Risks (in Spanish, "riesgos") breed discomfort, adventure and faith. While living in England I aim to take risks and explore the discomfort and complexity of economic development, the adventure of cultural exchanges and the faith that a redemptive God is at work in the world today.
10 Observations on Life in Kigali, Rwanda.
1. I feel safer in Kigali than I do in Manchester, England. Once the sun goes down there are armed military men and women on almost every corner. The fact that there is 24/7 martial law makes me question how “democratic” and “free” Rwanda is, but I’ll save those musings for another observation.
2. There are no plastic bags in Kigali. They’re illegal. California tried to eliminate plastic bags last year and lobbyists made sure the law didn’t pass. So Kigali is more environmentally friendly than California?
3. There is no trash in Kigali. Okay, maybe there is some trash, but you really have to look for it.
It gets dusty in the dry season, but even rural outskirts are free of trash and clutter.
4. “It is easy to do business, but hard to make money in Rwanda.” This quote is borrowed from a friend of mine. Rwanda brags about how you can register a business in less than 24 hours, the country was the top performer in the World Bank’s 2010 Doing Business report, but the ease of doing business doesn’t mean it is easy to make a profit.
5. Land of a thousand hills. Beautiful country.
SORWATHE tea farm, a few hours outside Kigali.
6. Rwanda reminds me of Beijing, China. If you stay in the city and the major tourist areas, you would almost think that you are in a developed country. However, if you go out to the rural areas it is clear that the majority of the population lives on less than $2 a day.
Sign welcoming me to my first rural Rwandan village.
7. Land of a thousand mzungu. Lots of white people in Kigali. Rick Warren declared Rwanda the first “Purpose Driven Country,” so there are also a lot of white, American, Evangelicals. I see USAID, World Vision, JICA, SVN, GIZ signs everywhere. Interesting considering President Kagame said he wants Rwanda to be operating without any aid by the end of his second term.
8. Rwanda’s economic development model hinges on the private sector. After the 1994 genocide, Rwanda felt burned by the international community and instead reached out to multi-national corporations for help. So far the transformation has been miraculous and it will be interesting to see if this Singapore style development strategy holds up. Rwanda is “helped” by the fact that it is landlocked, overcrowded, and without significant natural resources. This forces the country to open up to foreign direct investment, catalyze innovation and privatize industries.
9. Rwanda is situated on the equator. 70-80 degrees all year long with little humidity. Beats Manchester.
10. Carter Crockett is the man.
Carter Crockett, a former professor from Westmont College, welcomed me into his home for two weeks. This picture is us proving to his wife that we ate healthy food while she was back visiting friends/family in the US.
I started this blog last September with a couple of motivations. First, I wanted to keep my family and friends informed as to what I was learning, experiencing and reflecting on while in Manchester, England. Second, I wanted to push myself to take risks. Risks are uncomfortable, which goes against human nature, but I believe they lead to spiritual, physical and emotional growth. The name of the blog came from one of my favorite poems, “Instantes” (moments), by the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges. The following is an edited excerpt (I apologize to all of you Spanish speakers for my sub-par translation):
"Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida… Correría más riesgos, haría más viajes, contemplaría más atardeceres, subiría más montañas, nadaría más ríos… Iría a más lugares adonde nunca he ido… comenzaría a andar descalzo a principios de la primavera y seguiría así hasta concluir el otoño. Daría más vueltas en calesita, contemplaría más amaneceres y jugaría con más niños, si tuviera otra vez la vida por delante. Pero ya tengo 85 años y sé que me estoy muriendo.”
"If I were to live my life over again…I would take more risks, take more trips, contemplate more sunsets, I would climb more mountains, swim in more rivers…I would go to more places that I have never been…I would begin to walk barefoot from the beginning of spring to the end of fall. I would ride more merry-go-rounds, contemplate more sunrises and play with more children if I had another shot at life. But now I am eighty-five years old and I know that I am dying."
Jorge Luis Borges reminds me that I have to take advantage of each moment, I have to push myself, I have to take risks. I owe it to my mom who prayed over my brother and me when we were babies that we wouldn’t live ordinary lives. I owe it to my friends who never get tired of throwing me going away and welcome home parties. I owe it to the billions in this world who have never even considered things I take for granted—college, grad school, career changes, vacation.
Tomorrow morning I’m taking my biggest riesgo yet. I’m flying from London to Kigali, Rwanda to spend the next two weeks researching “bottom of the pyramid” businesses. These are businesses that believe they can create both profit and social change by selling goods and offering services to the poor. Specifically, I will research two businesses in the cook stove industry. Efficiently designed cook stoves can reduce smoke inhalation, save families time that would otherwise be used to collect firewood, and preserve the vastly depleted timber supply in Rwanda. Ultimately, this research will become my master’s dissertation and will hopefully answer the question: “Are cook stove businesses sustainable poverty reduction strategies in Rwanda?”
Two days ago I didn’t have my passport, yellow fever vaccination or my dissertation supervisor’s approval to conduct the research. Thankfully in the last 48 hours everything has come together and the decision I made last week to take a risk and buy a plane ticket to Rwanda is looking like a good one.
I will try to blog frequently while I’m gone and share with you what I am learning about innovative private sector solutions to pressing global problems.
Here’s to more sunsets, mountains, rivers, bare feet, merry-go-rounds, sunrises and playtime…in Rwanda.
The Open Forum (click on the video above for a preview) is a roundtable discussion featuring six IDPM students with experience on five continents. The roundtable discussion will cover topics including: economic development, cross-cultural dialogue, politics and current events. I will be participating in the Open Forum alongside five colleagues hailing from China, South Africa, Jordan, Nigeria and The Netherlands. The goal is to not only have a meaningful discussion amongst colleagues studying at the IDPM, but invite local business leader in Manchester to engage with international students studying in their backyard. The event is sponsored by The Rotary Club of Manchester Breakfast and will take place on June 1st. If possible, I’ll try to get some video footage of the event for those of you back in the U.S. who won’t be able to attend.
Wish me luck…hopefully I can make the USA proud.
It’s a different kind of beauty than California over here, but man is it beautiful. Taken while on a hike with my mom and dad for Mother’s Day a few weeks back. Tilt-shift lens focuses on the vibrant green valley with brooding rain clouds overhead. (Click photo for full-size English countryside glory)
Young Egyptians talk about the revolution they started and how they plan to see it through to completion. In a very human moment, I realized they are right around my age. “They are just like me…they are just like me,” I kept whispering in disbelief as tears welled up in my eyes. They have dreams of completing their degrees, finding jobs, creating change in this world, but they are putting all of that on hold to fight for justice and democracy in Egypt. They are just like me…but more brave than I will ever be.
The “Young Revolutionaries” come on at the 4:05 mark in the video below:
Anecdote #1 - Mao
When I first changed money over in Manchester before departing for Beijing I was shocked to find the same iconic face on every denomination of currency. There is one “Founding Father” in the People’s Republic of China—Chairman Mao. More surprising was the fact that the currency I used this last month at Starbucks, KFC, local Chinese markets, and peking duck dinners has not always been utilized in the same way. A new friend in Beijing told me when he moved to the country fifteen years ago, he could purchase very little. He was issued food vouchers and the government provided housing, electricity, and water. Now, China employs a (somewhat) free-market capitalist system, is the largest holder of American treasury bonds (approx. $1.1 trillion) and is projected to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy by 2019 or maybe even 2016.
Anecdote #2 - Trains
“We’re going to take a metro line that’s not on the map yet.” This was the text message I received from an Australian friend of mine living in Beijing. When China hosted the Olympics in 2008 they revamped the public transportation system. Every sign and automated message is in both Mandarin and English. Movies are projected on the tunnel walls as the train flies by so you have entertainment on your morning commute. On some lines there are even heated seats. Heated seats…on a metro! Outside of Beijing, much of the 2009 stimulus package was plowed into high-speed rail. There is now a railway line that ships goods from Chongqing across Russia and Eastern Europe to Amsterdam in six days. That’s the same time it takes to transport goods from Shanghai to Amsterdam on a ship. Oh, and as for that new metro line I took, it was Line 15. Five years ago, when that same Australian friend moved to Beijing, the only trains running were on Line 1 and Line 2. I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume those trains didn’t boast heated seats either.
Anecdote #3 - Stats
There are dozens of statistics regarding China’s rapid economic growth I could share with you, but this is my favourite. In Fareed Zakaria’s 2008 book, The Post-American World, he writes (my paraphrase): “The best China statistic is that every China statistic is now out of date.” This is how fast the country is changing. By the time you read about the change, it’s already old news.
Chart comparing the United States and China (click to zoom in).
The United States has been in existence for 235 years. China has existed for 5,000 years (21 times the history). The United States has 310 million inhabitants. China has 1.3 billion (4 times the population). To think that I can drop into one city in China for a couple weeks with the following grasp of the Chinese language— “Hello, how are you?” “My name is Ryan,” “I’m fine, thank you,” “Good morning,” and “toilet”—and leave with some sort of comprehensive understanding of the country is just foolish. I can’t begin to get my mind around China, but in the coming days I would love to share a few anecdotes with you from my time studying its economic and social development.
Chongqing, China. Heard of it? My guess is that you haven’t. I hadn’t until about two months ago when I met my friend Zhiqing (he goes by Harry), who has lived in Chongqing his whole life. Here are some mind-blowing statistics regarding Chongqing and China in general:
- Chonqing’s population is 32 MILLION and it is considered the fastest growing city on the planet.
- There is so much construction in the city, taxi drivers get lost because their GPS maps and software are immediately out of date when they buy them off the shelf. Harry told me he may get lost when he visits his family this week because he hasn’t been home in six months.
-Currently in the UK, two cities have a population of more than 1 million. The US has 10. China has 43 and it is predicted by 2030 there will be 221.
- In 2009, the GDP of Chongqing grew by 14.9 percent, twice China’s national rate and 5.5 times the US’ current growth rate.
-Chongqing is upgrading in its manufacturing sector. It is mostly known for cars, but now does business with 3 of the top 6 laptop manufacturers in the world.
I’m hopping on a plane tomorrow for Beijing. It will be my first time visiting an Asian country and I look forward to passing along little anecdotes or bits of information about China while I’m there.
Shatha_Ryan GPS Episode III includes…
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