Antonia Mutoro, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Rwanda (IPAR Rwanda)

Words of Wisdom: “An African woman should know their worth and they should embrace it.” – Antonia Mutoro

Antonia Mutoro, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Rwanda (IPAR Rwanda)


Antonia Mutoro, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Rwanda (IPAR Rwanda)

Antonia Mutoro is the first and current Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) in Rwanda ,the first  independent think-tank  which became operational in 2008. She played a key role in setting up and driving its strategic direction and IPAR has quickly earned a reputation as a credible source of policy influence in Rwanda.

Prior to joining IPAR, she held various responsibilities as an academic in senior management positions in Higher Education in Rwanda. As a senior education professional with comprehensive experience in education policy, academic quality and leadership, she served as a lecturer, Dean, Director for the Centre of Continuing Education and Director of Academic Quality.

Antonia holds a MEd degree from University.

Antonia Mutoro, Executive Director, Institute of Policy Analysis and Research – Rwanda (IPAR 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 above. Please comment on the site, we want to hear your wisdom!

You were previously academic senior manager in higher education at the Kigali Institute of science and Technology, what was the catalyst for making a change in your career direction?

Good questions, and an important question for me. I was doing management, leadership and research, but I had passion for things that work. I really wanted to see change. In academic institution, the research I was doing didn’t directly make change. I wanted to join somewhere where research is done and is directly taken to people to implement it. Because of my passion to make my work used and that is why I thought I should leave an academic research institution and join where policies where made as I knew my work would be used.

Also this was an opportunity to have more challenges.

What is the biggest piece of research that you have done that has had an impact on Rwanda?

Quite a number of our products have tried to change the thinking and the mindset of Rwandans.  We did a study on Customer Service, which has guided some thinking and direction in improving Customer Service in Rwanda. It has been discussed in many high forums including the National retreat, which is chaired by …… (need name) the President. The research is being implemented by Rwanda Development Board.  A lot is being done on Customer Service in Rwanda because of the policy recommendations.

You played a key role in setting up and driving its strategic direction and IPAR , can you provide us with a list of strategies that you employed to acquire the good reputation it has today?

When I took this responsibility I knew there were challenges in the past.

  1. The first thing we did was to ensure the IPAR was visible. We decided to go out there and talk to key people. We did scanning of our environment.
    1. We spoke to civil society
    2. Government
    3. Private sector
    4. Donors

We visited them and told them what we were there to do, how we can work with them, what we can bring to them. We built relationships and kept communicating with them. We have maintained the relationships to today.

2. The second strategy was to conduct high quality relevant research. The research we do is informed of the needs of the Rwandan society. We consult, but we remain independent in terms or our recommendation. Isolation does not work. You need to talk to the people that are going to use the research. The second strategy is engagement.

Sometimes people make the error and thing a think tank should work independent. Independence refers to academic rigger and the recommend that you get from research. It does not mean working alone. Communication and consultation is key.

3. Recruit high quality researchers. It is a real challenge in Rwanda to find quality researchers. We lack a critical mass of researchers. We look anywhere in the world for the qualifications. We make our institution attractive. We target young researchers and then nurture them. This is what we are doing. We attract them and build their capacity by using experienced researchers that we get from the region and beyond.

Those are the main strategy.  Once you produce high-quality research, then you get credibility. Credibility is the key to success.

We are getting lots stakeholders from government, donors, civil society requesting us to do work for them and provide evidence so they can make political and economic decisions.

I would like to get some clarity on your first strategy. You mentioned that you were telling your clients what IPAR is doing, were you also soliciting where your perspective client saw the opportunity to work together?

Yes. You cannot work with people that don’t know you. We were saying we are here. This is my goal, this is my vision and this is what we work on. Is there any relevance in your institution and what we provide? How can we work together? What value can you ad for you, ad for us?

How many stakeholders you engaged become clients?

All of them.

There are some similarities between leadership and business development. Learning about the other person is key.

We knew organization that was policy relevant. So we knew who are customer should be. We went to 66 organizations in this country that implement policies, or have a say on policy. They did not know our potential or us. After connecting with them they saw the potential.

You have said IPAR believes that economic growth and development is impossible without sound policy and responsive governance. You seek to strengthen the evidence base available to government, civil society and development partners about the pressing social, economic and political issues facing Rwanda, and to provide real time solutions to the everyday challenges of its people. Customer service was one of those things. Can you tell us other areas where you helped change policy?

An area we are proud of Household Enterprise Study. The government has an employment policy which is great. It has a policy on small and medium enterprises focusing on the growth and support for SME’s. There was no link to SME and Household enterprises. The majority of Rwandans are poor. Things are improving and people are becoming better off, but people are still poor. When you are doing strategy to get people out of poverty, governments where forget the House Hold level. Everyone looks at small medium enterprises. At the small enterprise is someone who has a small shop. They have something. There are people who do not have anything. They may earn a living on something very small i.e. ride a motor bike, just something to live on. This creates small enterprises at House Hold level. These enterprises or the wife, husband or child which is not paid. More and more Rwandans are getting jobs based on House Hold.

The study identified if government, NGOs and investors supported House Hold level enterprises, Rwanda would get out of poverty much quicker then doing anything else. Still support the small and medium enterprises but the House Hold level are lower then ‘small enterprises.’ This is something that has been realized and now everyone is talking about promoting House Hold enterprises because of the recommendations of our research. This is a major thing because the policy was there, no one seemed to realize that something smaller then small enterprise was there and these people need to be uplifted, especially the youth and the women.

I have the pleasure to work with research organizations in Canada and US. A lot of researcher companies provide the findings from the research and allow the client to make their own conclusions, or recommendations. Some research organizations conduct the research and make the recommendations. Which do you do?

We do both.

  1. We engage the stakeholder and go to a person that would implement the research. We let them know we have identified an issue and that we will be doing research on it. Sometimes the client gets excited about what we are researching and they decide to core fund the research. For example, Customer Service research, the Rwanda Development Board wanted to participate. After that we do a position paper which highlights all the policies and practices in place. Then we call all the stakeholders that would be affected by the area we are studying.
  2. We conduct a workshop and tell them what we found in the research. Ask them to add or remove. This creates the position papers.
  3. Then we go to field and start to question.
  4. Then we disseminate the work again. These are our findings. Do they match the issues that we talked about when putting the position paper together?  Sometimes the stakeholders agree or don’t agree.  Regardless if they are agree or not, we don’t change our findings.
  5. One of the challenges of Think Tanks or research organizations are you are detached from the people you work for. You do research and then provide to the client to implement. They often don’t know how to implement. So the best thing to do is engage and make sure the client owns the process of research as well. You shouldn’t wait to come up with recommendations with a big bang; it is a processes. Travel and walk with your client. This is a benefit because when you come up with a recommendation to your client you don’t want it to be a surprise. You should never be surprising your client. Take your clients step-by-step.

You also have to make sure the research is implementable. Think of options. Option ‘A’ may not work because it is very expensive. Option ‘B’ may work, but it is not politically correct. Option ‘C’ may be simple, less expensive and good, but it may take a long time.

The issue is communication and engagement of clients. When provide recommendations it should be in a language that everyone understands. Communicate in layman language. Don’t talk to your stakeholders in research jargon.

Because many of your recommendations are based on research findings, how important does creativity play in making recommendations to your clients?

Creativity is very important. You need to make things different.  Sometimes the approach you take to get the evidence for the research is creative, for example using a mystery shopper for a customer service evaluation. If evaluating hotels, go and stay at several different hotels. This is different then just interviewing people and collecting data.

We try to think of new ways of doing things that don’t take much money or effort, but new.

Do you have any suggestions on how to balance creativity and evidence to make recommendations to your clients?

In addition to using mystery shopping, you can do a literature review. This is looking at what has been done elsewhere in the world successfully. You need to interview people. You use different forms of research to cross check.

You can also use the variety of options such as  A, B, C recommendations which you are also using creativity.

Do you always provide an A, B, C solution?

Depends if the recommendations A has any limitations.

Clients will often will add and subtract something to make it implementable.

As a women executive, do you have any insight to the effectiveness of women in executive roles? Things women do well, or need to work on?

I think women are great leaders because they tend to look at detail; they also build better relationships. I think it is easy to engage people I work with. I look at details. There are issues and I understand them. Women care about employees needs. Women naturally do this.

Some of women’s weaknesses include engaging with people after work. We work and then we go home. You are missing connecting with clients about important issues. In our culture we are to help our families after work. Most men go out for leisure and discuss politics and discuss issues. A woman like me should balance our work life and home life, which is challenging. We miss out on the social element that often is insightful for our work.  This is a challenge. WE need to balance this kind of things.

What would have to change in order for women to achieve a better balance?

Men need to understand that women in leadership positions should be able to go out and connect. Women need to also get out there and join the conversation. We need to change our mindset.

Does having house girl help the balance?

It helps, but we still need to be active with the children.

Is there anything beyond the family commitment that you have observed that women can do more effectively as leaders in business or government?

We need to take the opportunity in Rwanda. I think Rwanda is one of the best countries to provide opportunities for women to come up. I don’t think we have all use that opportunity. There is a lot being done on these policies. I think we can be better position to have more academics, join politics and research more than what we are doing.

It is very difficult to find women researchers, academics, and women in high education and going beyond university. I think more Rwandan women should strive for this.

Can you share some of IPARS developement strategies to achieve financial independence and sustainability?

We are trying to develop more donors, clients, foundations and grants. We don’t want to rely on one or two sources.

We need donors and grants beyond clients because we have commissioned work so if the government or the World Bank commissions us to do work that means you are addressing a problem they have already identified.

We are often proactive in addressing a perspective problem that no one has identified. This is where we count on core funding, which comes from donors.

How do you measure success?

We talk about this everyday. It is very difficult to measure success on a Think Tank. It should be measured by your ideas and recommendations have been implemented and change has happened in society.  This is a long process.

We don’t wait for five years to see if changes happen, we monitor people’s change in the way they talk, think and debate. Are they changing toward the positively based on our recommendations?

Success comes when it is no longer a problem.  It is process.

What has been the most significant impact you have had on your career to date?

I am seen as a person who drove this institution from a very negative attitude from donors to being seen as impactful. Getting IPAR to be seen as credible. The Government believes in us. The donors believe in us. Everyone is coming to seeking our advice.

If there was one thing you could attribute your success to what would it be?

My taking responsibility, I felt empowered. I am determined and willing.

What is the most challenging aspect of your career?

Getting the best researchers in this country. How do retain them? How do I nurture them? I am working on this everyday.

What are you doing to draw the best researchers to you?

We advertise nationally and internationally. Sometimes we do not solicit who we want, so we advertise again.

We don’t hire very experience people that have been published. We tend to hire young enthusiastic, willing, good researchers. We want experience and the ability to nurture and build their capacity. Then we hire one or two high profile researchers and help them build the capacity of these younger researchers and then in two years they are doing very well.

How do you retain the researchers?

Building processes internally and externally. I am proud of this success.

  • Giving them enough money is not enough.
  • You need to have a relationship.
  • You help make them feel confident.
  • Empower them to do things.
  • I want them to see this as part of their career development.  They see they are part of the institution.
  • They understand the mission,
  • They understand the vision.
  • Try to give them a competitive salary
  • Keep engaging them, understanding their needs.

Is there anything else you do to empower your employees beyond getting them feeling they are part of the organization?

Yes, we get them to visit other international organizations.

  • They present, and do write-ups for clients after the mentor evaluates it.
  • They go out and conduct interviews
  • Before presenting to stakeholders, we go into the boardroom and rehearse it.
  • When they get in front of the stakeholder, they are stars, the problem is when they become good, they are taken. That is where we need to see this as success.

What has been the most of significant decision you have made in your career?

I was doing a PHD. I thought I could do my PHD while starting my new position at IPAR. When I came here, the PHD was slow, but I am proud what I have achieved at IPAR. Leaving my academic life and coming to IPAR was a major decision.

What was the biggest obstacle in your career and how did you overcome it?

I wasn’t seeing broad enough, however I took my Masters which help with that.

Edgeness Insight (An enhanced version of you 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 am a people person, but one of my staff was not delivering and I had to get rid of him. He was a senior member of our team. I had to fire two staff members that were not delivering. I was very uncomfortable. After that there was a change in the organization. The younger researchers were being mentored they saw it as motivation. I found a firmness in myself and realized making a decision also affects the people remaining.

Another one was when I started at IPAR and I had to speak about IPAR on the radio. I had to read to learn about the company and also started to imagine what they would ask. I knew our reputation was bad, and I was going to have to address that. It thought me to take responsibility and not to blame others in the past. I knew I had to take the responsibility for the IPAR actions. Once you have the opportunity you need make difference.

People didn’t care about the past; they wanted to know what I was going to do.

What does success mean to you?

An achievement that makes you feel good. It doesn’t mean you are always comfortable doing it. Your dreams are being realized. Most importantly it has changed something in society. People are affected positively because of what you are doing.

How would you define leadership?

Having the ability to inspire and have people follow while directing to a certain goal that many have defined.

What are your three Leadership lessons?

  1. Doing things that are not comfortable, but once you succeed it becomes comfortable.
  2. We only can realize our leadership potential when we try. You can’t know what you know until you try it.
  3. A lot of training in leadership. You learn everyday. You solve things when challenges come.

Reflective Realizations

Q. What advice would you give to your 10 yr. old daughter?
Feel your worth. You are worthwhile and have the potential. Take every opportunity that comes up and you will be surprised what you have in you.

Q. What do you wish you were told when you were 10 years old?
You will be a great woman.

Is there anything you would change in life or career?

Attitude. I think I have become a more positive person. Now even when things are challenging there is always something good in it. I now look when people have different opinions of me, I now learn from what they are saying.

Words of Wisdom

 An African woman should know their worth and they should embrace it.



Watch or listen to the interview to gain more insight into Antonia Mutoro leadership lessons and strategic insights. Please comment on the site; we want to hear your wisdom. Share Wisdom Exchange TV with other future leaders, they will appreciate it!

Receive a free subscription, so you do not miss an episode of conscious-contribution™ contributors sharing their wisdom and inspiration. Subscribe to Interviews above.


Wisdom Exchange Tv
Wisdom Exchange Tv

Conscious-Contributions™ Cultivator: Author, Professional Speaker, Moderator, Host, and Social Entrepreneur. WisdomExchangeTv is part of YouMeWe Social Impact Group — igniting a culture where your contribution counts for you • your company • your community. |

    1 Response to "Antonia Mutoro"

    • thandeka mazibuko

      To suzanne
      U have touched and changed the world, amazing impact in africa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.