Today the world is remembering Rwanda and the genocide that started there 15 years ago. As people of conscience renew a commitment to never let anything like Rwanda happen again, it's also a great opportunity to review lessons from the Rwanda experience.
Rwanda has seen peace and stability in the 15 years since the gruesome days of 1994, and last September became the first nation in the world to have a parliament of majority women. It is a nation that is open to international assistance (Indeed, many on both sides of the equation see it as something the world owes Rwanda after what happened.), and BusinessWeek recently called Rwanda "the world's social innovation capital."
Yet Rwanda still faces a huge mountain of challenges. Life expectancy is a low 46 years (185 out of 195 in the world). And an estimated 860,000 in the population (about 8 percent) are orphaned as a result of the genocide and diseases like AIDS and malaria.
The best social innovations will be the ones that confront these dual challenges of poverty and orphans in an economically sustainable way.
Our firm, Cards from Africa, is contributing to innovation by exclusively employing orphaned heads of households in the production of beautiful handcrafted greeting cards. Florance, who lost both parents a sister in the genocide, describes her experience as a head of household this way: "Every day used to be so difficult. All the things we had while our parents were alive disappeared. I am now able to pay for rent and for education for my little sister! I can afford all the basic needs of life."
We hope the lessons being learned in rebuilding Rwanda may someday help those in Sudan as well as African nations facing large populations of AIDS orphans. And that would bring some redemption to the tragic events of 15 years ago.
Jimmy Quach is the North America Director for Cards from Africa. Learn more about this project and the 15th anniversary of the genocide by clicking here.