KIGALI, Rwanda — The Akilah Institute for Women is a college whose goal is to provide affordable education to women from East African Communities, or EACs. Specifically, it aims to teach young women those skills necessary to land a job in the booming private sectors of EACs and become full-fledged leaders in the community.
As of now, Akilah has only two campuses: one in Burundi and one in Rwanda. While the program in Burundi is fairly new, two classes have already graduated from the Rwandan college. In fact, every single student of the Class of 2012 acquired a job immediately after graduating.
But how does funneling a few impoverished women into private sector jobs help countries in East Africa such as Rwanda?
The post-genocide nation of Rwanda has seen unprecedented progress in recent years. Its growth is so rapid, in fact, that the Economist ranked its economy as the ninth fastest-growing of 2013. And having succeeded in addressing the issue of access to education, the country drastically increased its primary school enrollment rates, as it climbed to 96.5 percent, which is among the highest rates in all of Africa.
However, this picture of Rwanda glosses over the bleaker reality.
Carolyn Turk, the World Bank Country Manager for Rwanda, states, “While Rwanda has pushed back poverty dramatically in the past decade, it is still one of the world’s poorest countries.” The education system tells a similar story.
Although Rwanda’s policies may have done well to keep children in school, Education Minister Vincent Biruta acknowledges that the actual quality of education has declined. Only 67 percent of secondary school teachers, he says, are even qualified for their jobs. This may, in part, explain why Rwanda’s current youth unemployment rate is so high, leaving a staggering 42 percent of working-age youngsters unable to find a job.
The solution, in Biruta’s view, is for Rwanda to both focus on training teachers and abandon rote memorization for job-ready skills. This is where Akilah comes in.
The organization is painfully aware of the existence of an understaffed private sector and an underemployed Rwandan majority. The female population, in particular, 85 percent of which works in subsistence agriculture, represent an untapped labor market from which businesses could hire. Yet, they are untrained for such jobs — for no reason, Akilah imagines, other than the impracticality of skills taught in primary school and the sheer amount of money required to attend college.
So how does the Akilah Institute rectify these two issues of cost and effective training?
First, the school manages a scholarship fund that pays for 85 percent of students’ tuitions. This allows bright girls who would otherwise be unable to afford higher education a chance to vie for eventual employment. In fact, 97 percent of students in this year’s class are the first in their family to have attended college, 67 percent of them come from rural backgrounds and one-third claim to be heads of their households.
Second, the college’s three-year degree programs are entirely tailored to the needs of EAC markets. As such, three degrees are offered: entrepreneurship, tourism and information and communications technology.
Today, these are the most marketable skills in Rwanda and the East African Communities.