Wed., May 4 (Graduation Day!)
Dr. John Mulford
Chrystel was working in overdrive to get all the last minute details ready with certificates, programs, etc. A last minute brainstorm had me working feverishly to create an image that looked something like our web page, but fit nicely when projected on a screen—no small feat for this artistically- and graphics- challenged worker. I’ll let you be the judge on the outcome (below). We projected two of these images on big screens on either side of the stage to emphasize our brand for the audience.
Anatole did yeoman work preparing slide shows of the first and second cohorts. He showed them on the two screens while the people were assembling. He also helped by reading the names. I didn’t stand a chance with most of the last names. Lots of consonants together—e.g., MWUMVANEZA.
The graduation ceremony was fantastic, from my not-unbiased perspective. The CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), our Rwandan partner, brought greetings and emphasized the importance of our program to Rwanda’s goals for increasing small to medium enterprises (SME’s) in the economy. Other dignitaries included the special assistant to Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame.
The real blessing was hearing student testimonies. The common theme was that this program “has changed my thinking, has changed my life, and will continue to impact what I do for years to come. They said it is a rich blessing to Rwanda for which they are deeply grateful.”
I introduced the six business plan competition finalists and briefly described their businesses. When I announced first and second place, I only mentioned names. The President’s special assistant immediately asked, “Which business is that?” He was very interested to meet with the finalists and make sure they had whatever they needed to succeed.
I also distributed medals for various awards. Bought in the U.S., they came with red-white-blue ribbon, but my lovely wife, Leigh Ann, changed them all to Rwandan blue. Everyone appreciated her work and proudly wore their medals during the reception. The medals may seem like a small token gift, but they carried much meaning. Carine, winner of “Most Encouraging,” told me that she had been very disappointed not to chosen as one of the six finalists. She said, “I am very competitive and want my achievements recognized, but my Mom told me not to worry, because I am special to God. Then I won this award, which made me feel very special and appreciated.” She was bubbling with joy, not just for the medal, but because the program meant so much to her. She said, “I wish it wasn’t ending. I want to keep meeting.” I told her she could be one of organizers and cheer leaders for the peer mentoring groups, where graduates meet to help each other with their businesses.
The graduates mentioned Jason Benedict, my training colleague, several times and quoted him a few times—something like start smart, slim, and small, but grow quickly. They really missed him. As I was talking with a student at the reception, an RDB official commented, “These students really love you. I never liked any of my professors. They were very tough on me.” I said that we were tough on our students as well. The graduate corrected me, saying “You taught us that business is tough and that we must be sharp and thorough to succeed. You simply held us to the high standards required by the business world.”
Dale Neill and I were interviewed by a TV station, but I think the interviews with the students probably carried more weight. After hearing Carine and Mathilde promote the program, I don’t know how anyone can resist. All of Carine’s guests at graduation said they plan to enroll either in August or January.
I also invited guests from the business community. The man I met Monday night at the U.S. Ambassador’s wanted to know what I meant by my comment about starting an investment fund. I told him we wanted to raise a fund to invest in SME’s in Rwanda. He said that he and his partner might be interested in investing in the fund. We set a meeting for tomorrow.
The reception was a great networking opportunity for our graduates. The RDB official introduced us to the managing director of the hotel where we were meeting. Our second place winner quickly moved in for the sale—supply mushrooms to the hotel. The director was interested. They exchanged cards.
We left tired but extremely blessed. You just can’t beat this job! We get to do what we love—train entrepreneurs. And they can’t stop thanking us for believing in them, investing in them, and blessing their lives.