Empower girls in Africa through higher education!

by These Numbers Have Faces

In Rwanda, bucura is the word for last born child. It can also mean cherished and beloved.

Jessica is a bucura -- the youngest of 7 children in her family. By the time Jessica’s older sisters were married, Jessica was only a teenager, but tradition said she was next in line.

Jessica wasn’t ready to think about marriage, though. Her dream was to go to University, to have a career that could help better her country.

When an invitation came to apply at a top leadership High School in Rwanda, Jessica saw it as an open door to the path she envisioned for her future. All she needed from her family was the bus fare to travel to the interview, but the response wasn’t what she hoped for -- “Isn’t it too much of a risk?”

Instead of being discouraged, Jessica kept studying. Her family took note and the decision was made that perhaps the risk was worth it -- Jessica would go to interview.

To Jessica’s surprise, she passed with exceeding marks. Her family celebrated their bucura, for they saw how her passion was leading her.

Jessica went on to became a top student at the leadership school, which eventually led her to become a University Leadership Scholar with These Numbers Have Faces. She was even chosen by her peers to be one of the Student Representatives of the program! Now in her final year studying Agribusiness at University, Jessica’s vision is elevate Rwanda’s economy through its rich agricultural resources.

"Women are leaders – compassionate, smart, accountable. When you educate a woman, she will pass it on. When you educate a woman, she will change her whole community." - Jessica

“That’s a man’s job,” people told her -- a daily routine of pre-dawn wake up calls to build chicken coops, carrying baskets of eggs for door-to-door sales, late nights spent analyzing the cost of feed.

It was a path Scovia’s family and friends weren’t expecting her to take -- starting her own poultry business -- selling eggs to neighbors and small stores as a way to supplement her income and save for her future.

Scovia already has an unlikely story compared to most women in her community -- she went to University, graduated with a degree in IT and even got a job straight out of school. ‘But starting her own business?’ people questioned. ‘That would mean stepping into an arena few women have entered.’

Because being an entrepreneur is risky.
It’s vulnerable.
It’s exciting.

All these things are exactly what spurred on Scovia’s desire to improve her future, and that of her family and country, through entrepreneurship.


In August 2015, Scovia, along with 100 of Rwanda’s brightest young entrepreneurs, were invited to the first Accelerate Summit. For three days, successful business men and women from East Africa and the U.S. trained on skills and development essential for entrepreneurship.

From that group, the top 27, including Scovia, were selected to be in the first cohort of Fellows of our newest program: The Accelerate Academy. For the next eight months, the Fellows met with leaders who taught about techniques, ethics and collaboration. Mentors and staff sat one-on-one with each Fellow, pouring over budgets and projections, helping to create investment-ready business plans. Once approved, $500 of seed capital was given to help start or further develop the companies.

Beyond business skills, The Accelerate Academy provided a space for the Fellows to speak openly about their backgrounds, goals and fears. Instead of competition, there was collaboration – a family-like network who came to open-house events, sent inspirational quotes and funny comics at random, and showed up for celebrations and family crises.

After months of preparation and training, the Fellows arrived to the culmination point of The Academy: the Accelerate Finale.

If you’ve seen the television show “Shark Tank,” you’re familiar with the concept of an entrepreneur pitching their business idea to investors. It’s terrifying and exhilarating. For The Accelerate Finale Pitch, a team of international investors traveled to Kigali, ready to assess the Fellows’ business plans and offer investment opportunities, if they sensed potential.

For the entrepreneur, there’s a lot on the line in this moment -- the future of their business, their dreams, and their reputation.

For Scovia, the stakes were high. Without additional investment, her company’s growth could potentially stall, or even fold. Scovia’s motivation is far more than dollar signs or bragging rights. What motivates her is find a solution to the problem of malnutrition that exists in her country. The investors’ decision would not only dictate her future, but many others, as well.

The morning of the finale, there was nothing left to do except trust in the months of hard work she had put in to her business and pitch presentation. Before she walked out the door to head to the venue, Scovia turned to her parents and said, “Today I’m putting on a suit, and I’m going to bring home the money.”

Before the Finale began, Scovia gathered with the Fellows to pray, last sips of coffee were taken, the opening lines of her business pitch recited for the final time.

When her name was called to present, Scovia stepped up to the podium and clicked to her first slide. She took a deep breath, “Hello. My name is Scoiva and I’m the founder of LALA Egg Farm.”

Scovia’s presentation was so well received she was offered the opportunity to share again before the entire Finale audience. As the Fellows and investors took notes, Scovia’s smile grew. She was in her element, living her dream, paving her own way.


After the top 12 Fellows finished their presentations, investors announced their selections. To everyone’s surprise, all 12 Fellows received investment offers! Scovia was offered a loan from Aspen Heights, a partner of The Accelerate Academy.

As the Accelerate Finale came to a close, the Fellows and investors shared plates of food, laughter and personal stories. Watching the Fellows encourage, support and network with one another, it was clear to see that Rwanda is home to a rising generation with big talent -- and better yet, a generation whose motivation stems from a desire to see their families, communities and economy rise.

How could you not get excited about Scovia? For a young woman with no prior business background, she was able to start her own poultry company and plans to triple growth over the next three years -- numbers she is well on her way to hitting.

How could you not feel hopeful when you see 19 year olds like Yvette? She started a clean water delivery service employing 16 bike couriers who supply clean water to 100 homes daily, in addition to the 300,000 liters sold at water kiosks each month -- a service that will increase the health and longevity of her country.

How could you not see potential in a young woman like Jeanne d’Arc? With her breakthrough transportation solution, a mobile bus ticket application, she will potentially impact 250,000 Rwandans daily.

These stories are only a few examples of the potential shown by the first cohort of The Accelerate Academy. As the Fellows continue on their journey, and as the new cohort of Accelerate Fellows will be selected in October 2016, we’re excited to see more relationships established, more businesses started, and more jobs created. Through the Accelerate Fellows’ example, we believe entrepreneurship can change everything.


It was a long walk to school - down dirt roads, past bikers and cars, during rainstorms and under the hot sun.

For Berthine, the dozens of kilometers spent walking to school each week were worth it. She would have walked a dozen more each day, if she had to.

In fact, it was on these treks that she would daydream about building a school in her village.‘What if children didn’t have to spend hours walking to and from school? I wonder if more children would attend school if it was right outside their door?’

If Berthine wanted to realize her dreams, she would have to pursue her education. To make real change, she would need to become an engineer.

Not far away from where Berthine grew up was a girl named Samantha. Like Berthine, Samantha also had a vision of becoming an engineer.

It was an uncommon goal for girls in their communities: to create effective infrastructure, and be part of Rwanda’s rising economy. But it was a desire they couldn’t let go of. Holding fast to their dreams was a risk worth taking.

In 2015, Berthine and Samantha became These Numbers Have Faces scholars, studying Civil Engineering at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology.

Samantha and Berthine have excelled in their courses, but they still lack female engineering role models.

As it would happen, a team of role models was coming to them.

In February 2016, a group from Aspen Heights, an Austin-based real estate development company, and their non-profit, Aspen Heights Awake, traveled to Rwanda to meet with These Numbers Have Faces scholars and fellows.

Aspen Heights partnered with These Numbers Have Faces in 2015 to support the launch ofThe Accelerate Academy entrepreneurship program. Greg Vestri, Aspen Heights partner and executive advisor, had already envisioned a partnership in Rwanda years before.

As Greg describes it, Aspen Heights and Aspen Heights Awake are centered on human development in the U.S., and beyond. Seeing the drive and character of young Rwandans, Greg wondered if there might come a day when Rwandan students could travel to the U.S. to experience American culture and business, and for the Aspen Heights team to experience Rwandan culture through the students.

On the final day of Aspen Heights’ week in Rwanda, Greg and team made a special announcement: summer internships for two These Numbers Have Faces scholars, Samantha and Berthine.

“I was so emotional, with tears in my eyes, because I was surprised to hear that I would be an intern at Aspen Heights,” Berthine said. “My fellows were also surprised, and they reacted by clapping and giving me many hugs. My family congratulated me. They are all so proud.”

In June, Samantha and Berthine traveled to the U.S. -their first time on an airplane- beginning a chapter of their journey they didn’t know was possible. This summer they're part of team of engineers who will be teaching them skills and business practices that will make them highly competitive and competent engineers in Rwanda.

In the years to come, when the next generation of girls are looking for role models in the engineering world, they will be able to look to Samantha and Berthine.

“From this internship I hope to discover more about engineering from a country that’s so developed,” Samantha said. “I’m looking forward to learning about improvements I can bring back to my country and contribute to its development. I believe I will discover many things about myself from living so many miles away from home.”

Since Alice became a These Numbers Have Faces scholar in 2014, we’ve watched her rise to the top of her University classes, represent Rwanda at an international engineering conference in India, and develop her leadership skills at the Africa Youth Leadership Forum in Goma, DRC.

Looking at Alice’s resume, you’d assume her background provided her with every opportunity to succeed. 

In reality, Alice has spent nearly 20 years living in a refugee camp in Northern Rwanda. It would seem she has reason to complain, or lose hope; but that is the polar opposite of who Alice is -- brave, determined, faithful.

At a recent Leadership Training in Rwanda, our staff announced to Alice that she was chosen to be an intern at Allion USA Engineering Services in Oregon this summer! As the room filled with applause, and fellow scholars ran to hug her, Alice said she felt like she was in a dream.

But it’s real, Alice. You made it happen.

Regardless of circumstances, we believe all our scholars are capable of achieving their vision, and having a seat at the business meeting, the engineering lab, the University lecture hall.

As we get ready to welcome Alice to the USA in June 2016, we invited her to share a bit more of her story, and why her hope is an unstoppable force.

Who or what inspired your passion for engineering?

I had a teacher in primary school who told me that I am bright and capable. When I reached secondary school, I became inspired by historical scientists like Einstein and Newton. At that moment, I wished to be part of the women who would participate in the advancement of science. 

By the time I reached high school, I had analyzed my community and found the need for electricity was paramount. I believe electricity is the backbone of development. I wish to be part of the great work that will develop my community.

Did your childhood influence your desire to pursue a college education? 

My childhood has absolutely influenced my desire to pursue a college education. I was motivated by my parents, grandparents and teachers. They believe in me and have always told me that I can make it.

There have been many challenges to pursue a University degree, however, because refugees do not have access to government tuition assistance. As a refugee, I had no way to afford college. Despite this challenge, I worked hard and was determined, because I believe that the best inheritance is your knowledge. No one can take away what you learn. I never lost my belief that one day I would be a University student. 

Tell us about your role as a leader in your community?

I was the first female math teacher at Hope School in the Gihembe Refugee Camp (a volunteer-based school). Teaching gave me confidence in what I am capable of doing. It was hard work, but I was serving my community and I knew that was important.

I became an example to other girls, showing them that they can study, work hard, and become something, like their brothers. I grew to be a leader and saw that I could positively influence the youth in Gihembe. My hope is that they will keep working hard, be determined and never lose their vision. That is what I tell them and show them through my own example.

What was your reaction when you heard Allion was offering you an internship?

When I heard about the opportunity of becoming an intern at Allion, I was so excited. Allion is a big company and I know I will learn so much from them - with electronics, engineering and leadership. This internship will influence my future.

Final thoughts?

I would like to thank Allion for this amazing opportunity. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I can't wait to see you soon!

If you were to ask people across the globe about their top fears, statistics show that 50-percent would respond “Public Speaking.” Pascaline would have answered the same.

Pascaline is one of our Computer Science scholars in Rwanda. While she was ready to tackle the world of technology, stepping out from behind a screen and onto a stage was something she never thought she’d do.

When she was selected by her school to participate in a Entrepreneurship & Leadership Summit organized by Babson College, she doubted that she was truly qualified.

“I was not very confident about my speaking and listening skills,” Pascaline admitted. “I was also from a French background and feared expressing my ideas in English to a group of Americans.”

Despite her fears, she decided to attend the summit.

On the final day of the event, her group chose her to present their business pitch in front of a panel of investors, along with an audience of all the summit attendees. Her heart was racing, but she accepted their nomination. She didn’t want let her team down.

To her surprise, she won her group third place!

The next year Pascaline was invited to the Rwandan National Youth Entrepreneurship Debate. Even though she was successful in the business pitch competition the previous year, when she stood before the judges, she said she felt like she was about to cry.

“Luckily, my colleagues built me up in confidence and we won that round,” Pascaline recalled. “We even got a chance to attend a debate camp where we met very good coaches and mentors.”

As Pascaline became further involved in public speaking, she saw how it was helping her to develop valuable leadership skills: critical analysis, quick thinking, managing emotions, and forming and accepting constructive criticism.

Pascaline was invited to work with the IMBUTO Foundation and PAJER (Parlement des Jeunes Rwandais) in Rwanda, organizations that provide speech and leadership trainings to children who aren’t in school.

“I was so glad to work with these organizations,” Pascaline said. “It amazed me because I knew how much it hurt to have words in your heart you cannot utter. These non-schooling youth have different challenges. Teaching them debate, leadership, and public speaking is a great way to help them work for their future career and complement their knowledge with different skills.”

As she watched the children grow in their confidence, Pascaline felt proud of their success.

“In my life, I have a strong wish of helping people to know and understand their voice,” Pascaline said. “I plan to continue volunteering in secondary schools, and one day I hope to become a University lecturer.”

In 2015, Pascaline served as a judge in the National Universities Female Speech Championship, and represented Rwanda in the Pan-African Universities Debate Competition in Ghana, where her team finished 36th out of 92 groups from 13 countries.

Worldwide, culture has not always supported women in leadership positions, or standing up to use their voice. Pascaline, however, wants that to change.

“As a girl, participating in debate helps you to be useful for your society. You do not fear to give your opinions in a meeting, and you discuss together with men solutions to your community, nation and the world as a whole. Simply put, it’s a powerful tool to help people think and speak about a better world.”


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Organization Information

These Numbers Have Faces

Location: Portland, OR - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.thesenumbers.org
Project Leader:
Lauren Eads
Director of Development
Portland, OR United States
$8,876 raised of $20,000 goal
189 donations
$11,124 to go
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