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Growing Africa's Talent: Corporate Exec Transform Nation

February 18, 2014

Dale Dawson was a business titan. After graduating from the University of Texas-Austin, Dawson began his accounting and corporate tax career at the renowned consulting firm KPMG. By the age of 30 he became a partner at KPMG’s Dallas office, matriculating to national director of insurance only two years later.

Dawson’s next move came in 1985 when he joined Stevens Inc., one of the countries’ largest non-Wall street investment banks, in Little Rock, Arkansas. Dawson served as head of investment banking at Stevens before a six-year stint reviving the Memphis-based automotive parts company TruckPro.

After saving the once failing TruckPro, Dawson returned to Arkansas to continue his career as an investment banker, but he was empty inside. Unfulfilled.

When Dawson turned 51, he no longer felt the same excitement for his work. But Dawson found a new passion after his Bible study leader, Martha Vetter, announced her decision to become a missionary at Sonrise Primary School for Orphans in Rwanda. At that time, Rwanda was still recovering from an AIDS outbreak and the largest genocide since World War II, in which 800,000 people were massacred. Help was needed for Rwanda’s recovery, and Dawson saw himself as the man for the job.

After introductions to Sonrise’s founder and attending an Opportunity International forum in 2004, Dawson developed a plan. “It was like God leaned down to me and said, ‘I’ve been preparing you your whole life to build businesses that serve the poor.’ The passion that I always had for business was reignited at that point,” Dawson said in an article published on inarkansas.com.

Dawson began his mission fundraising for Sonrise, which opened in 2005 as a result of his fundraising campaign. The school’s students now rank first in Rwanda’s national exam.

Dawson had already contributed to Rwanda’s human capital, so his next venture was to launch a bank that provided infrastructure for financial capital. After raising $5 million, Dawson oversaw the opening of the Opportunity International Bank of Rwanda, a place providing a source of financial capital for entrepreneurs, as well as an infrastructure for Rwandans to save money.

While he had already made a substantial difference, Dawson wanted a macro-level operation. In founding Bridge2Rwanda (B2R), he did just that. B2R’s goal is to build a bridge (figuratively) from Arkansas to Rwanda that combines all facets that are necessary to change a country: finance, education and the creation of relationships.

Tangible results have been consistently seen in Dawson’s education initiative. B2R has granted around 170 scholarships to Rwanda’s brightest minds to study at American institutions. Many of these students actually come to Arkansas to study. These students accept the scholarships on the condition that they initially return to Rwanda and use their education to better their homeland.

Real results have also been achieved in Dawson’s financial area of expertise. In 2007, Dawson’s bank, Opportunity International Bank of Rwanda, merged with Urwego Community Bank to become Urwego Opportunity Bank of Rwanda. Thanks to this partnership, the bank is now the country’s largest microfinance institution. The bank now has more than 270 employees and 40,000 loans, offering Rwandans a chance to grow a business.

After producing this philanthropic structure and joining Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s Presidential Advisory Council, Dawson teamed up with Sagamore Institute President Jay Hein to

found the ISOKO Institute for Entrepreneurship and Strong Societies in Africa. By founding ISOKO, Dawson expanded his mission to sustain the growth that he has seen in his initial projects.

Dawson founded ISOKO with the realization that a society can only be lifted from poverty with a robust, market-based economy. ISOKO works to bring together investors and entrepreneurs for opportunities to create significant ROI in Rwanda. While there is no finish line, Dawson’s philanthropic conglomerate is working toward reducing the number of Rwandans living on less than $2 a day through the implementation of a robust economy.

ISOKO-Bridge2Rwanda

Bridge2Rwanda was formed in 2007 to help expand Rwanda’s global network of friends, to encourage foreign direct investment and to create opportunities for Rwandan students to study abroad. A few years later, President Paul Kagame asked B2R to develop a new scholars program to “burst the bottlenecks” that were preventing Rwanda’s best students from competing for international scholarships. The first class of Bridge2Rwanda Scholars was launched in 2011.

At President Kagame’s request and with support from the SEVEN Fund and Michael Fairbanks, B2R launched ISOKO Institute, a free market think tank to promote private enterprise across Africa. Jay Hein agrees to serve as its Managing Director.

ISOKO Institute is poised to become Africa’s leading free market think tank. Headquartered in Kigali, under the auspices of President Paul Kagame, ISOKO (“marketplace” in Kinyarwanda) serves as a catalyst for entrepreneurs and investors to launch new businesses and to test their innovations in Africa’s marketplace. With president Jay Hein at the helm as ISOKO’s managing director, Sagamore is helping transform the international development debate to emphasize trade over aid.

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