Living the Dream: Prof. Josh Ruxin: Anti-Poverty, Pro-Prosperity Crusader

Ruxin, a Columbia University professor, is not your typical academic. He has chosen Rwanda as his home and his classroom. According to the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof blog, he is also not your average ‘mud-between-the-toes’ aid worker. Prof. Josh Ruxin is a rare blend of these things and more, and he is currently focusing his skills on partnering with the Government of Rwanda on improving health systems management and helping to crush the vicious effects of poverty through a number of projects.  
Bumper Harvest;Josh at a weighing station for the maize crop produced at the Mayange Millenium Village.
Bumper Harvest;Josh at a weighing station for the maize crop produced at the Mayange Millenium Village.

Ruxin, a Columbia University professor, is not your typical academic. He has chosen Rwanda as his home and his classroom. According to the New York Times’ Nicholas Kristof blog, he is also not your average ‘mud-between-the-toes’ aid worker.

Prof. Josh Ruxin is a rare blend of these things and more, and he is currently focusing his skills on partnering with the Government of Rwanda on improving health systems management and helping to crush the vicious effects of poverty through a number of projects.  

Anti-Poverty drives

As a development expert, Prof. Ruxin is quick to point out that it is time to look closely at Rwanda, for ‘hope and instruction’. He contends that, ‘In many respects, Rwanda was abandoned after its 1994 genocide. Outside observers assumed that it would soon plunge back into chaos.

Rwanda is a crucible of sorts: having resurrected itself after the genocide, it has steadily demonstrated that a sub-Saharan country that falls down can rise again.

In spite of the extraordinary challenges the country faces – it may well grow to be a great success story that points the way for other countries to follow’.

That’s why after years of working with Rwanda, he decided to leave New York City three years ago with his family and move here.

Josh closed up his projects in other countries to focus all his efforts on Rwanda. He says, ‘What has been most striking about working in Rwanda is the relative lack of corruption and the speed with which donor funds can be converted to meaningful results.’  

Ruxin believes that the most critical challenge for Rwanda is to ensure that Rwandans are always in the driver’s seat. The Millennium Villages Project, a poverty-alleviation program that he started in 2006, is completely led by a Rwandan team.

The Access Project, a public health management program that he started in 2002, is also led by Rwandans. 

Ruxin said, “I’m here to draw attention to the great work that can be achieved by Rwanda, but ultimately progress comes down to the will and ability of the Rwandan people.”

The Millennium Villages Project

The Millennium Villages Project is a multi-country program that seeks to end extreme poverty by providing affordable and science-based solutions to help people lift themselves out of extreme poverty. 

Ruxin said: ‘By investing in health, food production, education, access to clean water, and essential infrastructure, these community-led interventions will enable impoverished villages to escape extreme poverty once and for all. Once these communities get a foothold on the bottom rung of the development ladder they can propel themselves on a path of self-sustaining economic growth’, he said.

The Millennium Village cluster in Rwanda was chosen by the Government of Rwanda in 2005 to be based in Mayange, a sector of Bugesera District located about 40 km south of Kigali.

The area suffers from sporadic rainfall and declining soil fertility, leading to endemic poverty, illness, and a lack of economic opportunity.

In just a two and a half years, Mayange is transformed. Absolute poverty has declined dramatically and businesses and cooperatives are sprouting up everywhere. 

The Access Project

The Access Project began its work in Rwanda in 2003 and today works in six districts in Rwanda. It The Access Project provides guidance to the health centers in ten key management domains, including drug procurement, performance-based financing, pharmacy management and human resource management.

Access has improved infrastructure and general organiszation by ensuring health centers treat more patients efficiently by reducing wait times, organiszing staff schedules, creating procurement systems, and making improvements to the physical space and organiszation of the facility. 

Barriers to health care were removed by providing support to mutuelle staff (national health scheme), replacing the existing paper-based management system, and installing webcams for membership pictures.

Since Access started its work, financial management with QuickBooks, software introduced by the Access Project, has enabled health centers to improve their financial systems, and as a result properly account for money and leverage other donor resources.

The Future

Ruxin believes that the key for Rwanda’s future lies with new business and investment. To that end, he is starting new initiatives to create and attract both in the country. 

In 2009, we’ll be heading out into the field to discuss his work with community leaders and civil servants in Bugesera District.

Contact: ojiwah@gmail.com

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