the most expensive ones) come from harvesting only the topmost leaf of the tea bush. It was great to see what goes into it and what comes out as a product. For being almost a kilometer above sea level, and at the end of a 19km dirt road, the factory was incredibly modern but was not a detriment to employment opportunities. The thing that is different about Rwanda is that manual labor is often cheaper than investment in a machine. Therefore, for the tea plantation, there was a number of steps that utilized an assembly line of Rwandan workers. The packaging was done by about a dozen people, manually. To me, that is a sign of artisanal quality, something that is welcomed in the tea’s export market. But it is also a form of cost-savings that is not often considered in western environments. My takeaway, having worked in manufacturing prior to attending GW, was that machined production is not always beneficiary to company growth and profitability. Additionally, since the government of Rwanda is focusing on creating jobs, it is a good bet to keep the labor force strong, as opposed to adapting strictly western business ideas.
Today, it was underscored that my trip to Rwanda was the right choice. We met with USAID at the United States embassy and got a chance to meet with the US ambassador to Rwanda. Following the meeting, we got an all-American lunch consisting of burgers and chips (fries) on the back lawn of the embassy. Casually, I got to sit across from Ambassador Donald Koran and that was a great experience. Aside from the candid feedback on the economic development factors in the country, Amb. Koran offered his perspective on a variety of issues. Having passed through many steel doors to get to that meeting, I was amazed at how casual it was and how well we were treated as GW MBA students. Only after I made it out to the bus did it dawn on me that I just spent a big chunk of the day with the ambassador. To me, that’s awesome. And it’s definitely great that GW has that clout in Rwanda.