Akaliza Gara: Thinking Outside The Box

Akaliza has proven herself to be an inspiring young woman and a leader of now. In 2010, she launched her multimedia business, Shaking Sun, which is based in Kigali  Rwanda. It offers a wide variety of services including website development, graphic design, video editing and animation.

A Multimedia Technology & Design graduate from the University of Kent in Canterbury England, she is one of countless other young Africans stepping out and taking the initiative to use their gifts and talents as entrepreneurs. With admirable creative flair, Akaliza personifies her company’s “Thinking Outside The Box” slogan. 

Here, we find out more about her, the journey so far and her hopes for the future.

The early years

Born in Uganda in 1986 to Rwandese parents, Akaliza had quite an unusual childhood in that her and her family moved to a new country regularly because of her father’s jobs. The varied cross-cultural experiences she has had as a result have undoubtedly come to shape her exceptionally creative and unconventional mind. She has lived in 9 countries spanning 5 continents.

From quite early on, Akaliza showed a passion for art and technology. She loved painting, sketching and computers even before she was taught about computers at school. She would play around on the one her parents owned trying out new and different things. She describes this fascination:

“Back when you started it up you got a black screen and you had to type in very specific commands to access any program. I loved it – I used to try out different commands to see what would happen.”

Opportunity knocks

Fast-forward some years and this fascination with the creative arts and technology led her to study Multimedia Technology and Design at university. But at what point did this love for art and technology transform into a desire to start her own business? She tells me,

“Like most graduates, I wanted to get hired into an established company. My dream was to get a position as a computer animator at Pixar. When I didn’t get a positive response from them, I decided that one day I would start my own successful animation company. I had done the research and saw that the equipment and software I would need was quite expensive, so I made it a long-term goal. During a holiday in Uganda, a few months after my graduation, I started to hear about all the opportunities in Rwanda and how there was a lot of support for youth, women and IT professionals.”

Shaking Sun was officially born after Akaliza had spent 3 years working in a multimedia consultancy role for various government institutions. The first of these short contracts was offered to her after a week-long trip to Kigali advertising her services to various businesses and organisations.

The demand for web and general technological work is testament to the growing desire of businesses and IT entrepreneurs across the continent, not just in Rwanda, to be efficiently connected with a global audience and to express their talents more widely. Akaliza says the market for IT products and services in Rwanda is very much young and hungry. Through the Private Sector Federation, she has been able to meet like-minded entrepreneurs. She has been able to share and listen to ideas which she has found inspiring and encouraging. Akaliza also praises the government’s commitment to encouraging upcoming entrepreneurs, particularly within her sector, as well as its zero-tolerance stance to corruption. 

Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the country has been heralded as one of Africa’s gems, a trend-setter on the continent in the areas of economic management and support for entrepreneurs. According to Professor Mthuli Ncube, Chief Economist and Vice President at the African Development Bank (AfDB),

“Rwanda is among the top performers growth-wise (expected to hit 7.7% this year) because it’s a well-run economy and with very focused macroeconomic policies. [It]  is doing all the right things that I think will sustain growth this year and going forward.”

Shaking Sun

Similar to many other entrepreneurs, Akaliza chose to save her own money to fund and establish her business for its first year. But what differentiates Shaking Sun in the market? Akaliza points to her unique approach to prices:

“Most of my competitors give quotes after meeting the client. I have a clear price list which I send to all my potential clients. I don’t want anyone to feel like they got a higher quote based on what I assume they can afford. Some people say that this means my competitors can undercut me. However, the majority of our clients choose us because we have been recommended to them by a previous client or because they have seen our work, not because of our prices.”

Through the contacts she has made over the last few years, she has grown her client base to include government institutions and a range of businesses, particularly start-ups.

But what about the challenges? Akaliza says one of her biggest challenges so far has been understanding the tax system. She says,

“Recently, I found out that I had miscalculated some of my taxes and paid more than was necessary this year. I will get refunded but that won’t be until 2013. However, I would advise anyone starting up a business to educate themselves about taxes. Mistakes like this can be very expensive!”

Social Impact

Akaliza values the opportunities she was given to work whilst at university. This can be seen by her desire to give other young people the chance to use and develop their skills and gain experience. When putting her team together, she organised a 2 week internship for 9 students of varying backgrounds. In the end, she employed the top 3 interns as Web Developers. Two of them have since graduated from university but one is still studying. The fifth member of her team was an accounting student when she was hired but has since graduated and now works as the Office Manager.

Speaking about the social impact of IT on the lives of ordinary Rwandese, Akaliza tells of her continual amazement at the big impact small businesses can have on communities:

“I met a university student who started a business recently with her fellow students – one of the first projects they worked on was an app to allow anyone with a mobile phone (not just smart phones) to make a booking at the local hospital. She hasn’t even finished school and already she’s doing something that could impact the entire city. Stories like that are not uncommon here. I can’t help but be excited about our nation and our continent’s future if it is producing entrepreneurs like this.”

The future

Akaliza is hopeful that Shaking Sun will go global one day. She also still holds to the dream of being part of an African animation industry, producing films and cartoons specifically targeting children across the continent.

Akaliza ends with some advice for budding entrepreneurs,

“Expect to mess things up – big time and on a regular basis – that is perfectly normal so don’t beat yourself up. See it as a learning opportunity. I don’t know how many times I’ve said, “Wow – I won’t do that again!” So don’t worry if you screw up – most of the time, we’ve all been there, and we survived.”

It’s been fantastic and inspiring to hear about Akaliza and her work. We wish her and the team at Shaking Sun the very best.

Thank you!

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6 thoughts on “Akaliza Gara: Thinking Outside The Box

  1. I am always inspired by your work, i have attended your classes on Blender but not sure wither I will finish them because of my casual schedules, but I will try. Keep the flag up Akaliza

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