Social Impact of Storytelling in Rwanda

Rwanda. Recently hailed the 7th most efficient country worldwide by the World Economic Forum. Globally recognized as the nation with the greatest number of women in parliament at an impressive rate of 64%. Celebrated as one of the only countries on track to meet all its Millennium Development Goals by the end of the year. Without a doubt, an absolutely incredible place to spend the summer working with a small, innovative start-up that will one day impact millions.

The women of Rwanda have been essential agents of change leading the impressive progress the country has made in the last 20 years. Resonate believes that all women have the potential to lead change in their lives and communities, and uses storytelling workshops to empower women and girls to generate change and become leaders. As an intern with Resonate, I have the great fortune of working with three extraordinary Rwandan women who have overcome incredible personal challenges and have become examples of leading change in their own lives and the lives of others.

Gender equality has significant economic and social benefits, and many countries and organizations around the world are striving for this to optimize their growth and development. While Rwanda currently has a high percentage of women in parliament, the leadership gap is still significant at the sector and community levels. Resonate’s storytelling workshops address the issue of gender inequality at the local level.

I have seen the power of engaging women at the community level firsthand through the wide range of responsibilities I’ve had as an intern.  Assisting with Resonate’s Storytelling for Leadership training allowed me to hear the stories of courage told by women who have overcome extraordinary obstacles. Creating a monitoring and evaluation system for Resonate’s leadership camp pilot project exposed me to the impact the organization has made in local communities. Coordinating communications and marketing has enabled me to share these incredible stories and to promote the amazing work the women of Resonate are doing to catalyze change in Rwanda.

My time working with Resonate has been a very inspiring and educational experience. Although I’ve gained countless insights, I’d like to share a few of the most important lessons I’ve learned about working with a small but mighty social impact organization.

Make every effort to understand the local context.

No doubt you’ve heard this before, but Resonate personifies this advice. Resonate leads by example using an approach that prioritizes working side by side with local women to support their efforts to bring the kind of community change they want to see. Resonate’s founder is from the US, but she has made a concerted effort to surround herself with incredible Rwandan women that serve as lead trainer, operations manager, and operations intern. Working with these women has helped me to understand the importance of asking the right questions and carefully listening to the answers. It may require a longer discussion to arrive at mutual understanding, but I guarantee the time is worth the effort. Understanding the local context and listening to the perspectives of local stakeholders is essential for any social impact organization to be successful in the long-term.

Evaluate, take a step back, evaluate again.

It seems like everyone is talking about program monitoring and evaluation these days – and for good reason. Organizations want to ensure their efforts are creating positive social change and they want to quantify their impact. The ability to measure change effectively also contributes to securing the vital funding from donors and grant programs often needed to continue their work. Small social impact organizations should start by determining the primary outcome they want to measure and focus on doing that well. Although everyone appreciates quantifiable numbers, do not underestimate the utility of mixed methods approaches. Resonate has learned a great deal about opportunities for impact from focus groups and individual interviews. Keep in mind that designing effective M&E systems can be especially challenging in international contexts where differences in language exist. Collaboration with your local team is essential in ensuring that your measurement tools actually measure what you’ve designed them to measure. Take the time to talk it out.

Your idea can make a significant impact.

Resonate was founded on the belief that storytelling is an effective tool to help women and girls build self-confidence and develop leadership skills. After two years of listening to local partners, working through curriculum changes, and responding to local needs, the organization has successfully impacted the lives of over 800 women and girls. Resonate is changing the concept of leadership in Rwandan society by expanding the context of leadership beyond formal positions in government or business to the individual and community levels. The women and girls Resonate works with have discovered the courage to go back to school, seek new employment opportunities, take on new leadership roles at home, and lead change in their lives and communities. All change starts with an idea. Like Resonate, you have the power to create the change you believe in.

Rwanda will undoubtedly continue to prosper. Ensuring gender equality at all levels and supporting women as change-makers in their communities is essential for the country’s success. Resonate helps women and girls to find their voices and to have the confidence to take advantage of leadership opportunities. Storytelling is the spark that inspires women and girls to achieve their goals but it is these women and girls who choose the change they want to lead…and that’s exactly how it should be.