Written by Milton Funes, Country Director, Global Communities Rwanda
Twenty years ago, Rwanda experienced a brutal genocide that ripped the country apart. Nevertheless today, in so many ways, Rwanda is an impressive emerging African economic power. The country has experienced phenomenal development in the last decade, including high economic growth and poverty reduction. Between 2001 and 2012, GDP growth averaged 8 percent a year, according to the World Bank.
Still, large pockets of poverty remain, especially in rural areas. Many young people are orphans of the genocide, or from the effects of HIV and AIDS. Farmland is not plentiful and there is insufficient knowledge in financial literacy and agricultural techniques. Rwandans, particularly the very young and very old, remain vulnerable to economic and health shocks.
This is one of the reasons why, since 2005, Global Communities, a nonprofit organization working to assist the vulnerable around the world, has implemented programs that help Rwandans build their resilience. With USAID funding, we are able to help these communities improve their conditions. In partnership with local partners on the ground, we teach them how to implement bio-intensive agriculture techniques, hygiene, and how to improve their nutrition. We teach skills to help them build their livelihoods, augment their financial literacy and enhance their life skills as a way of helping them sustain economic shocks. Thus far, Global Communities has assisted more than 95,000 Rwandan households with these activities.
Recently, Global Communities partnered with TOMS Shoes, a for profit company founded in 2006 with giving at its core. For every pair of shoes a customer buys, a pair of shoes is given to a child in need. One for One. In the more than 60 countries where shoes are distributed, children can proudly attend schools where shoes are mandatory, with their feet now protected from various feet diseases.
When we were first approached about becoming a TOMS Giving Partner in Rwanda, we were excited to be able to help thousands of youth in getting shoes. Furthermore, we saw this as a great opportunity to be partners for good, taking the One for One approach and combining it with our development approach to have an even bigger impact on the community.
Not only are we distributing shoes to those in need, the program is also being used as an incentive to encourage families to participate in financial literacy training through Global Communities’ USAID Higa Ubeho program, which teaches families the skills they need to help them handle the economic challenges they face on an ongoing basis.
In a simple move, we have used shoes as an important incentive for families: if adults complete savings and lending group trainings, their kids get a free pair of new shoes. This strategy has made recruitment very easy. Currently over 75,000 adults have been trained into forming savings and lending groups, and tens of thousands of pairs of shoes have been distributed to many of their children.
By bringing together the private sector and a development approach, we have been able to reach even more people and have a greater impact. By receiving a pair of shoes, the children’s families have one less financial worry, which will help them to focus on other important household expenses such as school fees and health insurance. This collaboration is an excellent example of how merging the capabilities of different interests can have tremendous results for the poorest individuals around the globe.
Global Communities is an international non-profit organization that works closely with communities worldwide to bring about sustainable changes that improve the lives and livelihoods of the vulnerable. Development is not something we do for people; it is something we do with them. We believe that the people who understand their needs best are the people of the community itself.
To learn more, visit TOMS Shoe Giving in Rwanda with Global Communities and Global Communities.
Photo credit: Kevin Zacher