How Yussouf Ntwali went from volunteer to CEO at 21

Abu Mubarik July 28, 2022
Photo credit: Ridhima Shukla

Yussouf Ntwali has his feet firmly grounded in the flattering league of successful African business magnates. And he’s just 21. As CEO of a popular tech company in Rwanda – BAG Innovation, Yussouf seems to have beaten a clean path through the delicate maze of African Tech enterprises to carve a name for the EdTech company where he first worked as a volunteer.

Even more astonishing is that he’s accomplished all these with neither a university degree nor the puniest formal training in technology. Notwithstanding these seeming handicaps, Yussouf Ntwali has managed to climb up the ranks to become the Chief Operations Officer (COO) and now, CEO of BAG Innovation.

Ntwali is of a diverse cultural heritage; born to a Rwandan father and a Congolese mother, he spent his formative years in Lubumbashi, Congo, with his parents and three siblings. In 2007, he moved to Rwanda but was soon to struggle adapting linguistically in an English-speaking country because he only spoke Swahili and French. 

“I spent the first few years in Rwanda without studying Kinyarwanda or English. But, around the age of 10, I began to pick it up,” he told Forbes Africa. In no time, Ntwali picked up the two languages, which underscores his ability to confront new challenges.

Becoming a CEO by the age of 21 was not something Ntwali desperately yearned for. His ambition was to become a musician. He wanted to become the next Jay-Z and was even selected for a national competition in Rwanda.

Ntwali opted not to pursue further education after he completed high school. Instead, he decided to develop his capacity in other fields and began attending workshops and training sessions in business management and entrepreneurship, dropping his initial ambition in music. The switch in goals may have stemmed from his exposure to entrepreneurship at age 17, when he began working in his father’s chain of barber shops, which opened him up to the experience of running a company. Still at 17, he met the founder of BAG Innovation, Gabriel Ekman and never looked back.

“He spoke about the lack of skilled youth in Rwanda and the gaps in training. How most students had degrees but did not know how to use them. Employers had employees that did not perform and I thought ‘yes! I have seen this!” says Yussouf.

The two would meet later on, leading to Ntwali joining Ekman at his moderate workspace and began to work on improving the recruitment, training and selection ecosystem of Rwanda, according to Forbes Africa. The platform also noted that they used simple tools like Facebook and interpersonal skills to provide solutions to small companies to improve their sales and revenue as well as their human resource needs.

“If a coffee shop told us they struggled with pushing higher sales, we would advertise to students on Facebook to solve the problem for the shop, to sell more coffee,” he said.

He officially joined BAG Innovation in 2018 after securing several contracts which they used to pay off bills and expand operations. The company works like an HR firm, recruiting and finding the right candidates for clients.

BAG Innovation makes money from companies that hire talent through them on a per-person basis, and their ability to offer a range of employee portfolios to potential employers to choose from is their differentiator.

Last Edited by:Francis Akhalbey Updated: July 28, 2022


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