By the time we started developing the content, we had already worked with dozens of accountants in Rwanda. Drawing on this experience, we realized that we couldn’t simply leverage an Accounting 101 class taught in North America. We came to the realization that:
- Learning must be localized to include relevant nuances that exist nowhere else. Our target market doesn’t have credit cards – instead, they rely on cash and mobile money. Working at a company operating in East Africa, you’re exposed to different challenges than you would be at a company in North America or Europe.
- The curriculum must be practical. People learn by doing. Standing in front of a classroom and lecturing for 8 hours a day is ineffective. We had to create an environment that simulated a day in the life of an accountant in the region.
From February to April 2018, we developed hundreds of examples, questions, and cases drawing on our experience working with clients in the country. The result of our curriculum was approximately 120 hours of learning broken down into 15 modules. These were focused on the fundamentals of accounting (debits and credits), basic internal controls, and how to effectively perform an accounting process (i.e. what to do if you receive payment for a service or need to pay a vendor).
Fast forward to July 2018 and the pilot was on. Through an advertisement on a local online job board, we received over 230 applications and selected 20 students to join us for our 4-week immersive boot camp. There were only two application criteria: 1) You needed to be unemployed, and 2) You had to have completed a university degree.
Miraculously, all 20 students bravely showed up on the first day!
In addition to Erin and I teaching, we wanted an extra set of hands to decrease our teacher to student ratio so that we could dedicate as much individual time as possible to our students. This was a pilot after all, and we had no idea what to expect. We were having such a great time working in Rwanda, and we wanted to provide this same learning experience to fellow accountants back home.
We’re extremely grateful to the two volunteers who flew all the way from Toronto to spend August with us as our facilitators. Erin, an old colleague from EY, and Geoff, a CFO with 20+ years of experience who we found through Luminari, were both wonderful additions to the team, and the students benefited immensely from their vast pool of experience. We now had four Canadian CPAs training the next generation of accountants in Rwanda.
The 4-week program was intense, but proceeded smoothly and without any major hiccups (other than the extremely salty lunches!). The student feedback we received made it all worth it. They loved the material and how it was presented – and most importantly, they learned a lot.
Based on the assessments we administered, their accounting knowledge improved by 87% over the course of the program.
We managed to secure 5 internships prior to starting the class, which we used as the carrot at the end of the stick to keep our students motivated throughout the program. Not only did most of those internships turn into full-time jobs, but when we followed up with the class 6 months later, more than 75% of all students were employed in accounting-related positions!
Most importantly, lessons were learned.
First, our students’ base knowledge was weaker than we expected. Our hypothesis was validated: university graduates in the region are simply not prepared for the workforce of the 21st century. This was not a novel theory, but it was extremely eye-opening to see it play out first-hand.
Second, companies have extreme difficulty in finding and hiring quality accountants. By this time, we were getting asked on a weekly basis for good entry-level accounting candidates.
Third, the cost to run in-person training is prohibitively expensive. We broke even on our operating costs, but our instructors were not compensated. Again, we’re extremely grateful to Geoff and Erin, our Canadian CPA volunteers, who flew to Rwanda on their own dime to work with us.
On the flip side, we were thrilled that our curriculum worked! We’re accountants, not educators, so we had some doubt in our ability to teach a group of students with materials we had drafted from scratch.
We also realized how important it is to charge for the program as opposed to giving it away for free. I don’t know how much peer-reviewed research exists that compares learning outcomes when someone pays for the training versus receiving it for free. However, as hard it is for our students to afford additional training, we found our students to be committed, engaged, and highly invested in their own success.
We charged each student 100,000 Rwandan francs ($110 USD) for the entire program, which included lunch, snacks, and drinks. Our market research indicated that this was at the top level of affordability. This meant that unfortunately, we had to pass on applicants who we shortlisted but were unable to pay the fees, which we used to cover the cost of renting the room, providing daily lunch and snacks, and printing materials.
The pilot made us realize that in its current format, the course would not be economically viable.
In the next post, I cover why I think we struck out with funders and how we then pivoted the course.