Ten years after a devastating genocide in Rwanda left 1 million people dead and forced another 2 million to flee their homes, this African nation struggled to rebuild its social, economic and medical infrastructure. Much of the nation’s intellectual capital – its doctors, teachers, bankers and engineers – were murdered in the genocide. Scores of others – particularly those in medical professions – subsequently died as a result of a devastating HIV/AIDS pandemic.
Today, the doctor/patient ratio in the nation is one to 50,000 and most hospitals lack the bare necessities to treat the massive influx of patients. Representatives from Saint Paul, Minn.-based Lawson Software, one of the nation’s largest providers of software to healthcare organizations, learned of this nation’s plight and together with Project C.U.R.E. organized a visit to determine what type of help could be offered. The project blossomed into an effort to assist the nation on many levels.
Lawson realized that no one company or organization can cause change in a nation. In partnership with Weber Shandwick, the team developed an overarching strategy to create programs and partnerships that would have a long-lasting, positive effect on Rwanda. The overarching strategy was to: facilitate partnerships that could help Rwanda recover and rebuild from the genocide and the ongoing AIDS pandemic: through a series of events and programs, help draw attention in the United States to the strides Rwanda has made toward rebuilding and reconciling, with the hopes of securing additional partners and support and educating American children on the consequences of genocide and help them identify with life as a refugee.
The team worked closely with the Rwandan ambassador to the United States, Dr. Zac Nsenga, to facilitate the various tactics that would achieve the strategy.
Weber Shandwick and Lawson worked with the Provost of University of Minnesota to coordinate meetings with various university officials and departments, including the lead University of Minnesota HIV/AIDS researcher Dr. Timothy Shaker, about healthcare reform and the School of Agriculture about best practices; increasing Medical Donations – In January 2004, Lawson partnered with Project C.U.R.E., the world’s largest supplier of donated medical supplies and equipment to developing countries, to open a Project C.U.R.E. warehouse in the Twin Cities (NOTE: The 350-mile area surrounding the Twin Cities is home to more than 8,000 medical-related organizations).
The team also coordinated and executed a VIP event for local CEOs, dignitaries and politicians during President Kagame’s visit to the Twin Cities in April 2004. This function was a forum for President Kagame and other Rwandan officials to discuss the country’s rebuilding efforts and goals in front of an important, decision-making audience. Weber Shandwick and Lawson helped coordinate and facilitate a private dinner with President Kagame and Minnesota Gov. Pawlenty to discuss the economy, best governing practices and future relationships.
From footage gathered during the December 2003 visit to Rwanda, Weber Shandwick and Lawson produced two, high-quality videos: “Delivering Health & Hope to the World” and “Rwanda: Remembering, Reconciling, Rebuilding” to tell Rwanda’s story and mobilize U.S. assistance; “Delivering Health & Hope to the World” focused on the dire need for medical supplies and created a call to action for Americans.
This video was shown to the healthcare community with the intent of mobilizing donations to and volunteers for Project C.U.R.E; “Rwanda: Remembering, Reconciling, Rebuilding” focused on the plight of Rwandans and the early stages of rebuilding and reconciliation. This video was shown during President Kagame’s speaking engagements at several venues across the nation including Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Minn., Denver, Seattle and Washington D.C. at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Center.
Lawson partnered with Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) to help establish an education component themed “Triumphs of the Human Spirit: Life as a Refugee”: through SPPS’s Saint Paul Reads program, Lawson donated Of Beatles and Angels by Mawi Asegdom to the SPPS eighth graders. Asegdom is a refugee from Sudan and a recent Harvard graduate who wrote about the complexity of being a foreign refugee growing up in the Chicago Projects.
Nearly 3,000 SPPS and University of Minnesota students gathered to listen to President Kagame and Asegdom share their personal stories about life as refugees, which helped the students identify with them and with fellow students who fled their tumultuous homelands to come to the United States. Augmenting this presentation, the “Rwanda: Remembering, Reconciling, Rebuilding” video was shown; as a conclusion to the eighth-grade curriculum program, Lawson sponsored an essay contest about “Life as a Refugee” providing the students an opportunity to reflect on the curriculum.
In December 2003, representatives from Lawson and Project C.U.R.E. visited Rwanda to assess the country’s medical needs and meet with government and healthcare organization. Shortly after visiting Rwanda, Lawson invited President Kagame to come to the U.S. on a multi-city tour and meet with key constituents who have the strongest ability to influence change
From December until the president’s arrival in April 2004,on behalf of Lawson, Weber Shandwick coordinated various meetings, events and media opportunities for the Rwandan president and his constituency. Once President Kagame’s visit was secured, administrators and teachers at SPPS developed and implemented Rwandan-focused curriculum, which included reading Of Beatles and Angels, preparing for and attending the “Life as a Refugee” presentation and participating in the essay contest.
President Kagame arrived in the United States on a multi-city tour and had meetings in Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, Saint Paul, Minn., Chicago and Washington D.C. The “Rwanda: Remembering, Reconciling, Rebuilding” video was shown in all cities including a major event at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The “Delivering Health & Hope to the World” video was shown at numerous healthcare industry seminars, tradeshows and at Lawson’s annual customer conference with the intent of creating a call to action, either donating or volunteering.
Although media results totaled nearly 8 million impressions in the Twin Cities, the real results of this program are the number of organizations and people committed to and already making a difference in Rwanda.
As a result of this program, Dr. Timothy Schacker and a team of medical professionals/researchers from the University of Minnesota and Fairview Health Services signed a formal partnership with the Government of Rwanda to provide comprehensive HIV care and training during the next five years. The primary goal is to train a workforce of more than 3,000 nurse practitioners to provide care for HIV-infected Rwandans and to restructure and reinforce the overall medical education system in Rwanda.
Since February, Project C.U.R.E. has sent four, 25-foot cargo containers of donated medical supplies and equipment to Rwanda and has plans to send an additional 21 by October 2005, totaling $10 million in donated medical supplies and equipment.
A life-learning experience such as listening to President Kagame is immeasurable. Five students were selected as winners in an essay contest for their compelling reflections and received an iPod to keep connected and inspired by the world.
Lawson representatives returned from a three-week visit to Rwanda with representatives from the Congressional Coalition Adoption Institute and Oklahoma Christian University, who went to study the challenge of caring for the nearly 500,000 Rwandan AIDS orphans and the complexity of managing child-run households.
Efforts garnered significant coverage, including interviews on National Public Radio, Minnesota Public Radio and airing President Kagame’s presentation on Twin Cities Public Television, which continues to air because of local interest.