Business As Mission Spotlight
Meet Greg Bakunzi of Amahoro Tours. Greg and his team are one of the most successful tourism companies in Rwanda. However, his story of success would seem very unlikely when you hear of the struggles he experienced early on in life. Greg is a Rwandan, but he was born in a UN refugee camp in Uganda holding over 300,000 Rwandans. His family fled many years before the genocide against the Tutsi of 1994. He studied beneath a tree at the camp, but when the UN funding ran too sparse, he found his education in a mechanic’s garage just outside of the camp. Just a few months after the Rwandan Patriotic Front defeated the rebels ending the genocide, Greg was on a UN truck heading “home” to Rwanda- a place he had never lived. By 1997, Greg was living in Musanze, the town made famous by Dianne Fossey and the movie Gorillas in the Mist. He knew he wanted to be involved in tourism, but insurgent raids and other struggles in Rwanda were keeping potential tourists away. He is opportunistic above all else, a trait that explains his improbable rise to innovative, authentic entrepreneur.
With the expertise, guidance, and support of Belay, we are becoming more focused on empowering our communities for self-reliance.Greg Bakunzi
After the genocide, tourists wanted nothing to do with Rwanda. How did you find success early on?
I had to be very creative in my approach. People were too afraid to visit Rwanda, but they wanted desperately to see the gorillas. So, I borrowed local trucks and would drive 30 minutes to the Uganda border town of Kisoro. I would pick up tourists in Uganda, take them into Rwanda to see the gorillas, and return them to Rwanda by day’s end. I was able to earn a living on commissions and tips from the tourists, and I was slowly beginning to save my money, as well as building my reputation in my community as well as in the tourist industry.
Over the next ten years, Rwanda was able to find stability. This must have been great news for you, an entrepreneur in the tourism industry. What happened next?
Yes, it was GREAT news! By 2004, I had started Amahoro Tours (Amahoro is kinyarwanda for Peace). I wanted, however, to do something more than just gorilla trekking. I wanted to connect tourists with the local communities. Tourists come to see the gorillas, but they stay for a few days, so I thought we could capitalize on this by giving tourists an authentic Rwandan experience and by providing the communities with an income.
Speaking of local communities, how did your business affect your community?
First of all, I was able to provide jobs to people. I currently have a team of 17 at Amahoro. Secondly, because of our community-based tourism, we are providing ways for many locals to make an income through selling their products to the tourists visiting the area.
You have been very successful. Why would you want or even consider partnering with an organization like Belay Global?
We have been very successful, but I do not want to just stop growing. I have many ideas for my company, and even ideas for new ventures, and I have found that Belay has been there to listen to my ideas, critique my ideas, and really help me refine those ideas to become a reality. Belay wants to see more and more people becoming successful in Rwanda, and they are helping me do that. Belay also helped us foster sustainability of our community development initiatives like our Red Rocks Intercultural Exchange Center, which is geared at bringing people out of poverty in our community. With the expertise, guidance, and support of Belay, we are becoming more focused on empowering our communities for self reliance.
What words of wisdom would you give to other Rwandan Entrepreneurs who have aspirations of starting a business like you?
No matter what kind of business you are doing, the only thing you need to do is accept failure as everyone fails at something. But never, ever accept not trying, and continuing on and learning from your mistakes. I have had failures along the way. I face challenges even to this day. To many people, they might just give up and walk away. You have to stay strong, and believe in your ideas.