Community Context

Rwanda is mainland Africa’s most densely populated nation. However, with the exception of Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, the nation’s citizens crowd the countryside rather than cities. According to the World Bank, 82 percent of Rwandans live in rural areas, which consist almost entirely of small villages tucked into rippling hills, punctuated by volcanic mountains along the country’s northern border. Approximately 75 percent of the nation’s land is under cultivation.

Although the economy has steadily climbed back from the devastating 1994 genocide (which claimed between 500,000 to 1 million lives), as of 2015, 39 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, according to government statistics.

Key Insights

Capital incentivizes as well as enables. Spark’s $8,000 seed grant is delivered in three installments of 60 percent, 30 percent, and 10 percent. The first round of funding doesn’t simply get the project off the ground. It is a no-strings-attached commitment to the community, which incentivizes people to show up at meetings and begin to lead their own change. This is especially important in northern Rwanda, where at least two external aid organizations launched interventions that ultimately failed, leaving skeptical communities in their wake. Spark’s upfront funding signals that the community’s goals can come to life, so long as people pull together and collectively work towards them.

Transparency builds trust. Transparency is critical for communities as they implement projects. In Siganiro’s community meetings, people are expected to show receipts for deposits into the savings group, as well as receipts for purchases that were made with savings group loans. At these same meetings, all community members were notified when Spark deposited a portion of its grant into the community account. The logic for this approach: As transparency spreads, trust deepens. “I appreciate that people’s contributions [to the savings group] are collected in public,” said Siganiro’s Jean Bosco Ndikumana. “It increases accountability.”

Peer-driven progress is contagious. As Siganiro acquired an iron roof for every home in the village and made significant progress against its goal of providing a cow for every family, its success rippled to surrounding communities. Leaders of those villages visited Siganiro, to learn about how residents acquired funding and collectively designed solutions to their challenges. All of those villages subsequently engaged Spark. More broadly, 71 percent of the 325 African communities that have worked with Spark have gone on to launch their own standalone, peer-driven initiatives.

Read the full article about peer-driven change in Rwanda at The Bridgespan Group.