Helping to Reduce Unemployment through Entrepreneurship in Developing Countries

Norman Musengimana

Norman Musengimana, MMIE'18, brings a lifetime's worth of insight to his company, BizSkills Academy, a virtual incubation platform that aims to make entrepreneurship accessible to everyone — especially youth and women in remote communities. 

Musengimana was born in Rwanda, was a refugee of war, and shuffled around through the DRC, Uganda, before settling in Kenya, where he completed his undergraduate studies. After working in East Africa for 10 years, he moved to Belgium, the U.S., and back to Rwanda again, building his education and entrepreneurial experience along the way. After a few failed ventures, he stopped and asked himself, “who are you? What do you want to achieve? What are you doing wrong?” He did some soul (and Google) searching, he found himself on the Smith School of Business website. “At the time, I was living in the U.K. and I didn’t know that Smith is a very good business school," he says. "I applied and I got in.”

As soon as Musengimana arrived in Kingston, he felt right at home. His first day in Kingston, he got lost while looking for the campus and was redirected by a stranger who noticed. “In the U.S., nobody talked to me," he says. "In the U.K., nobody talked to me either. Everyone is busy. In Belgium, nobody could notice me. Now, in Kingston, people can see me and help me as well? I knew then that I made the right choice.” 

At Smith, Musengimana joined the Dunin-Deshpande Queen's Innovation Centre's Summer Initiative (QICSI), which, he says, helped him shape BizSkills from a concept into a program.

There is accessibility — particularly for young people and women in developing countries. “People are really skilled," he says, "a great number of unemployed youth are equally highly educated, they have energy, they are very creative. But they don’t get employment opportunities and they don’t know how to mold their skillset and their experiences into business opportunities.” That’s where BizSkills comes in. 

The company is solving the problems that Musengimana himself encountered as a young immigrant and entrepreneur. “How can we empower the people who are living some of the world’s biggest challenges every single day of their lives to create the solutions to the problems they are living?" he says. "Often people come up with solutions and map them to problems in developing countries. But we empower the people with the problems to come up with solutions. We are creating hope, changing mindsets, and equipping our participants with tools and advice to help them succeed.” 

From its Kingston headquarters, BizSkills Academy delivers online courses to aspiring entrepreneurs with modules on everything from developing a growth mindset to nurturing an idea to scaling up a business.

To date, BizSkills has close to 900 regular users and more than 4,000 subscribers. One client, the Nigerian start-up MyCareBuddy, followed in Musengimana's footsteps and became part of this summer's QICSI program. “They plan to develop a scalable system that can help people with mental health issues easily access a service from their mobile phones, delivered in their mother tongue," Musengimana says, "because they might be able to connect with an expert, but if the expert speaks in English, they probably aren’t going to be able to get the help they need.” MyCareBuddy won a cash prize of $5,000 in the final pitch competition.

This is just one example of how BizSkills has helped budding entrepreneurs make change in their communities, both near and far. One company in Ghana and 13 companies in Nigeria recently finished a mentorship program. BizSkills has also worked with Ontario Works,  St. Lawrence College, and Shopify to help local aspiring entrepreneurs who receive financial assistance from Ontario Works translate their passions and ideas into business opportunities.

Regardless of where his clients live, Musengimana says the goal remains the same. "We want to transform job seekers into job creators," he says. We want to help them create employment opportunities for themselves, and also for their peers and their friends. And then, in time, they can change their communities.’’