This post originally appeared on The New Times.
In mid-June, the Mastercard Foundation held a pivotal convening in Kigali, uniting program partners, stakeholders, and participants to reflect on the transformative five-year journey of the Young Africa Works program in Rwanda. The central theme of “Connect, Collaborate, and Co-Create for Impact” was the heartbeat of this meeting, igniting a fire within us to reexamine and reshape youth employment in our beloved Rwanda.
This gathering held personal significance for me. Having journeyed with the Foundation for over half a decade since the early days of the Young Africa Works strategy, it prompted deep self-reflection and introspection. My mind returned to the tumultuous period when COVID-19 swept over Rwanda, and the world, like a relentless storm. Our people, our households, and our vital industries, like tourism and hospitality, took a significant blow. The uncertainty was crushing, yet we clung to hope, constantly tuned into news updates, yearning for better days. Against all odds, we prevailed. We triumphed.
Today, Rwanda’s tourism industry stands tall, a monument of resilience and determination. We’ve become a renowned conference destination, hosting prestigious events like the 73rd FIFA Congress Meeting, the exciting Basketball Africa League (BAL) tournament and the recent Women Deliver Conference; the largest convening for gender equality in the world, which attracted 6,000 attendees on-site. In the midst of adversity, the country seized every opportunity, as demonstrated during the successful Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) last year.
During these trials I witnessed the beauty of unity and collaboration in action. The Mastercard Foundation and its partners were instrumental in supporting the tourism industry, training staff, and rolling out the COVID-19 Recovery and Resilience Program to safeguard the gains in hospitality and tourism.
At the heart of Rwanda’s triumphs however, lies our youth. We must continue empowering and enabling them to find dignified and fulfilling work, particularly in our thriving tourism and hospitality sector. Initiatives like Tembera U Rwanda, championing domestic tourism, are gaining momentum. Our government’s endorsement of domestic tourism reaffirms the importance of exploring our own country with the same passion and curiosity typically reserved for foreign visitors.
Our domestic tourism space is thriving, and its potential must not be underestimated. Campaigns like #MeetSouthAfrica and #TembeaKenya by our African peers highlight the richness of experiences we have to offer.
We must prioritize acceleration and inclusivity to restructure the future of tourism and hospitality for our youth. While building sustainable businesses and offering dignified work is commendable, we cannot stop there. We must expedite our efforts, generating more employment and scaling successful models.
Embracing and adopting accessible digital tools is essential. The pandemic underscored how critical digital readiness is. Businesses lacking a digital framework faced challenges, hindering their ability to process payments and reach customers. Physical presence alone is insufficient; we must prioritize recovery, encourage agility, and keep pace with global standards.
The young generation shapes the course of our future.”
Their innovative spirit is driving diversification in Rwanda’s tourism sector, using social media and digital technology to lead us toward a bright tomorrow.
We must not overlook our young refugees and disabled youth. By prioritizing inclusivity, we can offer accessible employment opportunities, ensuring no one is left behind.
Being privy to the strong commitment of our partners, including our latest youth-led organizations at the Foundation’s Kigali office, I am deeply moved by their unwavering belief in the potential of Rwanda’s youth. Remarkable transformations are underway, and I am excited for what lies ahead.
Let’s continue to dream, work and collaborate with our young people; together, we will achieve greatness. Our resilience and hope will illuminate the way towards a prosperous future.
Reflection by Rica Rwigamba, Ghana Country Director and Former Rwanda Country Director at the Mastercard Foundation.
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