Energy Globe Foundation, an Austrian Not for Profit Organization, recently hosted its annual Energy Globe Awards in Rwanda. The awards is one of the most prominent environmental prize worldwide with over 100 nations participating along with intense media coverage.
In this interview Cornela Kirchweger of Energy Globe talks to Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times about her experience while going about organizing the event in Kigali.
Give us a background about your organization.
Energy Globe was set up in 1999 with an intention of creating an awareness among various people of the world that we have to use our resources carefully and efficiently in order to keep our planet in shape.
Our the years we have developed the Energy Awards which are presented to various innovative projects around the world during an annual gala like the one hosted in Rwanda recently. We thus have a Foundation in which various persons and companies support us to reach our goals.
Actually our coming to Rwanda was sort of accidental. The gala that was held in Kigali was meant to have been hosted by the EU parliament in Brussels.
However, Brussels ran into constrains prompting us to check out for alternatives. We found out that Rwanda was scheduled to be hosting the World Environment Day (WED).We got in touch with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and we agreed with them that we will host the gala during the WED celebrations in Rwanda.
UNEP in turn contacted the Rwandan Environment Minister Mr Stanislas Kamanzi who straight away gave us a go ahead to host the gala in Rwanda.
That must have been a quick decision making on the part of Mr Kamanzi which ultimately meant that it must have served you right at your moment of need?
Of course we were very happy with such a quick decision making on the part of Rwanda. However in one way or the other we were not entirely surprised as such as we knew that Rwanda is a country that embraces environmental conservation. Our research had showed that Rwanda’s organic law is a one of a kind in the world.
Can you elaborate on what you have just said about Rwanda’s unique organic law on environment?
It is absolutely unique. I say this due to the fact that having a fundamental right on environment by citizens is something even the EU is still discussing. Rwandans have it entrenched in law.
So you know about such things about Rwanda? What else do you know about Rwanda’s environmental story?
We did our research and these are some of the findings we came up with. We also know that banning the plastics was another big milestone by Rwanda. Again Europe has not managed to make that kind of move yet. Rwanda did it years ago.
Let us talk about this award and the criteria for coming up with awardees. How does it work?
Each year we send invitations to project leaders inviting them to make submissions to our competition drawn from thousands of sources.
Once submitted these proposals are then screened. A multi-talented jury is then brought on board to make judgement with a kick out procedure.
For each category the kick out ensures that only 15 projects are shortlisted. We then convene a two day workshop to discuss the short listed projects. The next step is to narrow down the selection to 5 in each category. The narrowed down projects are then subjected to another round of scrutiny by another team of international jury. This is then further narrowed down to 3 per category after which a ranking is proposed.
Has somebody from Africa been a recipient of this award?
That happened in 2007 in Brussels. John Maina from Kenya had a project based on a solar drier for vegetables that carried the top prize. Maina’s solution was focussed on tripling or quadrupling vegetable harvests for poor farmers using a simple solar based system.
What is on offer as part of the award?
The winner in each category gets Ten Thousand Euros. Winners are also invited to attend the gala wherever it is being hosted in the world with all expenses paid by organizers for all the fifteen beneficiaries.
Is it your very first time in Rwanda?
Did you get any submission from Rwanda?
Not this year but sometime ago we did receive a submission from Rwanda.
Tell us more about the honorary award that was given to President Kagame.
Such awards are rarely given. When such an award is given it is only handed over to those who are really committed to something special in terms of ecology at a much higher level.
The last time such an award was presented was in 2008 and the recipient was Mr Mikhail Gorbachev-the last leader of the former USSR. This year in 2010 the award went to President Paul Kagame.
This is in recognition to his outstanding achievement on conserving and rejuvenating not only Rwanda’s ecological system but also its social systems as well.
Apart from the world of environment, what have you learnt about Rwanda?
What I have learnt is with reference to Rwanda being labelled as land of a thousand smiles. This is , indeed true. Another thing I have learnt is that Rwandans are striving to move on regardless of their unfortunate past.
In that same light have you managed to visit the Genocide Memorial in Kigali?
Before we wind up we intend to pay homage to the victims of the Genocide.
What do you have to say about Rwanda’s dark past?
Rwanda’s dark past is, in some way similar to that of Europe during and after The Second World War. Though the war happened before I was born but my parents were alive at that time.
The feeling of the ravages of the Second World War have been passed to us by our parents. From that perspective I can say that what happened in Rwanda is terrible much as it is a failure by humanity.
What message do you intend to take back home after your visit?
My message would be to tell my people how Rwanda is not what it seems to be perceived back at home. Another thing is that the recovery is miraculous as it is incredible. There is so much action going on.
Action in term of?
For instance Rwanda is clean. I have read about some of the unique anti-poverty projects such as The One Cow per Family initiative. It is wonderful to assist people regain their dignity through such initiatives.
In conclusion what do you have to say about your visit?
It is much easier to do something here in Rwanda if those concerned understand what you want to do.
I have experienced , first hand, the kind of facilitation that awaits those who want to do things here in Rwanda, which have a bigger impact on the larger humanity. In Europe the kind of red tape that would greet you would be astonishing.
The reason why I say so is due to the fact that I did not witness any red tape in Rwanda as we went about organizing the event. During my event organization activities , I could even call the minister directly without having to go through several intermediaries as is the case back home.
The minister would reply to my calls and even communicate with me via e-mails in real time-something you can never expect back home. The same applies to several other top public officials that I contacted.
I was touched by that kind of hospitality and response. This is the kind of message that I will definitely take back home. That in Rwanda things are done differently with amazing results.