You gotta love this guy! John McEleney, CEO of SolidWorks, should have been getting ready for this board meeting on this bitterly cold Wednesday morning in Concord, MA. But instead he pops into a meeting I am having (I happen to be in town) to tell me he is going to Rwanda next month. No, it's not to fatten the corporate bottom line by selling software. He wants to help Rwanda get back on its feet. It is a poor African nation still reeling from its 1994 genocide. SolidWorks is going to help by providing software and training in the hopes that their country can become a cost effective offshore resource for developed nations that need 3D modeling.
Rwanda would just love to be where India is. But whereas India's elite -- developers, IT pros and other "knowledge workers" -- strive to own a car, a Rwandan's ambition is decidedly more modest. The CAD students in Kigale (Rwanda's capital) were overjoyed to learn that their recent efforts had landed them a windfall. After another project at the school, "each student was able to buy one egg a week," says Scott Harris, one of SolidWorks founders, who is also assisting with the company's humanitarian efforts.
The cynical would suggest SolidWorks is only acting to incubate a market that would eventually be able to pay full price for software. But surely, there must be areas of the world in which this effort would bear fruit sooner and easier. Certainly fast developing nations like India and China jump to mind. Let's just say Rwanda is not exactly on the same map for foreign investors. Could SolidWorks' support of Rwanda be the real thing -- a purely selfless act?
I know, it's hard to believe. The corporate world of late is plagued by greed and scandal -- witness the stock option abuse, Enron, record profits of oil companies amid global warming... the list goes on. We've all heard that news.
But a CEO that puts his board meeting on hold to promote efforts to help the forgotten and helpless? That's news to me.