Children play next to the Kimisigara Football for Hope Centre as the new solar floodlights are tested.

Rwandan surprises

After two months living and working in Rwanda, Student and early career blogger Ray Gorman can say that the experience wasn’t anything like he expected. Here he talks about what he’s seen and learnt so far.

I’ve been here on the ground here in Rwanda for two months now and I write this from the supporters area of a FIFA youth football pitch. My first months in Rwanda have not been what I was expecting for a number of reasons and I find myself asking numerous questions about my own future, Rwanda’s future and the future of foreign aid.

Closed-loop versus open-loop development

As I mentioned in my first blog, all of my previous experience in the development sector has been with non-profits, so the step into the world of for-profits is one I took anxiously.

From my experience and the many reports I constantly see, one of the most common issues raised in the development sector is effectual longer term monitoring and evaluation, with the real-world impacts and effectiveness of projects and programmes often so difficult to quantify and the results only becoming clear long after the programme has ended.

In the world of social enterprise however, this seems to be less of an issue, with almost instantaneous feedback: if it’s not selling, it’s not right! Consumers after all are some of the pickiest people on the planet. If you want to compete with that heavily subsidised cook-stove being offered by the NGOs, you have to be able to offer a superior product and/or be able to beat their price through operating more cost-efficient production and distribution systems.

NGO initiatives have a deep reliance on donor/grant money, the amount and duration of which being the defining variables for the breadth and length of the programme. Once the funding ends, so often does programme, or at least until deeper pockets are found to fund the initiative.

Social enterprise, while needing initial starting capital, doesn’t suffer from this problem, generating enough funds to sustain and  grow, providing shareholders with both dividends and an enormous sense of well-being along the way.

I’m not trying to sell you some kind of pyramid scheme or magic beans, with the right planning and a properly thought out product, social enterprise works and it may well be the future of foreign aid.

Rwanda: a shining light on the African continent or a greasy smudge on our collective conscience?

Ever since landing in Kigali International Airport, nothing about Rwanda has been anything like what I was expecting. The road from the airport is lined with palm trees and women meticulously trimming the grass with strange right-angled machetes. The road itself is seemingly brand new and in good enough condition to host F1 races.
Rwanda’s rapid development has been astonishing with many holding it up as a prime example to the rest of East Africa.

Rwanda has a lot to be proud of and has definitely achieved much through effective aid-spending, longer term planning, crackdowns on corruption and encouraging investment and enterprise among a whole host of other initiatives.

However part of me can’t help but feel that the main reason for Rwanda’s rapid development is the colossal amounts of money and assistance piled on its door-step after the world ashamedly did nothing in ’94.

While Kigali has the appearance of a city expanding and booming, you only have to peel away the facade and you quickly notice that many of the opulent office buildings are almost vacant, their extremely high-tech looking traffic-light system is often usurped by traffic police busily trying to clear traffic jams and then there’s the sewage situation or should I say lack of sewage situation?

Due to the lack of central waste treatment or even a sewage network, large buildings are required by law to have in-house sewage treatment works in their basements. While I am not a sanitation expert, this strikes me as the “gaffer tape it” solution to a bigger infrastructural problem.

What the future holds for me

I have just over three months left here in Rwanda and am starting to ask myself where and what to next? My time here has been the first in my career in which my main duties were actual engineering and I have to say I’m enjoying it!

I have a few questions to ask myself about just how idealistic I am and which ideals mean the most to me. Is my impact bigger here on the ground working with a local team on small-scale projects or in the head offices of an international NGO managing bigger, longer term projects, or is what really matters to me something else completely? And if so would I give this up for something or someone more important to me?

Right now I can’t answer those questions, but hopefully I will be able to once I’ve finished my time here.

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