The New Times (Kigali)

12 November 2012

Rwandans4Water, Bringing Water Home

opinion

SOCIAL entrepreneurship is seeing some progress in Rwanda today with a number of initiatives to feed prisoners, pay fees for orphans, you name it. The 'Agaciro' drive magnifies the significance of social entrepreneurial activity for community development - we cannot afford to wait for others to solve our problems if we can in fact solve them ourselves.

One example is the diaspora-driven initiative to solve the water crisis in Rwanda by Rwandans4Water; I had an opportunity to chat with the Coordinator of Rwandans4Water (R4W), Vedaste Niyonsaba.

R4W is a non-profit that was conceived by a team of engineering students who attended university in the US: the vision of R4W is to eradicate the water crisis in Rwanda through the use of appropriate technologies.

Going by the theme "Bringing water home", their model is one to be emulated by Rwandan technologists at home, as well as abroad -- to use one's skills to foster change in Rwandan communities.

Their journey began when the students watched a documentary about the water crisis in parts of Rwanda. Vedaste Niyonsaba, coordinator of R4W, described seeing how difficult it was to obtain healthy clean drinking water in a number of rural areas as a "wake-up call": lack of clean water heavily affects health, education and many other things.

R4W began on a summer visit back home when the team made time to visit rural areas and see the reality first-hand. This experience changed the team of eleven students who went back to the US and took to the drawing board to figure out how to make change happen back in Rwanda.

Encouraging social entrepreneurship in Rwanda will come hand in hand with policy measures that address hurdles in the way of entrepreneurial activity. For example, today only four of the hand-drilled seven wells drilled by R4W are functional.

One of the challenges the engineers face is the lack of open source geological data on Rwanda; even with the extensive support from the government, Niyonsaba cites the need for more data in order to be effective.

In addition the for-profit sector currently enjoys a broader and deeper array of financial vehicles than does the nonprofit sector in Rwanda; securing funding and financial support has been a persistent challenge for the R4W team.

It is interesting to note that social entrepreneurship presents a window for innovation: looking for cheaper, more effective solutions invokes creative inspiration. Niyonsaba revealed to me that R4W is looking to manufacture hand pumps in Rwanda and considering how to bring water tower technology to Rwanda (they are currently focusing on underground water).

A top priority of the team at R4W is to engage students in Rwanda (KIST) in their efforts to be part of change. Niyonsaba pointed out the importance of transferring the drive for change to people back home. To put it in Niyonsaba's words, "I am amazed when I see the entrepreneurial attitude in the USA - how people invest in ideas, dream big, and work as a team. It is seemingly harder to convince Rwandans that we can take matters into our hands, such as eradication of the water crisis". There's some food for thought...

For more, visit www.rwandans4water.org

My appreciation to Vedaste Niyonsaba, R4W Coordinator for sharing his thoughts with me.

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