Imagery of Regent people and campus

Rwanda Business Development Center Thriving

By Amanda Morad | November 17, 2011

Dr. John Mulford speaks with students at Rwanda Business Development Center

The Rwanda Business Development Center (BDC), co-sponsored by Regent University's Center for Entrepreneurship (RCE) and the International Christian Chamber of Commerce (ICCC), is thriving in its second year. Dr. John Mulford, director of RCE and director general of BDC Rwanda, has recently returned from the center for the second half of the semester.

Last month, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), in partnership with the BDC, conducted a two day training seminar on customer care and leadership for senior managers of various institutions. The WinShape Foundation, the non-profit charitable organization of Chic-fil-a, sent top operators to host the leadership and customer service seminar for large companies. "We're using their service leadership model and their customer service training," said Mulford.

According to Mulford, the seminar attracted the "Who's Who" of Rwandan companies: national banks, insurance companies, airlines, hotels and the telephone company all sent top executives to take teachings back to their people to improve customer service, which is currently one of the nation's chief goals.

Besides Mulford, Jason Benedict, strategist at Regent's Center for Entrepreneurship, is the co-instructor for the semester-long entrepreneurs' program and the deputy director of the Rwanda BDC. In this current cohort, 25 students are developing small business skills—and actual business plans—for implementation after their completion of the program. Students range in age from 18 to 50 and, on average, one-third of them are women.

"We've attracted some of the top leaders in the country to this program, and now they're taking it to their churches," Mulford noted. "They're taking it to their business colleagues, so it's starting to infiltrate the community a lot faster than it would have if we hadn't had [students in national leadership]."

Graduates of the BDC are making major strides in their respective fields. From farming to pharmacy, these entrepreneurs are landing national and international contracts, serving as executives of international associations, and building businesses that will shape a better future for Rwanda in practical ways like nutrition, medical care, job generation and character development.

The impact of the center goes far beyond the students in the learning program. It also assists entrepreneurs who are ready to get their businesses off the ground. Recent projects include the launch of a new Rwandan insurance company and a mining operation in the Eastern Congo.

Over the next year, Mulford and his team will be training others to facilitate the Rwanda BDC in order to start other centers. "We will be licensing the concept to mission agencies, NGOs, and some businesses so that we can start centers in multiple countries at the same time," Mulford explained.

Currently, the BDC has just three employees, but ample volunteer support. "One of the main features of the program is that we bring visiting executives to the country and they mentor and consult with the current students and graduates," Mulford said.

The BDC is not only training tomorrow's entrepreneurs, but contributing to their ongoing business success. "Our plan is to have a long term relationship with them," Mulford explained. Graduates are connected to mentors and strategic partners, and are provided with resources and networking opportunities.

Graduates are implementing their businesses in many places—including the Ugandan Private Sector Federation's business development and training. Talks of launching a BDC Uganda are underway.

On the home front, Regent is offering a university-wide course in the spring that students from any school can take, which will culminate in a trip to Rwanda to work on a project with the BDC. "Whatever [a student's] school is, we can find a project there for them to actually implement in Rwanda," Mulford explained. "They can really do something that will be significant. It's not just a class project, but they can do something that will have a lasting impact."

The course will be offered as Holistic International Development in a Special Topics section in each school. Mulford will teach the course and lead the 10 day trip in the summer.

Learn more about the Center for Entrepreneurship.


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