Episode 328: Emery Rubagenga – A Mindset of Excellence To Change A Nation’s Destiny

Episode Summary

In this episode, we get to size the power of proper leadership using the Rwandan example as a point of reference. Emery kindly described his home country’s beauties, the challenges they faced throughout history, and the impressive changes they’re experiencing. We also talk about how technological improvement impacted rural areas and students’ lives and the reality-change effects of instilling the right mindset of excellence in leaders. 

Steve Shallenberger: Welcome to our Becoming Your Best podcast listeners wherever you may be in the world today. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger. And we are delighted and honored to have you with us. Today, we have an exceptional guest. He’s a friend and an amazing person. Let me tell you just a little bit about our special guest today. He is the founder and CEO of the Shango Investments, where he is leading the charge to create a vibrant, sustainable, and successful economy in the country of Rwanda. He is also a board member for the African Wildlife Foundation whose vision is an Africa where sustainable development includes thriving wildlife and wild lands as a cultural and economic asset for Africa’s future generations. His goal, the fellowship that he’s involved with, which is the Eisenhower Fellowship, which is the reason he’s in the United States right now. I’ll just tell you a little about that. The Eisenhower Fellowship of which our guests in, Emery Rubagenga, is part of – he’s one of the chairs representing Rwanda – was set up by the Secretary of Defense, Dr. Robert Gates, and it was founded in 1953 in honor of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. And what it does is it brings leaders from around the world to spend several weeks meeting with experts in their fields of interest throughout the United States in the spirit of making the world a more peaceful, prosperous, and just place. Our guest today, Emery, welcome. 

Emery Rubagenga: Oh, thank you for having me, Steve. It’s such an honor and privilege. And I’m happy to be here. 

Steve Shallenberger: And I need to tell our listeners today. I first met Emery about seven years ago – give or take a little – at an international business conference for the Young Presidents Organization in Los Angeles. And there was a connect that just brought us together. He was captivated by Becoming Your Best. Emery is not only an ambassador for the country of Rwanda and his wonderful nation and its heritage and culture, but he is a person that’s a blessing of other people. And we’ve had the chance because of Emery to go to Rwanda. We have taught over a thousand young people, entrepreneurs, business leaders, and government leaders in Rwanda because Emery was the door that invited us there. And what memories and experiences. And this has changed lives. We’re going to continue to have that blessing and opportunity. So, Emery, you ready?  

Emery Rubagenga: Yes, I am.  

Steve Shallenberger: Okay, let’s just get right into these questions. Emery, tell us about your experience as an Eisenhower Fellow. What have you learned? Your observations, key insight. You’re in your second week, already, of the tour. You can tell us about this of a three-week tour of going throughout the United States. And key insights that have impressed you and impacted you. Tell us about it and what you’ve learned and seen. 

Emery Rubagenga: Thank you very much, Steve. It is an amazing program. I feel energized by the people that I’ve met. I’ve been selected amongst 25 other exceptional leaders. I like to say 24 exceptional bless me. They are just amazing from different countries in Africa. And we are all here because we have the same mindset: The mindset of social economic transformation of the continent. We have been selected through several others who were participating in the race. Only those 25 people were able to make it. So, in a nutshell, the program enabled us to connect with like minded people here in the United States of America, people who are doing great things. I can give few examples that were just mind blowing. We had discussions with the President of The Rockefeller Foundation, for instance. Tomorrow, I’m meeting, in New York, the CEO of The Morgan Stanley, the sustainability finance part, and so on. So, very prominent business leaders, who also have the focus on more than just the balance sheet. Many of us are business people, but common ground we have is we can make good business while having also an impact. This particular year that I’m in our cohort is focusing on social economic transformation, but with a particular tone on everything related to biodiversity conservation and environment. I’m sure you will agree with me are the topics that are not sufficiently discussed upon. And this is important for we have only one planet, there is no planet B. We have planet A, which is planet Earth. You can be coming from Rwanda, or from South Korea, or United States of America; we only have this planet. So, it is our duty, as business leader; while we are focusing on developing our business, impacting our people, we need to also have in mind this particular aspect. And I’ve been thrilled for the last these three weeks to meet prominent people having this mindset and doing practical things in that space. And I’m seeing a lot of synergies and possible initiatives that we can develop together back home that will impact other people. So, I’m super excited and feeling grateful for this opportunity. 

Steve Shallenberger: What are some of the places that you’ve been? And by the way, for our listeners, Emery, in his own right, is a very successful business person. Emery, how tall are you?  

Emery Rubagenga: I’m 6’3. 

Steve Shallenberger: 6’3 – so, he’s a big tall guy, and a good looking man. A lot of fun to be with, has a wonderful family. He is the CEO of ROKA, which is a mining company. He sits on the International Board of Directors of the Young Presidents Organization, which is the ruling body for a group of 33,000 CEOs around the world. It’s got a lot of experience. What are some of the places that you’ve visited on this fellowship? 

Emery Rubagenga: Oh, I’ve been to different cities, the usual suspects like Washington DC, Boston, Philadelphia, but also some general places that nobody talks about to me before, like North Dakota. Yesterday I had amazing meetings, vibrant business community. It’s super, super interesting. I really had a wonderful time, both intellectually, emotionally. I made great friends, but hopefully, business partners as well.  

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, North Dakota is a wonderful place. And today, Salt Lake City.  

Emery Rubagenga: I know. One of my favorite places.  

Steve Shallenberger: Yeah, it’s wonderful. Well, that’s really a good overview of your trip, and I love hearing about the Eisenhower Fellowship. Emery share with our listeners a bit about Rwanda; its background, where it’s come from, and where is it going today. 

Emery Rubagenga: This is a topic that would take normally, at least, a day. I’ll make sure that we are concise. So, Rwanda is a country in East Africa. We like to call it the heart of Africa because it’s right in the center towards the east. The capital city is Kigali. As a country, we have 13 million people surrounded by Burundi, Uganda, Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. We are 26 square kilometer, quite a tiny country, but with people having big dreams who wants to create an impact. And this is, in the philosophy of today, the Rwandan today, a very youthful population, youngsters that are dynamic, lots of energy. But it hasn’t not always been like this. 28 years ago, many of our listeners would remember what happened; the tragic events; the genocide against Tutsi, where we lost a million people. We lost 1 million people in only 100 days. And the reason was in relation to bad politics and bad leadership. And if there is a place on the planet that can describe what leadership can do, good and bad, I think my country is on top of the list. The future is bright. My perspective is that it’s going to be brighter and brighter. And thanks to leadership, we have visionary leadership that is focusing on the right thing, which is: the people. The people are involved in the day-to-day management of the country. We’re having the country that has, just as an example, more than 64% of women in parliament; the highest in the world representation of female in Parliament. And this is just an indication. In so many other fields, you will see indicators that are just proof, in terms of performances, in terms of zero tolerance to corruption, in terms of the DNA of doing good and concentrating on learning and doing better. Rwanda is small, landlocked, but not linked country in the East African part of our continent, whereby I am inviting people to come and see the gorillas, for instance. One of the very few places in the world where you can still see the mountain gorillas, and so many other great attractive places to visit tourism-wise. 

Steve Shallenberger: Emery, actually set up a tour for a business group of Young Presidents Organization, which has been unforgettable, where we traveled to the jungles on the border of Republican Congo. I think was it was in Uganda, there’s three countries all together. And there’s a mountain range with three extinct volcanoes, where you have these families of gorillas live in the jungles. The rule is: there can be eight people that visit a family of gorillas. And I think there were 30 families of gorillas with about 20 each in the family. We’re talking Silverbacks and other. You have to locate where they’re at in the jungle. You don’t drive up to them. You have to cut through the jungle to get with them. And they have spotters. We had that opportunity. And when you finally get to them, which is a 45-minute hike in when you arrive at the edge of the jungle and they’re finally located. And – oh my goodness – there they are. And you can hear the jungle floor cracking the bamboo, and you know you’re getting close, and you can see the trees swaying. And so you know the family is there. And all of a sudden, you come upon them. And I was on a trail and we stopped on the trail. It’s dense jungle where I was waiting. And all sudden, I look to my right, and there was a baby gorilla two feet from my leg. And looking up another three feet away was the big silver, the king of the jungle, sitting there staring at me.  

Steve Shallenberger: They actually teach you gorilla language. So, there’s a way to say hello. So, I’m freaked out. I look at this big ol’ huge gorilla, and he’s about six feet away, and he’s staring right at me, just sitting there eating. And I also say, “Okay, I’m gonna go for it.” And a few seconds passed and all sudden– Wow! So, Emery, that’s part of what he wants to do is preserve that forever. And that’s a great thing. Emery is a blessing to his country. We’ve had the privilege to be over there and train leadership principles, Becoming Your Best, which they have been a blessing, they have been life-changing for people. And through Emery, we had the opportunity to meet His Excellency, the President Paul Kagame, and we’re invited into the equivalent of the White House and also several ministers. These are phenomenal people with the same spirit that Emery is talking about; of how to lift their country. And it’s an anomaly. It’s not what you think of in a typical African country; it is on the move. Fifth safest place in the world that you can be. One of the fastest growing economies in the entire continent of Africa. And so there’s a reason for it: They’re working on being a highly educated people. And as Emery says, this is a work in process. So, Emery, a key question here: What factors are creating such a powerful difference in the success of Rwanda today? 

Emery Rubagenga: I think I highlighted it earlier. The key, number one, element is leadership. A leadership that has, in mind, development. And it’s not just having it in mind, it’s also practicing it. It has to be in the DNA of the leaders, and it has to grow. This mindset of “having in mind to grow and develop oneself, and be better than yesterday, and grow tomorrow more and more” is a journey. It’s something that one needs to have and continue to nurture. I think that specific leadership mindset is key. And number two: You won’t to do it alone. It’s teamwork. It’s strategic partnerships and alliances. I think the fact that people also learn from their mistakes; we have the humility to accept when we have done mistakes. And as a country, we have done a lot of mistakes. I’ve talked about important ones earlier. And we learn from them. And we deep dive into our own history to see where we can find solutions and borrow from other people and other culture, because we are with so many other people, brilliant people elsewhere as well, that we can tap into. Hence being part of this type of program is to go and pick the best you can out there and mix it with our own reality because it’s not about copy and paste, but it’s more about making sure that it’s adaptable into our own reality. I think that’s how to make sure that we make a success as a reality in our country. 

Steve Shallenberger: That’s really great. I’d like to give our listeners an example of this, which is an inspiration for anyone anywhere. If you’re a leader of a large organization or a smaller team. This is an example of what Emery is talking about. The President Paul Kagame is amazing, talks about him a little bit. The people love him in this country and they trust him. He’s worked hard. He has a leadership where he has set the vision, created a vision; it’s been a collaborative vision. A good example of this is another friend, common friend Emery and I share: Clare Akamanzi. She is the Minister of Business Development and Commerce for the country of Rwanda. And when she was 29, she had been an attorney, very successful in her own right. And she was selected by the President of the country to be the Minister of Business Development and Commerce. And as they got together, they looked at where Rwanda was, and they were 158 out of 178, in terms of being the worst place in the world to do business. Not where you want to be. But in the spirit of what Emery has just talked about, Clare looked at the president and said, “Well, I’ve been thinking about this, Mr. President, and I think we can be in the top 100.” And without skipping a beat, the President looked right back at her and said, “Well, why not the top 10?” Now, this is what we’re talking about; a mindset of excellence; a mindset of Becoming Your Best. And of course, to do that, he said, “You’re gonna have to learn what it takes to be in the top 10. So, go travel to the United States, travel to Ireland, travel to Singapore, see what they’re doing.” So, now, they have both the thought and the know-how. And today, just a few years later, it’s not very long, they are number 38 in the entire world of the best place to do business in. So, this is really fun. It’s a great example, isn’t it? 

Emery Rubagenga: It is a great example. And maybe I’ll jump there and give you a little example on Clare Akamanzi’s achievements. As an organization, the Rwanda Development Board, the organization she is the CEO of, has been able to put the possibility of opening a company in six hours. So, when you are in Rwanda and you intend to open your company, everything, first of all, is done under one roof, one stop center. And in six hours, you have maximum. So, usually it’s even less than that. And this is just one example. There are multiple example that I could give you. Different payments that are done electronically for the services. I acquired my passport in a day when the previous one ended. And I own, also, another passport of another country from another continent. I would be just mindful not to mention it and create some diplomatic tension here. But it took me eight days and I paid four times the price over there. And talking about technology, technology is key, and technology is at the center of what we do in Rwanda as well. And the Rwanda Development Board is doing an amazing job in making it in the life of the individuals in the rural area, even, all the students in high school. You have agriculture that is now mechanized. But not only mechanized, you have some apps that are developed for rural area to help the agriculture sector – which, in the past, was a little bit remote – to control what is happening, to be able to monitor how the crops are growing and the irrigation system. And again, thanks for some strategic alliances and partnerships. Some of them are from United States of America. Some, of course, are also from other places. But it is just amazing what can be done when people have the right mindset and the right determination. And when we keep the eye on the ball to make it happen, it just happened. 

Steve Shallenberger: It does. Well, that’s great. Thank you for adding that. Well, we are at the end of our interview. I mean, there’s so much more I would like to get from Emery. So, we’re going to have to wait for another time for that one, Emery. He has so many insights and a lot of experience. He’s seen a lot of things and can share a lot of ideas that are really good for all of us in this spirit of interchange; just what you’ve been talking about: Collaboration. 

Emery Rubagenga: Thank you so very much, Steve. It has been a wonderful privilege to be with you today, visit this great university, and talk about these strategic partnerships that we’re working closely with you. Remember, we have $100 billion infrastructure gap in Africa. And we believe that joining hands with the right people, we can breach that. We are on a journey with our friends to make it happen. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, you bet. And that’s the right way to do it. Any final tips for our listeners today? 

Emery Rubagenga: Yes. So, coming from Rwanda, after what we have experienced and the new mindset that we have, I’m thinking of all the misunderstandings that I see around. And I just believe that sometimes things are lost in the translation. It’s just that we are not in a listening mode; we don’t anticipate to hear the other side. And probably removing our egos can help in business, in everything else. In my humble experience – and I learn it every day – is about empathy and joining hands and connecting with the human being first before doing business. I want to commend you, Steve, for that, and to thank you for being such a great friend; not only to me, but to my country as well. 

Steve Shallenberger: Well, it’s an honor and privilege. I’d like to finish with one last observation. And thank you, Emery, for being here. He’s an amazing person. That is one of the spirits and feelings that I have from the people of Rwanda; something, I think, we can all learn. Emery has talked about the horrible trauma that they went through 28 years ago. But one of the things I noticed today because almost everyone lost somebody that they were related to – a friend, it could have been somebody they worked with, neighbors – is the tremendous desire that people have today, every single one that I’ve met, is to take advantage of the time that they have to do the very best that they can; to be the best person; to treat other people well; to take advantage of life because they have it and they realize it. They feel like they have a second chance, and they’re not going to fumble the second chance. They want to make it great. I think that spirit is something good for every single one of us to realize there are no gimmies. Well, it’s been a privilege to be together today. Thank you, Emery. And thank you for joining us. We wish each one of you the very best today and always. This is your host, Steve Shallenberger, signing off. 

Steve Shallenberger

Founder, Becoming Your Best
CEO, executive, corporate trainer, and community leader.

Emery Rubagenga

CEO of ROKA Global Resources

Passionate, Motivated Entrepreneur & Investor. JCI & YPO Member.

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