Meet Zacharie, the salesman from Rwinkwavu

Ambition, the gift of gab, a relentless work ethic – Zacharie Itegekaharmde has all the traits of a born salesman. What he didn’t have was capital.

Then he found Hand in Hand.

Limited progress

Until a few years ago, Zacharie lived with his brother and elderly mother as one of the almost 80 percent of Rwandans who farm for a living, many at the subsistence level. Stuck on a cramped plot in the Eastern Province village of Rwinkwavu, the family struggled to eat three meals a day. “The farming was just for survival,” he says. “We could not get enough food to eat. We used to make and sell banana beer so that we could afford to buy clothes.”

Rwanda has come a long way since the 1994 genocide claimed some 800,000 lives. The country made “especially impressive progress” on a number of UN Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the areas of extreme poverty reduction and primary school education. But there remains a hugely long way to go. On the UN Human Development Index, for example, Rwanda ranks a sobering 158 of 189.

Sell phones

Zacharie Itegekaharmde Mobile sales agent Kigali, Rwanda in camouflage (11)Life changed the day a sceptical Zacharie was persuaded by friends to join a Village Savings and Loan Group established by Hand in Hand partner organization CARE. To his surprise, admits the 25-year-old, the training was interesting. Better still, it was useful. “You learn that if you get a loan it is not to solve your problems but to make money,” he says. That’s exactly what he’s doing.

The Rwandan telecoms market is exploding. Between 2005 and 2010, the number of families with at least one cellphone grew 39 percent, climbing past 45 percent from only 6.2. By 2013, cellphone penetration countrywide was more than 61 percent.

Zacharie didn’t need business training to spot the opportunity. In fact, he’d been selling cellphone products on the side for years, making all but enough to invest and expand. Getting a loan from his savings group was easy enough. Pitching South African telecom company MTN for an exclusive airtime card distribution deal was harder. But armed with the skills he’d learned in his group from a Hand in Hand trainer, Zacharie pulled it off. Today his ‘patch’ spans a 125-mile radius, an area so big he’s had to hire help. Even better, his income has skyrocketed to 110,000 Rwandan francs (US $160) a month – almost three times the monthly national average of 37,000 RWF (US $55).

The resulting lifestyle change has been immense. Not only has Zacharie built a brick home, he’s furnished it – just in time for his upcoming wedding.


Zacharie’s results

Increased monthly income to 110,000 Rwandan francs (US $160)

Able to build and furnish a new brick home for him and his family

Able to hire a employee from his village

Hand in Hand Eastern Africa and CARE Rwanda are co-operating to empower some 100,000 Rwandans, mostly women, to work their way out of poverty by running their own sustainable businesses. The three-year, US $3.2 million partnership is grounded in our shared belief in the power of entrepreneurship to fight poverty.