By Laura Gossman

Editor’s Note: Many of the Praxis organizations that have been profiled in recent months are either based internationally with nationals and westerners leading the enterprise or have headquarters in the US, with national leadership abroad, or some combination of both. To continue with our international partnership series, Kelsey Kava, from These Numbers Have Faces, interviewed a Rwandan staff member, Scovia Mutesi, who has been a Program Coordinator since October 2013. For more information on the organization’s start-up story, read here. To consider some of the research that has been done on partnerships like these read here. Below, Scovia reflects on both the strengths and challenges she has had throughout her experience with American partners.

Scovia Mutesi joined These Numbers Have Faces team after working at a Korean-based NGO in Kigali for three years. Although she has only been with These Numbers Have Faces for a short time, she flourishes in her ever-evolving role.

Scovia is the link between TNHF’s students in Rwanda and the organization’s headquarters in the United States. While her job position is listed as Program Manager, she is much more than that to the students. Part of Scovia’s role is administrative: paying students’ tuition, determining stipends for rent, transportation, or food on a case-by-case basis, and planning logistics for quarterly leadership trainings attended by all scholars.

However, Scovia’s other, and arguably more important role, is building relationships with the These Numbers Have Faces scholars. She spends a great deal of time interfacing with the scholars, conducting home and university visits. When she better understands the situations each student comes from, she is better able to serve them. Getting to know each student and act a mentor, through triumphs and hardships, is one of Scovia’s greatest joys in this job. She says, “If somebody is sick, I can’t sit at my desk. I go to visit them.”

Scovia, left, pictured with one of scholar's family members.

Scovia Mutesi, pictured left, with one of the scholar’s family members.

Scovia shared that she has a lot of freedom in her role as a Program Manager, and has a great deal of trust from the American team when making important decisions regarding the students and their wellbeing. There is regular communication flow between the Portland-based office and Scovia, so that staff members in the States know how each student is doing, what financial transactions have been (or need to be) made, and what is coming up on the training schedule.

Also, because of Scovia’s background and personal experience in university settings, as well as her lifelong residency in Africa, she is able to understand the students’ challenges much better than members of the team who grew up in the United States could. The staff in the States work each day to advance the mission of These Numbers Have Faces, but Scovia says, “Because I’m the one on the ground, it’s up to me to put that mission in practice.”

The obstacles that surface with her US partners sometimes are technical as well as more structural. The US team is not only thousands of miles away, but also ten hours behind Rwanda. While there is regular communication between staff in Portland and Kigali, connecting in real-time can be a challenge. This can delay certain decisions (on both ends) until a time to Skype is scheduled. To add to this communication barrier, Scovia’s office Internet connection is often spotty and unreliable.

Additionally, while students are told that any requests or communication should directly go to Scovia, they will sometimes bypass her decisions and contact the American team with the same request. Because These Numbers Have Faces is an American-based non-profit organization, if students are told “no” by Scovia – who is the primary decision-maker for these students – they feel the need to “double-check” with the staff in the United States. However, Scovia has developed a system to work through this issue, and her decisions are always fully supported by the US team.

Current Rwandan scholars from These Numbers Have Faces program.

Some of the Rwandan scholars who attend the National University in Butare, and are a part of These Numbers Have Faces program. There are 25 scholars total throughout the country.

Like every staff member at These Numbers Have Faces, Scovia hopes the program will continue to grow in Rwanda. She says, “I want to see These Numbers Have Faces (in Rwanda) have more students…I want to see it have 100 students, or even more than that. When we impact one person’s life, that person can make a difference. But when you impact more than one person, they can spread that information around, and they can have an even greater impact. And the results are great.”

There are many things needed in order to expand the Rwanda program – both from the American and Rwandan side. It will be a process, but it is one that has already started. One of Scovia’s greatest needs and desires, however, is having her own office. Currently, she shares space with an organization that These Numbers Have Faces partners with in Rwanda. While it is great for having frequent conversations with those staff members about students, and to collaborate on projects, it makes it difficult to invite the scholars to spend time there. Scovia wants to find and relocate to a space of her own – a space where These Numbers Have Faces scholars can visit her, use a computer and the Internet, hang out with each other, and attend leadership trainings.

Scovia, hard at work in her Rwandan office.

Scovia, hard at work in her Rwandan office.

As US leaders consider models when partnering internationally, they must carefully weigh the positive and negatives of the physical location of the American staff. There will be different shades and qualities of communication, autonomy and timely decision-making. As we have seen with other partnerships, having American staff on the ground more regularly with national leaders does not guarantee that things will be seamless. While having both cultures on the ground together can increase the rate of communication and relationships that are built, those who benefit from the organization will often still approach the team according to the structural bones that they perceive or assume. American leaders must decide early on how to provide extra care in conveying to its recipients what that structure is both in word and deed.

Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and a recent new mother to son Benjamin and wife of Adam Gossman. She received her M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies from Fuller in 2006.

Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.

 

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