Rwanda 15 years after the Genocide

Did you get a chance to catch Josh Ruxin's guest article in Nicholas Kristoff's op-ed spot? If not, you should give it a look above, because it is an impassioned request for a new way of thinking about Rwanda. Josh argues that, 15 years after the genocide that ravaged the country, it is time to change our way of thinking about the tiny land-locked nation. Under a bold plan called simply "Vision 2020", the government of Rwanda, with the help of outside organizations, have set the lofty goals of "reducing poverty by half, cutting reliance on foreign aid, and creating a knowledge-based economy focused on services, driven by the private sector and entrepreneurs." Gosh, that should be no big deal, right?

Josh Ruxin was part of a recent interview on CUNY's Brian Lehrer Live to talk about Rwanda's surprising successes under this plan. Check out the interview below.

Ruxin is the founder of The Access Project, a not for profit that invests in health care management in Rwanda. Its goal is to set up the structure and the system for Rwandans to learn long-lasting and sustainable health care models, which in turn provides for the stability that good health can create.

One of the more depressing weeks of my college life was the week that we had to read Michael Maren's A Road to Hell, a book all about the failures of Western Aid to Africa. The moral of the story was that even the best intentions lead to unforeseeable and often ruinous effects down the line: projects where funding disappeared ended up being worse for the local population then neglect had been because of the vacuums aid projects created. It was a bleak read for the "how can I help??" part of me.

The reason that the Access Project shines through for me as worthwhile in the face of all that I've read on the subject is simple: Josh operates under the "Teach a Man to Fish" rule. So much aid, be it purely financial or otherwise, goes to alleviating a direct symptom. This, while eminently admirable and often vital, doesn't often allow for the tackling of the endemic problem that is causing the symptom, and when the aid runs out, the people in question are back to where they started. Both the Access Project and the current government of Rwanda are not interested in this cycle. They hope to create long term sustainable structures that Rwandans can pick up and utilize themselves, but that will also attract entrepreneurial dollars from the rest of the world and create investment opportunities that don't rely on guilt or compassion. Only with a health system that reaches the entire population (something we in America are struggling with too!) can a middle class reality be archived in Rwanda that would finally and completely allow them to move past the legacy of the Genocide fifteen years ago this month.

Finding the best non-profit to alleviate the suffering of All of Africa is such an absurd and complex subject that I wouldn't profess to know even the first step one should take in finding a charity that fits their mindset. And, while I can't speak to every dollar spent in The Access Projects coffers, I will say this: They have an approach to medicine that, with the support of a strong government and a unique historical situation, can actually create a sustainable system that could function without aid. Right now though, they haven't gotten there, and the Access Project needs money. Irony? Or the fatal flaw in my own Road to Hell logic? I'll say this: Ruxin believes enough in what they are doing in Rwanda, and felt safe enough with the government and the people, that he moved his entire family there a few years ago. A pretty good endorsement.

Also, speaking of Nick Kristof: you might enjoy his own personal battle with how to give.

Alan Smith

Posted at 1:00 AM, Apr 20, 2009 in Economic Development | Education | Global Philanthropy | Performance Measurement | Philanthropic Strategy | Permalink | Comment

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