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Jean D’Amour Mutoni: Eradicating poverty

Jean D’Amour Mutoni: Eradicating poverty

Supporting social enterprises and education

To celebrate the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, Leading Change finds out how Queen's Young Leader, Jean D’Amour Mutoni – and his organisation, Acts of Gratitude – are enriching Rwanda with knowledge and support.

In 2011, inspired by the kindness of others who had helped Tutsi orphans after the Rwandan genocide, Jean D’Amour Mutoni co-founded Acts of Gratitude (AoG).

He and his 12 co-founders established AoG in the spirit of “fostering the culture of giving back to the community”. Their focus then as now was to empower young people and to “create a new generation of capable and socially responsible leaders for Rwanda”. 

Acts of Gratitude volunteers

Acts of Gratitude volunteers

Queen’s Young Leaders Award

Winning the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015 helped Jean develop AoG. The Leading Change course got him thinking about role models, networking and leadership. And it was through the mentoring programme that he began to refine the Acts of Gratitude strategy.

"For instance not thinking and acting just local, but expanding the horizons to include global actions. It was after the course that I started to reach out to people."

Jean formed two partnerships with organisations in the UK:

  • Unloc who have helped AoG establish the empowering Kigali Social Enterprise Academy
  • and the Conscious Creative, who visited Rwanda in March 2016.

"I emailed them and they said yes we’ll do it,” says Jean. “Can you imagine that we planned the whole thing of going to Rwanda via Skype and email?"

The Conscious Creative visiting Rwanda

Lee Johnson and Micci Gorrod of the Conscious Creative visiting Acts of Gratitude in Rwanda

The Kigali Social Enterprise Academy

In September 2017, the Kigali Social Enterprise Academy (KSEA) was launched with 20 participants. David Hart from Unloc came to Rwanda to facilitate the training.

Participants were recruited using Acts of Gratitude's “3Es” strategy, that Jean had refined with the help of his mentor on the Queen’s Young Leaders Mentoring Programme.

"3 Es will be AoG strategy for a long time," Jean explains. "We expose young people to the community. We educate them through the academy now and we provide necessary support for them to be empowered and launch their projects."

Most of the first cohort of KSEA students had been doing community service through Acts of Gratitude. By being exposed to problems and solutions in the community, they were inspired to take action.

Jean giving training on social enterprise

Jean giving training in social enterprise

"The next E is educate. We give education to those who are really passionate about bringing solutions to the community, and help them turn ideas into projects." This is where the Kigali Social Enterprise Academy comes in.

"The way we expose people is to get them to do community service, then we get them into social enterprise workshops. So they’re exposed and identify a problem and from there if someone is willing they will apply for the academy."

But what if social enterprise is not for them?

“Someone can also do formal education as a result of the exposure we’ve offered them.”

The last E is empower. 

"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."

Empower

In December 2017, 17 social entrepreneurs graduated from KSEA class 1.

Within six months of graduating, they were all making huge progress and six had already started their own businesses.

“The rest have their business plans, pitch, and Powerpoint presentations ready as, with our support, they continue to look for seed funding.”

They include:

  • a continuing professional development (CPD) centre for healthcare professionals
  • a marketing and signage company
  • an African hair and beauty salon
  • an online directory
  • and a coffee export business.

“The 3Es model proved to work well for us,” says Jean. “However, some stakeholders advised us to polish it a little more. We are now working on aligning it more with government-identified gaps in the area of youth empowerment.”

Acts of Gratitude volunteers collecting and distributing clothes

Acts of Gratitude volunteers collecting and distributing clothes

Paying it forward

Those who have joined Acts of Gratitude – the AoG volunteers – are young people who have been helped by family, friends and charities to study and make progress in their lives. What they have in common is a desire to pay it forward and that will always be the drive behind the organisation.

In addition to setting up the KSEA, this community of 302 like-minded individuals and volunteers have to date funded:

  • 15 high school scholarships to talented young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds
  • 34 short-term micro-loans to disadvantaged Rwandan entrepreneurs
  • taken 20,000 meals to patients in public hospitals
  • and collected and distributed 33,600 articles of clothing to those who need them.

In March 2018, Jean told Closing Bell Africa, a television current affairs programme on CNBC Africa, that he hopes Acts of Gratitude will become a big movement of youth for change, for Rwanda, Africa and the world.

It is a huge ambition. So when he considers where AOG was when it first started in 2011, how does he feel about all they have achieved?

Looking back, on one hand, I honestly feel happy and humbled by what we were able to achieve so far, says Jean. On the other hand, I feel the motivation to do more in terms of putting in place a more sustainable and scalable model. Work is in progress towards that.