Hello from Team Gitesi! At the beginning of April, Team Gitesi had our first Skype call with our client. Aime Dusabe is the owner of Gitesi Coffee Washing Station (CWS), a small facility that produces packaged coffee for direct sale and export out of the Karongi district in Rwanda. The size of Aime’s operations are not to be overlooked; he has 3 full-time employees who manage the entire facility even in the busy harvesting season, which if you are doing your math correctly you will realize his year-round staff is smaller than our team of consultants. We think that’s pretty incredible. Aime’s goal is to take advantage of the impressively growing economy in Rwanda, and in particular its tourism industry, by introducing “coffee tourism” to Gitesi CWS. Our mission is to help Aime make this happen. So what does “coffee tourism” imply for us as consultants? It means that we need to find solutions for Aime to open his facilities to the public so that visitors to Gitesi can experience the entire coffee production process, from picking cherries in the field to sipping the perfect cup of coffee (and we aren’t kidding about the perfect cup, Gitesi’s coffee is so good it won the Cup of Excellence Award in 2012). Yet as we began our Skype call with Aime, we were quickly introduced to the struggles of conducting business in developing markets. After over an hour’s worth of dropped calls and one soundless staring contest with Aime later, there was one word that described our foreseeable road to Rwanda: challenging.
Equally challenging to travel is the road that leads from the highway to Gitesi CWS. A few weeks into the project we had one of those “you might have wanted to mention this earlier” moments when Aime informed us that the 2-mile trek is “very, very off road” and inaccessible by buses and most cars. Translation: it is almost impossible for people to get to Gitesi. Quite the obstacle for someone trying to open a business that relies on tourists physically visiting their site. When our first instinct was to begin googling hardhats and pavers for purchase in Rwanda, to say this news was a bump in the road (literally) is an understatement. However, as we began talking amongst each other and the ideas started flowing, it was incredible how many ways we came up with to solve this problem: find a partner, create models that consider the costs of investing in tourist trucks, work with the Rwanda Development Board, advertise the road as an “adventure” experience, start paving (yes, we are still considering it).
While addressing the road was just one issue, it taught us from the start of this experience that in order to help Aime meet his goals we needed to keep an open-mind. If Aime and his three-person team can dream big enough to find feasible ways to expand Gitesi despite existing challenges in Rwanda’s business environment, there was no reason why we couldn’t use our capabilities to help Aime overcome those challenges. Like the possibility that Aime sees in his coffee washing station at the end of road to Gitesi, there is remarkable possibility the that sits at the end of our road to Rwanda. Undoubtedly challenging, bumpy, and unpredictable, our work with Aime affords us the incredible opportunity to look at problems from new perspectives and expand our capabilities in ways that will help our client achieve his ambitions. So wish us luck and follow along as we travel the road the Rwanda!