Rwandan Social Entrepreneur Empowers Girls to Change their Future through Coding
Published on: 02.07.2018
Interview with Innocent Mbanda
Innocent Mbanda is a young leader and entrepreneur from Rwanda and also a participant in the 2017 Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition. He is the founder of Igire Rwanda Organization (IRO), which focuses on the education of young people and encourages them to become active citizens in their communities. Igire Rwanda aims to reach out to youth with the provision of skills and opportunities for growth to make sure they are self-reliant. Igire Rwanda helps young people to think about their community and come up with solutions to the problems affecting the community.
Thanks to his work and commitment as a young leader, Innocent was one of 70 young leaders from 60 countries that had the opportunity to attend UNESCO ESD Youth Conference, ‘Youth Saves the Planet’, Paris, 14 – 16 May 2018.
Innocent, can you tell us more about yourself and your organization and how did you have the initial idea about Igire Rwanda Organization?
My name is Innocent Mbanda and I am from Rwanda and I am a social entrepreneur. I am so passionate about youth empowerment and that is why I started Igire Rwanda Organization”, a Non-Governmental organization, with the aim to reach out to youth with the provision of skills and opportunities for growth to make sure they are self-reliant. I started with the idea of Igire Rwanda when I was at high school. I use to participate in different community works and meeting with other young people, helping in cleaning up the community, building the houses of unprivileged people and I become much caring of the community. Then, in 2015, I come to realize how it is very hard for us as young people to get jobs or internship opportunities before or after graduating and that’s when decided to start an NGO that could help young people to gain entrepreneurial skills needed to develop innovative ideas and projects to face the current difficult economic conditions and contribute to positive social change in their communities.
How Many communities in Rwanda are you operating in?
Currently, we are operating in Kigali city and our we are planning to expand our programs in other three the district next year 2019.
What are the challenges that young people face in Rwanda?
The challenges facing young people in Rwanda and the general challenges facing other young people in Rwanda; like employment opportunities, access to better quality education and access to finances, and other available opportunities.
How many people and especially females attend your training?
Since last year we have worked with 120 young people attending training on entrepreneurship and SDGs campaign.
60 young women and girls have also benefited from our program. We are planning to reach to 300 girls by 2019.
What is the best way to find resources for a project like Igire? Can you share your own experience and do you think it can be a successful approach even in other countries?
Finding resources is not very easy. In our experience, we analyze with what we want to run a project and we reach out to different organizations and companies with what we want. For example, when we started ‘SHE CAN CODE’ Initiative, we did not have computers, internet, and training ground. We reached out to the US Embassy with the proposal and they have agreed to support us with the training ground, internet, and computers for our students.
What’s the main challenge that you face in your work?
The main challenge that I face is lack of enough funds to reach out to too many young people as we plan. We have so many programs and many of them are still in papers.
What’s your aspiration as a social entrepreneur and what inspires you to keep going?
What inspires me in the impact we are making. Whenever we run a program and after the program, our participants get jobs and internship opportunities it makes me so happy and to keep going.
Do you think social entrepreneurship can be a solution to concerning issues in your country?
Yes, I am positive about that. Social entrepreneurs care about the people and community. They help in creating solutions affecting the community and work with the community to find solutions.
How can you describe your experience as a young leader in UNESCO ESD Youth Conference in Paris?
Attending UNESCO ESD Youth Conference in Paris was a great experience and also a learning moment. I met with wonderful amazing young social entrepreneurs from all over the world. We shared what we do back in our countries and we were able to give feedback to each other. I was amazed at how people were happy with my work and they all encouraged me and giving positive feedback. I also got a chance to meet with people I follow on social media because of their amazing work and I have got a chance to discuss in person. The content and the topics we discussed at the conference were also great because they were in line with what we as young people are looking for. I got a chance to discuss with other young people on how we can have collaborative projects and now we are in drafting our concept note. It was such great experience to attend the conference.
How can you describe your experience as a contestant in the Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition?
The Youth Citizen Entrepreneurship Competition is a great opportunity for young entrepreneurs to post their ideas and received feedback from many experts in the field. My experience is that; even if I did not win the award, but I got so many positive feedback from many people. Many people were encouraging me and super excited in learning what I am doing. I was even able to incorporate some of their ideas into my plan.
How has your organization changed in one year?
My organization has changed with great growth. When we started, we started as students at University who were passionate about changing the community. After graduation, we have continued to work and reach out to too many partners and we have made a significant growth in our programs. We have now started other programs which are focused on women and girls’ empowerment especially in helping them to have access to finance. We are starting what we call women and girls saving group. This will help women and girls in rural areas to work in cooperatives and save some money which they can use it to buy some domestic animals in the future. This is an idea which was brought by one of our members who is also passionate about women and girls empowerment.
What advice do you have for young people like you that want to start their own projects and organizations?
I would love seeing many young people starting their own projects as an organization because they bring solutions to their community. The only advice to give them is to be persistent and have a great vision. I would love to tell them to start organizations and projects, which are related to their passions. When you are working with passion, you do not give up, you work harder and harder.
Photo Credit: Innocent Mbanda