He said, “I want to be an entrepreneur”, really? What does it actually mean?


Each day of the Rwanda Innovation Summit on education started with an observation, an experience. On the final day we went to the community at Kinigi. It took some negotiation to take the walk due to its proximity to the Gorillas National Park. The local leaders were concerned that 40 or so visitors were coming to surreptitiously see the gorillas, without the necessary permits and payments.

We finally assured the community leaders that we just wanted to walk and briefly immerse ourselves in the community and talk to some of the young people of the village.

That is where I met Claude. He looked to be about 17.

We started walking and talking. The young people appreciated the opportunity to practice their English. Last time we visited this community they said to us, “most people come and see the gorillas and leave, but you come and see us.”

I asked Claude what he wanted to do when he finished school, he replied, “I want to be an entrepreneur”. As we talked more he said he wanted to get a job, then start his own business. I was explaining the concept of scaling and replicating businesses when Seb walked by and asked, “what are you talking about?”

Seb, Alice and Pedro were the film crew we had with us to document the journey of the summit. If you asked Seb what he did, he would say ‘nomadic filmmaker’, a representative of a generation that is keen to make their own way without normal societal constraints and expectations. Seb is definitely entrepreneurial.

As he walked past, Seb commented, “entrepreneur? Too many people use that word without knowing what it is.” and with that, he kept walking. I explained to Claude, an entrepreneur is what we call a person with ideas, who make the ideas a reality and can grow the ideas.

Moments like these are great for reflection. Can anyone actually aspire to be an ‘entreprenuer’? Is it a career ambition? I don’t think it is an endpoint. No one can say, “I want to be an entrepreneur”. You either are or you aren’t. Perhaps your ideas are yet to be realised. Entrepreneurs are dreamers.

David Bessau founded the micro finance organisation, Opportunity International. He is known as a social entrepreneur. But well before he developed the micro finance model, as a teenager he was building a business selling hotdogs after the local football match in his home town. David always was an entrepreneur.

This is not to say the skills of entrepreneurship can’t be nurtured, they definitely can. The reality is that a person who has ideas, can scale and replicate the ideas and build something out of them is the entrepreneur.

I doubt whether any real entrepreneurs set out to say, “I want to be an entrepreneur”. Real entrepreneurs are out there doing, not talking about it.

I guess what Claude was saying was that he wants to build a business that can support himself and provide jobs. Maybe one day someone will look at his achievements and tell Claude that he is an entrepreneur.

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