Regina Ingabire, Co-Founder Never Again International Youth Network, Rwanda
Note: The key messages in the interview have been transcribed and slightly altered for legibility and succinctness. More information is provided in the audio and video version www.wisdtomexchangetv.com. We welcome comments on the Wisdom Exchange TV website.
You have tended to focus on youth as the primary catalyst for change, what impact do you think that focus has created for Rwanda?
When I co-founded Never Again International about 10 years ago what we had in mind is to create a forum where Rwanda youth can meet and exchange ideas and talk about things that impact their country. We wanted them to discuss what role Rwandan youth play to shape a better Rwanda for the future. The forum is where youth can meet, discuss, propose and recommend what should be done for their country. It was an opportunity for the young people to have the government of Rwanda know what young people are thinking and how they all can work together to make this country a better country.
So what initiatives came out of Never Again International and have had the most impact on Rwanda?
There are many initiatives that this program has helped to inspire, but mostly it has allowed critical thinking. In 2005 we had a youth competition through the country with a theme of what can Rwandan youth do to prevent future genocide? Youth had to compete with poems, songs and essays. That was forum for them to say what they think and what should be done. The other benefit is it allowed the government to hear what youth were thinking about in regards to the future of the country. It had success from both sides, because these are the future leaders and they were able to express their opinions and also be heard. They were given the voice and power.
Did the government implement any of those ideas or was it just about their voices being heard?
The government officials have taken some of the initiatives up. When we did the competition in 2005, someone’s recommendation was forwarded to the Minister of Education and the Minister implemented it.
Where do you think youth can make the biggest impact in society?
Being aware of who they are, and the problems of their community and country. Then decide what role they can play. They are being empowered because they need to be part of the solutions, and think about what they can do to improve the situation we are in. Not as an individual but as a group.
Never Again International has about 50 clubs set-up in the schools and the youth groups through the country. In those clubs they decide what they can do in the school to improve certain things they want in their own community.
Some of the youth initiatives include club hosted a benefit concert where they raised $1000US to benefit orphans. The youth organized the event completely.
We have been in Kigali for 9 days, and I have heard people say “Kigali is one of the safest cities in Africa.’ I am walking out a night where usually it is recommended not to walk in African cities at night. Do you think there has been some impact by educating the youth on ensuring that there is a feeling of safety?
I think based on what we have gone through as Rwandans we wanted to change the perspective of Rwanda, such as it is terrible country. We want to change the mindset of people by setting example on how to make even our largest city, Kigali, a safe city to walk without being robbed or fearing for your own security.
Rwandan youth are aware of what that image would send to the rest of the world. If we want to be Agents of change we need to start from home. Keeping our country and cities safe is one of the youth priorities.
Do you think Rwandans are somehow embarrassed of the history?
The way in which we are raised as Rwandans is make sure anything that you do makes our parents proud. That is always in the back of our minds. So no matter what you do, don’t embarrass yourself or parents.
So when you co-founded Never Again, why did you get involved in this campaign?
We wanted to educate youth outside Rwanda what happened to our country. We wanted to build an exchange program between Rwandan youth and the rest of the world. If we want to make this world a better place we need to focus on the youth as it would be our only way to make sure that the message is getting heard by the people who are in the future going to be the policy makers in their countries or in the UN. How will those people make informed decisions if they are not aware of what happen. When I co-founded Never Again that was the priority, how can we teach the rest of the world?
Why you? I understand that you were not here during the genocide but in Tanzania. Why did you feel the need to get involved in the education?
Yes, I was in Tanzania but it wasn’t by chose. I grew up in Tanzania but was reminded always that I am Rwandan. My family was in Rwanda. When I came back from Tanzania most of my relatives were killed during genocide. This encouraged younger people not to be victims, but to be inspirational.
How engaged where the Rwandan youth in the process of implemented Never Again?
From the beginning they embraced it. At the beginning we were not sure how it was going to end up as we were launching this while we were still students at the National University of Rwanda. We were so focused; lets get a few people interested and see what they think. The motivation and the need to get involved were so high because there wasn’t such a thing before where youth can really take initiative from the beginning.
You have been involved with youth for quite some time. Can you tell us some of the creative ways in which you engaged youth and some of the more specific initiatives that you have and why it was successful?
We talked to the youth and we listened to them. By listening we got ideas from them. From their ideas we would work together. There was ownership. So it would be their initiative from the beginning and we were there to support them.
So can you give a specific example where youth took an initiative and had a profound change as a result of that initiative.
When I was working in the US, to promote education in 12 schools we gave one school in San Francisco the theme ‘water issues around the world.’ They decided to form their own group to find a coach amongst themselves. Seeing the youth taking the role of leadership themselves with a little bit of help. They were able to succeed in a competition. Because this program exposed these youth to what was happening in the rest of the world facing these issues they started raising funds to build water wells in some parts of Africa.
What were the most significant initiatives implemented under the umbrella of Never Again?
The ETM club wanted to raise rabbits as small income generating to raise money for school so they could raise enough money to support school initiatives. That was their initiative.
What were some of the biggest challenges in executing Never Again?
We started when we where students and we had school demands. So timing and funding were the biggest challenges. We had to do it part-time.
How did you manage it?
We worked a lot of long hours.
If there were one thing that drove you to get Never Again in 50 clubs, what would it be?
Seeing youth excited about Never Again Africa, and about themselves taking their own initiative. I knew I couldn’t disappoint these young people.
Why did you decide to go to school in the US?
I was going to graduate school, and worked on Masters degree on International Development and my goal was not only to learn something new, but also to improve people’s lives, not only back home but also where ever they are going to be. I went to US to get new skills, to learn about a new culture and environment.
How do you think that the five years in the US will affect your career?
It has already. I think it will affect it in a positive and global way. I am not only thinking as a Rwandan, but as a global citizen. After living in both countries it opens your eyes to what you can learn and bring back home to implement.
Would you encourage other youth to get education internationally?
Definitely, if they have that opportunity they should grab it.
One of the things I am always concerned about that African’s get educated in the West, and it is statistically proven that often people wont come back particularly women. Can you tell us why you came back to Rwanda?
Rwanda has improved a lot in the last five year. It is my debt to come back to do something. Other Rwandans have built Rwanda and it is my duty to come back and build on what they have been done.
You are fortunate to have a husband that is American that is going to come with you?
He has been to Rwanda before?
Yes. And it is something that I share with my husband that our focus is to make other people’s lives better.
You have a lot experience in grant making. What advise do you have to put grants together that will help increase their success?
Writing grants and fund-raising is a tough job.
- You have to communicate clearly what your program wants to achieve at the end
- Most grant givers want to know impact at the end.
- Sometimes we focus on the activities, but mostly we focus on how that grant/donation will have an impact. For example, they don’t want to know you are building a school, but rather what that school will provide.
- Communicate clearly what impact the money will make.
- Transparency needs to be there.
- Be clear when communicate.
- It will take a lot of time to write grants.
- Be transparent
I communicate that same message to our Ignite Excellence Foundation tertiary scholarship recipients. I ask them to communicate their progress for the donors to see development. I also ask them to communicate, not what you have learnt, but how you are going to apply it to overall picture.
Transparency is such a huge issue, can you give some examples on what you can do to get demonstrate transparency?
You have to follow the grant guidelines on how to spend money.
You have to follow donors’ guidelines. You should discuss those guidelines. Because there are specific conditions of those grants and you may not be able to meet those required conditions. You need to ensure you understand the requirements and determine if you can actually meet the conditions.
- Ensure you state clearly the requirements
- Make sure every single penny is spent the way it is suppose to be spent
- You have to keep receipts proof of the money spent
- You have to report on time to donors
- Both sides needs to communicate on regular bases
- You are building trust not only from that donor, but also for potential future donors.
With many of your initiatives you had to find partners, the university, government, and private organizations. Can you provide insight on how to get access to these individuals? And then how to secure commitment?
- You have to discover if these partners or organizations are in-line with what we are doing?
- Can we collaborate somewhere somehow?
- You have to initiate conversation; that is the first step.
- Then you have to think who you can contact to make this happen
- Schedule meeting to talk about your objectives and goals.
- Seeing where the alliance is.
- First need to find partners to collaborate with. Think about natural partners.
Have you done a lot of soliciting partnerships in Africa?
Do you find it different soliciting partnership in Africa verses the West?
Yes. In Africa we tend to do things more on a personal level. In Rwanda, we talk to someone about what I am thinking about or who I am then you initiate the contact on a personal base.
In the US, information is on the Internet. You can partner with organizations across a big continent.
Given that we are global economy, more Rwandans are now finding partners also internationally.
I would agree with you. Being in Africa a year and a half, it is not until someone meets me does anything really move forward. Africa it is a big continent and you can’t meet everyone personally. In the West we have tended to rely more and more on other forms of communication to move projects forward.
You are fairly young, 36? What would you say at this point is the most significant impact you have made in your career?
I would say working with youth as far back as 2005. We had a competition in 2005 seeing young students competing in a big auditorium on a topic bigger than themselves. I was so inspired by all of them and knew I wanted to work even harder.
If there was one thing that you could attribute your success to what would it be?
Hard working and being a visionary.
What is the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Being where I am today. It took a lot of work, but I always perceiver through.
What would be one of the biggest challenges to get to this point, and how did you overcome that challenge?
Being a girl growing up in African context, you don’t get encouragement from your parents. Sometimes put down. You start discover yourself by challenging yourself.
Have you implemented any initiative that didn’t work?
I believe in girls’ education. There are two orphans that need education but they can’t pay for themselves. I want to start help orphans to get higher education. I would like to do that, and I am still working on it.
Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of yourself discovered when you push the edge of your comfort zone). What is something that you are uncomfortable doing, but you need to continue to do, in order to make you as successful as you are?
I had a position in the States where I had to solicit money on the phone. It made me learn how to get a message across over the phone. I had to learn to keep calm, professional and still achieve the objective.
You also mentioned earlier prior to the interview that administration is a challenge. It would appear that anything that is not face-to-face seems to be more of a challenge.
If there were one thing you would do differently in the pursuit of your success, what would you do?
I would make sure I have clear goals and objectives in life. What are they and how are you going to get there? You can loose focus. Define goals clearly.
What does success mean to you?
Being who you are and who you dream to be.
How would you define leadership?
It is a tough role to take on. It is required to give things direction. Putting visions into action even when it seems impossible.
If there was three pieces of advice you can give to a woman who leads a project, initiative or a team what would that be?
- Be hard working
- Be strong
- Be yourself. Be true to self.
What is hard working mean?
Be able to play all roles: friend, wife, and mother effectively.
Given the chance what would you like to do that you haven’t done yet?
One thing I really want to do is provide access to learning tools, as they have in the United States. I want to create school libraries in Rwandan primary and secondary schools.
Q. What advice would you give to your 10yr. old daughter?
To be courageous and strong. When I say strong, I mean beyond cultural perspectives. Know your own expectations. Ensure your society expectations fit with your own. Dream big, the sky is the limit. Don’t let people define who you are.
Q. What do you wish you were told at 10 years old?
I wish someone told me ‘that the sky the limit.’ Instead I was told ‘you are a girl and you should be doing that.’ I wish I was told you are an individual and unique the way you are. Just keep pushing; you will get to where you want to be.
Words of Wisdom for African women
We are the backbone of the countries development. We are mothers, and we need to be educators of our children. We have to encourage our children to be active citizens and to part of finding solutions to our countries. As women we should be finding solutions to our country. We have the power.
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