Why Rwanda’s Youth are ‘wired’ to Lead Africa

They say that home is where the heart is. For many of us, the idea of ‘home’ conjures feelings of comfort and convenience — the good life. But what if home is where heartache is?

After residing in Uganda for most of her young life, Clarisse Iribagiza returned to her home in Rwanda kicking and screaming. “When my family moved back, I had no choice,” she reflected. Like many young Rwandans, Clarisse believed that she would only achieve her dreams away from home.

Determined to make the best of the return to her homeland, Clarisse enrolled at KIST, Rwanda’s first technology-focused institution of higher education in its capital city. There, her eyes were opened to the potential for technology, and mobile applications in particular, to transform her home country of Rwanda and greater Africa. In 2010, during her third year, Clarisse entered a six-month mobile training program and competition hosted by MIT. She and a group of classmates built a mobile application that she describes as a mash-up of Yelp and Google Maps.

Initially setting out to build their own mobile apps in-house, Clarisse soon realized that her business would generate far greater impact by serving as an incubator for mobile app developers. Named after the Kinyarwanda word for “where”, HeHe Labs guides young developers to navigate the future opportunity of mobile in Africa.

HeHe3-300x239In just a few years, HeHe Labs has successfully incubated mobile apps designed to improve operational efficiency for sectors including education, health, agriculture and transportation. Perhaps HeHe’s greatest potential impact has been delivered through it’s Code Clubs, which help train high school age students to build meaningful mobile applications, as Clarisse explains:

Most importantly, we focus on creating an environment that ignites a passion for learning through research, experimentation and problem-solving.

With contributions from innovators like HeHe Labs, there is good reason to expect this rise. Just ask students from the recently completed class of 2014, as Yannick Fleury Kabayiza explains:

My dream is to one day give back to my country of Rwanda. I want to be part of those who develop Rwanda’s technology sector because I believe technology eases people’s lives.

When I asked Clarisse what drives her to create positive impact in her home country of Rwanda, this is what she said: “I don’t want to be just a bleep on the radar. I want to have an impact and it’s not the same if we can’t do it at home. We’re wired to make an impact here in Rwanda.”

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