Jabo Butera: From Rwanda to Plymouth

We are really excited to share this feature, Jabo Butera: From Rwanda to Plymouth. Take ten minutes out of your busy day, grab yourself a cup of coffee and enjoy.

When we think about those who travelled on the Mayflower in search of a new life, it’s difficult to imagine the uncertainty they must have experienced. The dangers of crossing the Atlantic Ocean would have been a real and physical challenge, but not truly knowing what lay ahead on that foreign land would have been both exciting and terrifying in equal amounts. 

The great unknown. An adventure of a lifetime. 

And for those individuals who must cross great oceans to find new lands in which to call home, the journey is not always one taken by choice. It’s sometimes a necessity brought about by circumstances completely out of their control. Jabo Butera, the Managing Director and Co-Founder at Diversity Business Incubator CIC, and the newly appointed member of the Plymouth and Devon Chamber of Commerce, can testify to this because he experienced it first-hand. 

Welcome to the UK… and the winter!

In the early 2000s, Jabo fled his home in Rwanda during a time of violence and war, arriving in the UK on a cold winter’s day. In this modern age, we can pick up our mobile phones and research the climate, and a hundred other things, then pack accordingly. It’s all there at our fingertips. We can be prepared! To a certain point.

This wasn’t the case for Jabo back then. He didn’t know what to expect and his first impression on arriving in the UK, in the middle of winter, was a slippery one. 

“Rwanda is a tropical country in east Africa with rainy and dry seasons. Nothing in between. I had never experienced winter and I was not dressed for it! In my mind, I was coming to a civilised country so I dressed in my best suit and shoes. Now can you imagine a leather outsole on the icy tarmac? Yes, my first foot off the plane and I go flying, landing right on my bottom!”

Not the best way to start a new life but Jabo found a way to turn it into a positive. 

“This is what I thought, you stand up, dust off and continue.”

Developing this kind of mental strength was going to play an important part in Jabo’s life because slipping on the ice was only the first problem he encountered. 

“I couldn’t speak English. I came from a French background so I had to adapt quickly to this new way of life but there was no support. It was like joining onto a motorway but without an access road. There was no easing into society by joining others in the slow lanes first while finding your way. It was just straight into the traffic at a hundred miles per hour!”

Jabo Butera: Moving into the Fast Lane

Jabo’s first experiences working in the UK were difficult. He couldn’t speak English and it was just kind of expected that he could. He would sit through staff meetings and nod. Hoping to grasp some point or instruction that would tell him what to do. His next job as a cleaner presented new problems. Now with a more confident grasp of the English language, he was taking daytime classes, and Jabo was able to communicate better with his colleagues and management. Not that expressing ways to make improvements to his work environment was met with much enthusiasm.

“I was told by the manager that I wasn’t paid to think. This was one of the many reasons why I knew I had to work for myself.”

So Jabo moved into the fast lane and developed his own cleaning business in Sheffield which he later sold. He’d gone from London to Sheffield but his life was destined for another part of the world. Plymouth!

Life In Plymouth

How does life in Plymouth compare to London and Sheffield? 

“When I landed in Plymouth I immediately loved it. Nature, the natural beauty all around. Everything slowed down here after leaving the rat race kind of cities behind. My children were growing up and it was the perfect place to settle down.”

He soon noticed a very clear distinction between Plymouth and the other cities where he’d lived. 

“Where were all the other black people? I wanted to make connections with other black people to find out how they were doing. To see how being thrown onto the fast lane of society had affected them. But it was much more difficult than I’d expected to find people willing to communicate with me. They didn’t want to share their stories and I thought, who are my children going to look up to? Where are all the role models for all the black children in our communities?”

It would have been much easier to return to London or move to Manchester if all Jabo wanted for his children was to live in an already well-established diverse area of the UK. But Jabo could see so much potential here in Plymouth that he decided to stay and Co-Found his next business, Diversity Business Incubator. 

Jabo Butera: From Rwanda to Plymouth, Millfields Trust

Diversity Business Incubator: Integrating into British Society

Through Diversity Business Incubator Jabo and his team meet displaced people who have come to the UK for a variety of reasons. Had integrating into British society gotten any easier in 2022?

“No. It’s a sink-or-swim situation. Once a person has experienced the stress of the fast lane they enter the slow lane and stay there. It’s safe. They don’t know the potential they have. At DBI we help ease people back into the fast lane so they can adapt here but also thrive.”

Jabo understands the societal barriers that immigrants and working-class British people must overcome in order to experience a more fruitful life. For Jabo, he recognises the mechanisms that hold people in place.

“Instead of seeing stumbling blocks ahead, through DBI we create stepping stones for people. We can show you a way forward but you must believe in yourself. I cannot give you something that is already there. It’s inside all of us when we are born. We just need to find a way to let it out.”

Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce

In July 2022 Jabo was appointed as a director at the Devon and Plymouth Chamber of Commerce where he is now able to work with other members from the region and explore ways to help grow the local economy. 

“We want to find new ways to connect businesses of course and grow the economy. But we want to attract new opportunities to Plymouth and Devon and encourage inter-trading amongst the chamber members as well. But we need to understand how to keep the pound going around before it goes out of our region.” 

Simply put, this means shopping local whenever possible but also knowing that you can. The Chamber and its members are interested in helping to develop clear links between businesses, and the consumer, so the economy can benefit from, as Jabo says, “Keeping the pound going around before it goes out.”

The Millfields Trust: HQ Building

What attracted Jabo to Stonehouse and the Millfields Trust? 

“First of all, the location. The HQ Building is in the most deprived area but also the most diverse. This helps the people we want to connect with find us easily. But values are also important and Millfields Trust’s values align with our own. They are very supportive of start-ups and provide a collaborative service with their tenants.”

That’s something we are very proud of here at the Millfields Trust and if you’d like to know more about our rental spaces, and how we could support your business growth please head over to our website for further information. 

So, what’s next for Jabo Butera? Can he possibly fit anything else into his life?

Follow the link here and listen to Jabo’s journey into the coffee industry.

And finally, Jabo shared a mantra that is part of his business philosophy before getting back to his busy schedule, an interview with the BBC was next on the list, and here it is, “It’s never too late… but it’s getting late. Don’t think it’s too late to start something because it’s never too late… but it is getting late. So start today.”

Find out more about Diversity Business Incubator

Meet the new Devon & Plymouth Chamber board of directors