Jacqueline Novogratz, founder of the Acumen Fund and renowned author of The Blue Sweater, visited the Akilah campus in June to meet our student body and speak about the importance of a global community. Novogratz, an Akilah supporter, lived in Kigali before the 1994 genocide to establish a microfinance bank for women. In 2011, Akilah won an Acumen global competition and received 100 free copies of The Blue Sweater, which students now read in their 1st year Leadership & Ethics course.
Novogratz stressed to students that we are all interconnected, and that we must walk in the world with both intellect and compassion for our fellow man. In order to change the world, she asserts, we must listen and hold people accountable. A top down approach will never work, but if we spent the time listening and asking the right questions to those in need, and then holding them accountable for reaching their set goals, then the world might be a different place.
One of Akilah’s Second Year students, Ernestine Mukangeze, asked about her impressions of Rwanda before and after the genocide. Novogratz answered that she knew that tensions existed underneath the surface before the war, but she never knew why. She now understands the deep-seated ethnic strife that was so prevalent in Rwanda’s history, and questions if the world had simply listened and asked the right questions, whether Rwanda’s history might’ve been shaped differently. Nonetheless, after returning to Rwanda after the genocide, she was amazed by how many Rwandan women suffered great loss with an abundance of grace and dignity. It is this demonstration of human dignity that Jacqueline began to realize how the world can change; poverty can end if all human beings are looked at as a part of a single global community where everyone deserves a chance to build a life worth living.
First Year student Jeanne d’Arc Nyirahagenimana inquired about her foremost value and how it related to her individual leadership style, and Novogratz told students that respect and integrity were of the utmost importance to her. For her, they were intertwined; one must show up in the world in integrity and with respect to oneself and others. Without those, we are not being true to ourselves, and therefore will never make a positive impact on the world.
Novogratz stressed to Akilah students that they were the future of Rwanda. She urged them to empower other women, and to walk in the footsteps of the strong, impactful women who have paved the way for them in Rwanda. But, they must do so with compassion, intellect, and dignity, and in doing so, they will change the world.