Thursday, July 14, 2016

Sabbatical: Why Rwanda.

By Saturday evening, the 12 of us, minus one, had arrived. Jared, our US colleague in Philly, was supposed to be on my flight from Amsterdam to Kigali. Thanks to weather and incompetency at Delta Airlines, he arrived two days and eight flights later. Yikes.

Sunday we got right to it. We spent the morning getting to know each other. Jurie, our leader from Pyxera, a D.C-based company that helps organize our 10 yearly Sabbaticals, gave us an inspiring kickoff presentation about the mission of Pyxera and the impact that programs like ours are making worldwide. Check out the Pyxera Global site - it's very interesting and worthwhile work. 

Our Sabbatical alumni mentor Rainer Stern and others
on Team Kumwe at Pyxera kickoff presentation on Sunday.

We also heard our alumni mentor, Rainer Stern from SAP Germany, talk about the Sabbatical program as it relates to SAP's overarching business strategy and commitment to the UN's Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) around driving quality education, decent work and economic growth.  (That's a topic for another blog.) Rainer participated in a Sabbatical two years ago in Bogota, Colombia. He's here now giving us guidance and support. Having had this experience already, he knows like no one else how rewarding and challenging the Sabbatical experience can be.

A few hours in, we took a trip to the Genocide Memorial here in Kigali. A sobering experience. Not only was it educational, it gave us important context. The issues, challenges, and opportunities that we will address here stem in some way from the effects of that horrible period of time. As Alex Ntare, head of the ICT Chamber in Rwanda told us, "In Rwanda, everything starts after 1994."

Rwandans are such calm, soft spoken people. It is hard to believe what happened here; how government orchestrated such a horrific event; how they were able to manipulate neighbors to kill neighbors; family to kill family. It seems impossible. But it happened. We were told as part of our pre-work for the trip, to be careful not to ask Rwandans about family in casual conversation--almost everyone here lost someone in the genocide.

A few related facts:
  • About 1 million people died in the genocide
  • About 80 percent of children in 1994 lost a family member in the genocide
  • Of 3,000 children surveyed by UNICEF, about 70% witnessed a killing or injury
  • 90% believed they would die
Today, 61 percent of the population is under the age of 24. Unemployment is more than 20 percent. And 39 percent live below the poverty line. But, significant progress has been made. For example:

  • Life expectancy in Rwanda has doubled, to age 60+
  • 90% of Rwandans are enrolled in a national health plan and have access to care
  • Death from disease has declined, ex. malaria cases dropped 83% in 2011
  • Economic growth reaches 8% GDP annually (as of 2014)
  • Rwanda ranks as one of the easiest places to do business in Africa (World Bank)

Speech that creates ethnic divisions has been outlawed. Some see this as repression. Others see it as a necessary. Community work grounded in a Rwandan tradition called "umuganda" shows itself in the form of clean-up Saturdays once a month, where everyone stops what they are doing to participate in this community service. It is mandatory for all citizens and seems to foster community spirit, and the results include clean streets, new housing, freshly painted buildings and more. Kigali is so clean, it is impressive.
Excellent read on the new Rwanda.

What was once a nation shredded by misery and violence has become a model for economic recovery and for unity among its population. They've made an incredible turnaround both economically and socially. It is clear through our research and discussions here, Rwanda is on a mission to succeed. To be self-sufficient. To be an economic superstar in Africa. They aren't looking to foreign investments to come in and save the day.

With so much positive progress, potential, and drive, it is no wonder that Pyxera and SAP saw an opportunity to make a positive impact here. To help Rwanda run better. To improve people's lives. Let's see what we can do.