I just returned from a two-week visit to the campus of the Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT) programme and of the brand new and quite revolutionary African Womens’ University (ARU) for which I am one of the few non-African Council members.
It seems fitting on International Womens’ Day to celebrate the hope and creativity that these young women bring to their communities in rural Africa. This is the first all-women’s university in East Africa. But what is even more important are the nature of its hand-picked students, the nature of its curriculum, and the impact these students are already making in their first year of study.
Photo: Six of the first-year ARU Students: from left to right: Madrene Nabukenya, Flavia Nambooze, Resty Namubiru, Apophia Kyomukama, Eunice Kyalikunda, Doreen Kasangaki, Betty Kauma Namukaba (RIP).
These 26 first-year students are extraordinary young women. These are women who grew up in mud huts in rural Africa, living on barely-subsistence farms. These are women who convinced their families to send them through school—primary, secondary, and A-levels—in a culture in which most girls are only educated through the fourth grade. They are young women whose dreams are not to go to the big city and get a secretarial or professional job, but to reduce the rate of infant mortality in rural villages, like the ones they have come from, to stop domestic violence, to become market farmers, not subsistence farmers, and to start their own businesses.
They are eager to learn and apply the skills of integrated rural development that they are surrounded by on the URDT campus. And they are blessed to have learned about this unique university—most of them via the radio—and to have scraped up the $75 in (subsidized) tuition and room and board that it costs to attend for a year. They are role models for the “New Africa.”
The African Rural University uses as its curriculum the best practices that have been honed by its parent, URDT. This includes 25 years of integrated, bottoms up, rural development practices. It’s a holistic program—with skills ranging from social work and land rights legislation to sanitation and nutrition, to agriculture and entrepreneurship, to solar energy and many forms of appropriate technologies (refrigeration via charcoal, biogas production, and so on). At the core of the program is a philosophy—a secular belief in the power of the creative orientation. Have a vision, contrast it with current reality, and use the resulting structural tension to help propel you systemically towards the vision you hold.
This week, I invite you to travel with me to rural Uganda, to get a glimpse of the work that these young women are doing in their first field work project. I am also happy to report that I piloted our customer co-design methodology with the students, faculty, and staff of ARU, and they are very enthusiastic that it will make an important contribution to their field work—making it easier for groups of villagers to co-design their visions and plan the actions they need to take as well as provide appropriate customer-created metrics to be used in monitoring and evaluating the projects’ outcomes. I’ll be returning to Uganda in the fall term to add Customer Scenario(R) Mapping to the ARU curriculum.
I have to admit that I was nervous about whether CSM would pass muster with the visionary leader of URDT and ARU, Mwalimu Musheshe. Musheshe is the most brilliant systems thinker I have ever encountered. He has worked closely with Peter Senge and others at MIT, and taken the best of systems thinking, organizational learning, and Robert Fritz’s Technologies for Creating, and applied these in practice for 25 years in rural Africa. It’s wonderful to see how well our customer co-design approach fits right in!
Photo: Mwalimu Musheshe, the Chairman of URDT and ARU and one of the three founders.
URDT and ARU are not-for-profit educational organizations. The University has been funded with less than $200,000 to-date and yet has managed to produce an amazing education. If you or your firm are interested in supporting this program and benefiting from the opportunity to innovate in sustainable development in rural Africa, please contact me.