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Rwandan Trip Retrospective

I recently returned from Rwanda as part of a delegation of Tech Women from Silicon Valley.

Why Rwanda?

The purpose of the trip was to both inspire girls and women to pursue education and careers in STEM and to learn about efforts in Rwanda to educate and empower girls and women.

As always on these trips, it’s a two-way street. We learned a lot that can help us empower girls and women in the US.

History and a way forward

Tina Shankor, one of my travel mates, wrote a great post about our visit to the Genocide memorial where we learned the history of the events leading up to the tragedy — how it destroyed lives, displaced people and left the country as a potential failed state. (In fact, our hotel was the actual hotel where the events depicted in the movie Hotel Rwanda took place).

Yet, and this is what you’d find most surprising by visiting Rwanda, the people found a way forward. They’ve been rebuilding, socially and economically, since 1996 on a breakneck pace to try to become the Singapore of Africa according to President Kagame (read more).

Women in Government

A key component of their way forward, is the education and empowerment of women. Their parliament has 64% women, one of the highest of any government in the world (we have 20% in the Senate and 18.5% in the House – if you are keeping score at home, women are still 50% of the US population). Maybe we can learn something….

 Why women and girls?

By the numbers:

One out of five girls in the developing world does not complete sixth grade
Increasing girls’ primary school enrollment rates leads to increased gross domestic product
With each year of secondary schooling a girl completes her wages increase by 15-25%
Educated girls are 6 times less likely to marry young, which in turn impacts child mortality, health and nutrition.
Educated women typically invest 90% of their income in their family, compared with 30-40% of a man’s income.  As a result the next generation lead better lives as well.

Put it together and you get the Girl Effect.

Women & Innovators of the future

We visited the Gashora Girls Academy, Akilah Institute and Girls Hub – three amazing institutions.

We visited k-Lab, an incubator where we met several women who were also enrolled at Carnegie-Mellon Rwanda (excellent blog by one of their professors on challenges they encounter). They pitched us their new product ideas!

The end of poverty?

Our trip ended with a visit to the Millennium Village which I head read about in A Thousand Hills to Heaven.

The Millennium Villages Project addresses the root causes of extreme poverty, taking a holistic, community-led approach to sustainable development.

Ericsson is one of the sponsors so our colleague Audrey Simpson arranged a tour of the village’s school, hospital, cassava processing plant and crafts center. It’s amazing to see a multifaceted approach to tackling poverty in action.

Last word: Umuganda

On my last day, another travel mate (Evelyn Teo of Salesforce) and I spent the day touring visiting sites in the country side with our guide Tarzan (yah, he knows the Jane jokes). We ended up in a conversation over lunch telling him about the homeless people in America. He couldn’t understand it. What about their families? (Not helping them, we explained). What about the community meetings? (Our towns don’t work like that, we explained).

Umuganda can be translated as ‘coming together in common purpose to achieve an outcome

On the last Saturday of each month the adults in every Rwandan community work together on a public works progress. Can you imagine what we could achieve in the U.S. if we also did that?

Photos from Millennium village:

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