Jean d’Amour Mutoni: “Expanding the horizons”
Jean d’Amour Mutoni: “Expanding the horizons”
In 2011, Jean d’Amour Mutoni founded Acts of Gratitude – a community that fosters a culture of giving back to others in Rwanda. This self-reliant organisation was already thriving when Jean won the Queen’s Young Leaders award in 2015. But with new contacts and a new strategy in place, Jean’s plans have now become much more ambitious.
“From when we received the award, people started trusting us in a way that was visible,” Jean explains. “For example the President [of Rwanda], Paul Kagame, joined the organisation to support with paying rent for our training centre.”
President Kagame isn’t the only influential person to have joined Acts of Gratitude since Jean became a Queen’s Young Leader. As membership increased, other new members included Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, and the Vice Chancellor of the University of Rwanda.
Meanwhile Jean cracked on with the Leading Change course. “From there I learnt that the person you really know well should be your best role model, not the person you hear on the news or someone you read about, because there are things you really don’t understand about them.”
The course helped him to grow as a leader. “I feel like I run Acts of Gratitude differently compared to the way I was doing it before,” Jean explains. He says it changed his thinking and perspective, “for instance, not thinking and acting just local, but expanding the horizons to include global actions”.
So he started to “reach out” using the networking techniques he’d learnt from Oli Barrett – techniques that he says he still uses a lot.
Partners and friends
The result has included two partnerships with UK organisations.
Unloc is a youth-led social enterprise that helps young people develop and offers training packages. Jean invited Unloc to visit Acts of Gratitude in Rwanda in 2016. “Can you imagine that we planned the whole thing of going to Rwanda via Skype and email?” he says.
The result is Unloc is now working with Acts of Gratitude to launch a social enterprise academy in Rwanda in September 2016.
Jean with staff from UK organisation, Unloc, meeting Rwanda’s Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana.
The second partnership was with the Conscious Creative, run by Micci Gorrod and Lee Johnson who Jean met at the Cambridge Residential in June 2015. The Conscious Creative trains people in mindfulness techniques to reduce their stress levels and think more positively and creatively.
“I have really experienced peace from that training – to meditate and really feel that inner peace and serenity and connect with myself and world around me,” says Jean.
Micci, Lee and Jean have since visited Rwanda, in early 2016, to teach mindfulness and meditation to the team at Acts of Gratitude. Their five-day training programme had a strong impact on the staff at Acts of Gratitude, who are still using the techniques they learnt.
“A number of people who came were really, really inspired," says Jean, "and I still have those who say now that we’ve learnt about that, how do we go further to really practice it.”
Micci Gorrod and Lee Johnson of the Conscious Creative visiting Acts of Gratitude in Rwanda in 2016
Jean’s ambition is to scale up Acts of Gratitude “to all the corners of Rwanda”. For this, his mentor from the Queen's Young Leaders Programme, Denise McQuaid has been instrumental.
She has helped him develop a fundraising strategy, to expand his network and to refine the model for Actions of Gratitude to make it easier to communicate what it does.
“So we now have a model based on three Es,” he says, which are:
- expose people to problems and solutions in their communities, to stimulate ideas for change and inspire them to take action
- educate those who want to solve community problems and help them turn those ideas into projects
- empower by giving those people what they need to get the projects off the ground.
Acts of Gratitude training session
Jean explains, “We get those who have projects from the training and help them get office space, funding, networking and all things to help them start and sustain their projects.”
For fundraising “the idea is to approach the Rwandan diaspora community in the UK,” says Jean, “and build a network of really vibrant supporters in the UK, including corporates and institutional funders.”
Embracing the Commonwealth
The idea of the Commonwealth was very new to Jean when he became a Queen’s Young Leader. Rwanda only joined in 2008. “So I didn’t know much about the Commonwealth,” he explains, “I didn’t know much about the Queen!”
However, receiving the Queen’s Young Leaders award gave him a deeper understanding of it and he is keen to keep in touch with other Queen’s Young Leaders.
“I now see the Commonwealth as a source of not only resources but also relationships – a place to meet people, get ideas and get collaborators,” says Jean, who recently became a Royal Commonwealth Society Associated Fellow.
And the Commonwealth plays an important role in Jean's plans to scale up, expand horizons and work at a more global level. He smiles as he says, “It’s actually my biggest global network!”