A trip report of my experience at the land of a thousand hills

As I end my fellowship with Atlas Corps, serving as Marketing & Strategy fellow at WAKE: Women’s Alliance for Knowledge Exchange, in San Francisco, I tried to decide which was the main highlight of this experience to share it here. Although I had so many great experiences and opportunities for learning and is almost impossible to choose, traveling to Kigali for Tech2Empower Rwanda was definitely one of my main highlights. Tech2Empower is WAKE’s flagship program and a platform for connection between volunteer Advisors from top tech companies, and women social entrepreneurs and girls. This was my first time in an African country, and being Brazilian, due to our history and culture, it felt so much like home.

I hope you enjoy this trip report made with love for WAKE’s social media while I was there. I left a piece of my heart in Rwanda, and encourage you to visit this beautiful country.

Murakoze Rwanda!

🇷🇼Day #1: Orientation Day 

We were ecstatic to kick off Tech2Empower Rwanda with the incredible and diverse group of Advisors!

The Day #1 agenda included an orientation session in the morning and a powerful #IamRemarkable exercise facilitated by our inspiring advisors Angelina Darrisaw and Kanika Raney.

Then, we headed for a walking tour with our partners from the Nyamirambo Women’s Center – where we gained more context about life in Kigali and learned about the important work the center does to support women in the Nyamirambo community. We even learned (and put into practice!) our first words in Kinyarwanda. 

In the afternoon, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial to learn and honor the victims of the genocide against the Tutsi, and reflect about peace. We ended our day with a cooking class and dinner of Rwandan dishes. These orientation day activities gave us a perspective and understanding of Rwandan life as we begin our program.

🇷🇼Day #2: Impact Challenge for Women-led Social Enterprises – Part 1
What kind of support do women who are leading change need in order to amplify their work? How can technology, women’s leadership, and knowledge exchange converge to advance women’s rights? Questions like these inspired us to design the Impact Challenge for women-led social enterprises: a 2-day, project-based collaborative event that kicked off on Day #2 of Tech2Empower Rwanda.

We started off by welcoming the 5 amazing social enterprises participating: AKWOS – Organization of Women in Sports, Kosmotive, Starlight Rwanda, The PlaygroundHub and Resonate. We selected them from among many stellar applications and worked together to scope out a priority “impact project” in tech, communications or admin/finances. During the Impact Challenge, the social enterprise teams worked collaboratively with their Advisor team over the 2 days. In the morning, the teams defined roles, participated in a discovery session to comprehend further the challenges facing the social enterprises, and then dug into their project work. We ended the day with site visits to the social enterprise’s offices or communities, giving the Advisors an opportunity to better understand the work and context, as they got prepared for the Day #3 – a full day of project work, knowledge exchange, women supporting women, and a celebratory happy hour!

🇷🇼Day #3: Impact Challenge for Women-led Social Enterprises – Part 2
A lot of laughter on Day 3, along with hard work, collaboration and learning during the second part of the Impact Challenge for Women-led Social Enterprises. The teams had a full day to concentrate on their impact projects which included:

// A marketing and pricing strategy for the new Kosmopads – the affordable sanitary pads from Kosmotive that will help to improve education and health of women and girls in Rwanda, along with a fundraising campaign; 

// A pitch deck and marketing/ social media strategy plan to support the amazing work of AKWOS – Organization of Women in Sports on empowering Rwandan women through sports and education; 

// A cloud-based system that will help Resonate organize and share curricula for their new program, Training of Facilitators(ToF), which will expand the reach of their girls’ empowerment program; 

// Story building and coaching for Starlight Rwanda to refine their pitch and get ready for their next round of investors meetings; 

// A strategy and advocacy plan for The PlaygroundHub to reach their vision of a community of parents, educators and policymakers that believe in the power of play to unleash children’s potential.

At WAKE, we believe in the amazing power of women supporting women and are so proud of the accomplishments these teams of women achieved together over these two days. A fun and festive happy hour with local musicians at Impact Hub Kigali was the perfect closing for the Impact Challenge.

🇷🇼Day #4: Women’s cooperatives visits

The fourth day of Tech2Empower Rwanda was about Women’s Entrepreneurship and brought us to 2 inspiring women-centric local initiatives. Our first stop was at the Women’s Bakery, where the WAKE team and Advisors learned about their innovative business model that is impacting women throughout East Africa. Then we spent time at the Urugo Women’s Opportunity Center, learning about the importance of income-generating programs for women. These initiatives are incredibly impactful and we are proud to support their work!

🇷🇼Day #5: Tech and Career Day for girls 
What an inspiring day!
On our fifth day of Tech2Empower Rwanda, 100+ high school and postsecondary girls participated on our Tech and Career Day, co-hosted with our amazing partner Akilah Institute. They came from 3 different educational institutions: Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, FAWE Rwanda and the Akilah Institute. We were even joined by the Honorable Minister of ICT and Information of Rwanda, Paula Ingabire, for our closing session and we were humbled and honored by her words and encouragement.

We started the day with an #Iamremarkable session, a Google initiative that encourages women to celebrate their achievements, facilitated by Advisors Angelina Darrisaw Cheeks and Kanika Raney. The girls reflected and shared their real, personal accomplishments (hey, it’s not bragging if it’s facts, right?!) and discussed the gender biases that influence women’s ability to build confidence and overcoming the consequences they face for self-promotion. Students and Advisors then shared mentoring lunches together, followed by an afternoon of breakout workshops designed and led by the Advisors. These sessions included the Science of Colors, Artificial Intelligence in Today’s World, Leadership Training, Round Table on Career Lessons, The Importance of Self Compassion, Benefits of Mentoring, Networking and the Elevator Speech, Career Paths to Becoming an Engineer and an interactive workshop of Coding with Sphero.

This day was truly special to us, our partners, the Advisors and the students. We have more than 1000 photos, stories, and hours of video from this amazing day! The advancement of girls’ education is one of the most impactful global issues and we are so grateful to everyone who participated in this meaningful event.

🇷🇼Day #6: Girls’ education workshops and closing.

On our 6th (and last) day of #Tech2Empower Rwanda, we drove to near Lake Mugesera – on the outskirts of Kigali and had an impactful experience at Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village. We first learned about their history, model and impact, and then our group of Advisors split into groups to conduct sessions about career mentoring and coding at their Science Center. Their students participated in our Tech + Career Day the day before so was very special to meet them again, now at their homes.

The Agahozo-Shalom is a youth village that empowers orphaned and vulnerable Rwandan youth to build lives of dignity and contribute to a better world. Their history and impact are so important. In 2005, while attending a talk about the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, Anne Heyman – the founder of Agahozo-Shalom, learned that the country had 1.2 million orphans. Without a systemic solution to support the well-being and development of Rwanda’s vast orphan population, many were being left behind. Anne recalled that to address the orphan crisis following the Holocaust, Israel built residential communities ensuring orphans’ safety, security, and development, inspiring her to bring this model to Rwanda.

That afternoon we had a bit of free time and visited the main local market to have a taste of Kigali life. Art and crafts in Rwanda are exceptionally amazing! We ended the day with a closing dinner followed by an inspiring dance performance from the Hope Shines, Inc. – an institution that is enhancing and improving the lives of orphans and vulnerable children in Rwanda through unique education and health programs. Learn more about them here: https://hopeshines.org/