It takes a village to raise a child

In 2007, I met a force of a woman who rejected my job application and instead chose to help change the course of my life.

This was after a few difficult years of trying to find my purpose, after years of doing work I didn’t enjoy, in a country I did not want to be in. I felt stuck in a vicious cycle of working to live and living to work.

You see, I applied to be her executive assistant because she was dynamic and known as a person to work for. So here I was ready to take on the challenge.

After weeks of engaging with her, she rejected my application and outlined her reasons why, especially because I was settling for something less than what I am capable of.

Instead she chose to help me get on the journey to today, promising to connect me to her friends at the World Bank, where she thought I belonged, when I returned to Rwanda for my first vacation since I left in 1998.

This was hope rekindled, for me, to achieve a dream to spending the rest of my days making a difference, away from behind a computer.  

While in Rwanda, I was filled with all kinds of emotions, because I found a country far changed from the one I left, one I had vowed never return to.

With a front row seat, I witnessed the impact of the work my mum and aunt were doing in their social enterprise, Gahaya Links, transforming the lives of thousands of women and households in Rwanda, all the while building unity and reconciliation among Genocide widows and women whose husbands were in jail for killing their former’s husbands and children.

This experience further fueled my desire to do something that would also impact lives in Rwanda, with sights set on the greater platform, our Africa.

I couldn’t wait to return to the US, to share this experience with my new-found mentor and get started with those World Bank connections to get me back home quickly.

To my surprise, she withdrew her promise to give me connections, because as far as she was concerned, it was the easy way out. She urged me to go back to school and that Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School would be a perfect fit as I belonged in the Public Policy arena.

Of course, I thought this was crazy talk because, firstly, Ivy League for me, no - impossible? Secondly, where would I get the money from? 

She told me, getting in was the hardest part, all will fall in place once I achieved that. By then, I had been out of school for some time and needed to do the GRE, which meant needing a crash course to get this done.

A dear cousin agreed to sponsor me for a 6-week GRE class and the ball was now rolling for the beginning of the rest of my life. I spent time between work reading about public policy, refreshing my math and memorising vocabulary.

For the first time in my life, I had people believe in what I was capable of and putting their time and money to help me achieve my dreams.

This community of a few good women and men made me believe that anything I dreamed of was possible.  They restored my faith in humanity after what seemed like a lifetime of haplessness.

I ended up at the best public policy analysis school in the world, Harvard Kennedy School, and the community continued to carry me through, making sure I had everything I needed to focus on school only, for two whole years.

During this experience, I encountered a great group of people who were classmates, teachers, and visitors to the school, all in pursuit of what they can do for their communities, countries and the world.

It was here that I met a great professor who played a critical role in helping me shape my thinking of how I could turn my love for technology, and desire to make a difference, into a career.

He graciously guided me through two years of school. It was my thesis, for which he was my advisor, which led me to my first job, a job that introduced me to development work.

It was there that the #CashlessRwanda fire became ignited and led me to my next job, which also introduced me to the #CashlessAfrica work. These were all beyond what I could have dreamed.

It was a community of a few that shaped and helped me build the capacity to make a difference today. Indeed, it takes a village to raise a child. That is why when opportunities to pay it forward come, I jump at them.

When Awel Uwihanganye approached me to join the LéO Africa Institute, an initiative that trains  the next generation of values-based leaders in Africa, there was no hesitation.

Looking at our continent, starting with the “top” nations, it is easy to see a dearth of leadership; one which has failed to deliver for our people because of selfishness, greed, nepotism, entitlement, all wrapped up in corruption.

I particularly love and appreciate LéO Africa’s Young and Emerging Leaders Project (YELP), one of the few fellowships on the continent nurturing new leadership.

These inspiring young people (YELPees as they call themselves) who come from all walks of life, are already working on exciting initiatives and businesses or are in the process of discovering what their purpose is.

One thing is for sure; they ALL want to see a better Africa and are ready to work to make sure we live to see the Africa we want.

This makes the work of initiatives like the LéO Africa Institute ever more important and exciting because we have an opportunity to play a small part in shaping the future of Africa’s youth today, who I am sure will lead their families, communities, nations, and our continent to greatness.

The writer is the Assistant Vice President, Push Payments at Ecobank Transnational Inc and Board Chairperson at the LéO Africa Institute.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.