Improving The Lives Of 15,000 Women In Rwanda

By Keith Joughin, Skilling for Change Project Consultant, Accenture, discusses our work together in Rwanda.

By Keith Joughin, Skilling for Change Project Consultant, Accenture. This was originally posted on Business In The Community.

Numbers are great, but for me, the story is far more interesting. “We’re impacting 15,000 women in Rwanda with this financial inclusion programme”, I’ve almost casually informed people over the past 12 months. However, the actual impact of what we’re doing hit me far more clearly with one lady’s story.

Sat in a field, a couple of hours from Kigali and we’re listening to a young lady, called Odette, telling us how the financial literacy training we are delivering has helped her and how she has developed the confidence and skills to start a small business, selling fertiliser to the farmers in her community. She speaks with such optimism and ambition, and it dawns on me that by the end of the programme, there’ll be 15,000 similar stories to hear.

To wind back a touch, Accenture is funding and working with the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women and its partners, including CARE International, on a programme called ‘Skilling for Change’. The programme is very much in line with our global corporate citizenship agenda around Skills to Succeed; we hope our success with using skills training to address youth unemployment in the UK can be replicated in the context of financial inclusion in Rwanda.

In addition to a global mentoring initiative, the programme is delivering financial literacy training and enabling access to finance through a mobile loan solution to 15,000 women in Rwanda over a two year period. Women throughout the world often have fewer opportunities in education and employment and Rwanda is no different. Financial inclusion has been found to be an effective way to empower women and enable them and their families to move away from subsistence. In many other mobile loan solution schemes, women often use the loans more wisely than men, yielding a higher ROI with lower financial risk, something we hope to replicate in Rwanda.

The programme is delivering financial literacy training and enabling access to finance through a mobile loan solution to 15,000 women in Rwanda over a two year period.

I have been leading Accenture’s pro-bono support to the programme, which ranges from developing training curricula for webinars and teaching videos to mapping the programme’s possible expansion. And I recently had an amazing opportunity to visit the country with a delegation from the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, led by Cherie Blair, to see first-hand the impact the programme is having. I was able to speak with women from both the mentoring programme and the ‘Village & Saving Loan Groups’, who have been receiving the financial literacy training and training on the mobile loan solution.

This was certainly the most rewarding part of the trip for me, as their stories are so powerful – particularly when considered against the country’s history. We visited the ‘genocide memorial museum’ one morning – which was important to really understand how far these women have come and how the programme has helped them. Since 1994, Rwanda has undergone a remarkable and laudable transition; the country is one of the most peaceful in the troubled Great Lakes region and real GDP growth has averaged 9% since 2011. However, if Rwanda is to build on this economic base then institutions may need to depend less on foreign aid and create a stronger social contract with their citizens to harness their energy, dynamism and economic freedom. Financial inclusion is a crucial step to this and one that Rwanda appears committed to, aiming to reach 90% inclusion by 2020.

The trip was an amazing experience – we were incredibly well hosted in this beautiful country, had the opportunity to meet a lot of interesting people and understand more about Rwanda’s history and more importantly, its future. We had the opportunity to have dinner with the Finance Minister, lunch with the British High Commissioner and the DFID lead in Rwanda and dinner with the President, Paul Kagame and his family. We also got to spend time with some of the partner organisations of the programme, including CARE and Kenyan Commercial Bank. It was also great to spend some time with the team from the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women, both to enjoy seeing the success and impact of this programme to date, and also share ideas and thoughts around what else could be done.

Empowering women to gain financial independence carries a strong multiplier effect, meaning that the positive impact of reaching 15,000 women through this project will be passed on to their families and communities. That’s a lot of good stories to hear. I hope I get the chance again to visit this amazing country – the land of a thousand hills.