11 January 2013

Rwanda: Let's Uphold Brilliance At Home


Once during my days working as youth programmes and communications officer in a local NGO, I was once tasked with overseeing an internship programme. Besides my day-to-day duties, I was meant to devise an internship programme for recently graduated high school students to empower them with unique skills other than the mundane tasks such as photocopying mountains of documents or fetching coffee for staff.

There is a deficit in structures to maintain and drive the brilliant minds our youth have when they return home

I was sure this would be a piece of cake. The winning formula, I decided, was to give them near impossible tasks, which would keep them away from my door for at least three weeks. This would give me ample time to attend to my official duties and avoid dealing with their incessant questions. I gave them the task of developing a syllabus to teach basic English to youth in three child-headed household (CHH) villages around Kigali. In addition, they were to draft a teaching schedule, contact the heads of these villages and get their buy-in for the programme. Lastly, they were to teach the English lessons. Once operations commenced, I breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, I could attend to the backlog of work piling up during the conceptualisation of this programme.

To my utter shock, a week later, the interns were at my door asking for more work. Not only had they completed the programme ahead of schedule due to their admirable organisational efforts, they were also on some sort of natural high which meant that they were more energised than before. Technically speaking, this meant that I had more work ahead of me to draft their next "mission impossible" task. These kids made Tom Cruise look like a sissy. They also made me look like a fool. I should have known I was dealing with high achievers whose attitude to tackle what seemed impossible to many was simply an exciting challenge for them. As I write this, most, if not all of them are completing their graduate studies in Ivy League schools in the US.

The reason I bring up this story is because Rwanda seems to be facing the same challenge. There is a deficit in structures to maintain and drive the brilliant minds our youth have when they return home with their sophisticated educational qualifications from universities abroad. Based on conversations with friends, and personal observations - the question is; what are we doing to enhance these minds in practical and applicable ways? What we have are the usual hotshot government jobs or a juicy position in a leading telecom company with unlimited airtime and a RAV4. That's good. Motivating even. But where's the sustainability in it? Younger and brighter Rwandan minds (just like those super interns) are being churned out from leading world universities. Soon they'll want more challenging and complex professional tasks upon their return. And, like a domino effect, most will rush back to Rwanda, find the job market saturated with almost everyone more or less doing the same thing and then - the next logical step will be to look elsewhere career-wise. And there you have it - the cycle of brain drain continues.

Like an internship programmes officer, the onus is on government and business leaders to find time and create structures to tap into these minds for not only their personal empowerment, but also for the country's development.

Most responses I get to this question is that such leaders are too busy dealing with the bigger picture of things and more important issues Rwanda is currently dealing with.

But perhaps the answer to all this is that the solutions are right there in front of us. If we can recruit the best of the best, and tirelessly keep them on their toes motivated by ideas and competitively rewarded for their efforts - therein lies the answer in using young Rwandan minds towards the development of this country.

If anything, it allows shared responsibility between leaders and youth and adds a new voice to Rwanda's developmental narrative.

It kills me to speculate on how a Bsc Microbiology, Genetics and Chemistry graduate may end up running small errands in some Ministry or local hospital, simply because there are no adequate structures in place to tap into the potential of this particular skill-set.

If absent, then let's be the pioneers of such structures in the region, and keep the brilliance in Rwanda - in Africa.

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