BAG Innovations and how they are tackling unemployment (with tech) in Rwanda, with Gabriel Ekman, MD

BAG innovation

Obviously, unemployment is a general problem in Africa. It is therefore to see that people are trying to solve it in many creative ways. The cause of this could’ve be either limited jobs, or unqualified people. BAG innovations, a startup hoping to put an end to this menace, thinks it’s as a result of both.

In a chat with TechMoran, the Managing Director of BAG innovations, Gabriel Ekman shares how they have built a platform to connect students to potential employers. On why they are not connecting graduates instead, Ekman emphasizes that most students after graduating, lack the relevant experience in their field. This is the space his startup is filling.

Gabriel Ekman shares a lot more insights into BAG, which you shall enjoy in the interview below.

Unemployment rate is getting higher by the day in Rwanda. Do you think the jobs aren’t available, or the people aren’t qualified enough?

Both. There are not enough jobs and that is why the Rwandan Government is focusing their efforts on youth entrepreneurship and self-employment. The graduated students have little to no practical experience and have no clue how to face challenges/solve problems and think out-side etc. The competitive business climate in Kigali is forcing many of the employers to hire from outside the country, leaving many of the graduates in the country without a chance.

Tell us how BAG innovations is solving this problem.

BAG Innovation is creating a platform that helps the student be a part of the Rwandan eco-system. We are utilizing the students as recourses while they are studying to promote both youth entrepreneurship and innovative consulting. We gather multidisciplinary groups of University students, from different universities and diverse backgrounds and let them work with generating solutions for our partner companies. The students get a crash course in our innovation model, and then they start working with real life business challenges.

Why did you choose to connect university students with potential employers? Why not the already graduated lots?

The University system is lacking the offering of practical experience, and in BAG’s opinion it is to late to engage the students after they graduate. A student needs to be able to put their training into practice from day 1. We are looking at the option of using graduates in the future, because we know how desperate they are to get a foot in with a company and get some business experience.

Do you think the Rwanda education system is doing well to prepare students for employability?

I think the education system knows what it is lacking, but change takes time. There are a lot of initiatives taking off just this past year that shows signs of a more pro-active thinking from the universities. But the public education system still has a few years to go before we can see a change in the unemployment index. And that’s where BAG comes in.

Since launch, how big has the company grown?

We have just finished up the Pilot Project in Rwanda. Since June we have trained 100 students, put them into cases from 10 of our partner companies, we have recruited from 10 different universities and had over 30+ business coaches come in and mentor our students during these weeks. We are officially launching in the coming weeks and already have 6 paying clients (businesses) to cover this fall.

BAG innovation

How has BAG innovations been funded till date?

The Pilot was funded by the partnering businesses (covered the rent, materials, students lunches etc.), but so far we have made no transaction for our actual services. My and my partner Brian have been working with this project for a year now, and we are confident that we can make this a sustainable, profitable business.

Tell us about your business model.

The students participate for free, with an option of eventually getting compensated if they are engaged for a certain period of time and impress us and the partners.
The partnering businesses pay-per-case. The price differs depending on amount of students/time-engagement/complexity of case.

We also offer “Research groups” and “Talent placement” as additional services. BAG Innovation has also created a game/team building exercise called Coach Cards Rwanda that we plan to sell in Rwanda in the fall.

You emphasize much on innovation and creativity. How do you know when you see one?

We have seen that the “youth outside perspective” is already innovative for many organizations. But when we design groups with different educational- cultural- and personal backgrounds and give them an open space to create ideas and produce innovative solutions, the students always deliver. We merely give them the platform to come together, and provide some tools specific for the task, but it is always up to the students to decide what they are going to present.

Share with us your long and short term goals?

Our long term goals is to be recognized as the leading actor in youth consulting, talent recruiting and innovation creation. We want to have an Innovation clinic in every country in East Africa, and eventually the rest of the continent.

To start with, the first year we are committed to prove that our model works. The students will deliver, the companies will develop and we will create a great social impact.

What do you think is the greatest challenge of the education sector in Rwanda? Profer a way forward.

The greatest challenge in the education sector is the lack of effective preparation of the students before they graduate. But I would argue that this is an existing problem all over the world. We see outdated student literature, lack of adapting to modern trends and the need for more soft skills.