Driven by the goal of furthering the cause of social justice at the international level, the nonprofit group Generation Rwanda has worked to fill a critical gap in Rwandan education. In doing so, it has created a program – Kepler – that has the potential to transform the entire model of higher education not only in Rwanda, but also throughout the developing world.
A decade ago, Generation Rwanda was formed to provide access to higher education for the orphans of the Rwandan genocide. Originally known as Orphans of Rwanda, Generation Rwanda began by providing university scholarships to young Rwandans in need. While other organizations were directing their efforts toward educating primary school-age children and teens, the needs of college-age young adults were not being adequately addressed.
Generation Rwanda realized that a lack of access to a high-quality university education would leave today’s generation of Rwandans without the tools needed to move the country forward socially and economically. Generation Rwanda offered scholarships that covered the cost of tuition, as well as health care support, housing, and employment training programs. The 360-degree approach was designed to improve students’ ability to thrive under the rigorous demands of a university course of study and to prepare them after graduation to grapple with the serious problems of inter-group reconciliation and infrastructure-building that their country still faces.
In the decade since it began, Generation Rwanda has channeled funding from private donors and other nonprofit organizations to help hundreds and hundreds of highly motivated orphans and other socially marginalized individuals. The group has placed a particular emphasis on providing funding for female students. Among its many success stories, the group counts that of Pascaline Umulisa, who graduated in 2011 from the National University of Rwanda. During that year, Ms. Umulisa visited the United States as part of a delegation from the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. While there, she received an invitation to speak on a United Nations-sponsored panel to address the issue of violence against women and girls. Another success story is that of Patricie Uwase, who is now finishing her master’s degree in civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley.
Notwithstanding its track-record of providing opportunity to many who otherwise would not have had the chance for a college education, Generation Rwanda recognized that if it wanted to create an even larger impact, it would have to transform the very model of higher education in Rwanda. Thus, in 2013, Generation Rwanda transitioned its efforts from offering scholarships to existing Rwandan universities into creating its own university program. Now in its second year of operation, this new program, known as Kepler, offers a low-cost, U.S.-accredited degree through a combination of online courses, lectures, and classroom interaction with teachers and peers on its Kigali campus. The vision behind Kepler – that of blending online learning with hands-on classroom teaching and mentoring – shows the potential to change the very model of higher education throughout the developing world. Kepler has already been so successful that plans are underway to expand the innovative program to two other African countries by 2017.