Students Leave Unique Parting Gift in Rwanda

Wharton San Francisco EMBA student Kristal Dehnad, director of the Charitable Trust Program at Stanford University, coauthored a blog for the Wharton Magazine about her experience in the Global Modular Course “Conflict, Leadership and Change: Lessons from Rwanda.” At the end of that course, Dehnad and her classmates left a unique parting gift to a local resident. Here is an excerpt from her blog:

Earlier this summer, we and 27 other Wharton MBA students bought a dairy cow. Then we gave that cow to Hakizinka Antoinette, a woman living in extreme poverty in Kabagayi, Rwanda. Perhaps we should explain.

In May, executive and full-time Wharton MBA students participated in a Global Modular Course (GMC) called Conflict, Leadership, and Change: Lessons from Rwanda. During the course, we had the opportunity to meet with President Paul Kagame, government ministers, local business people and farmers. We learned about the challenges Rwandans faced after the 1994 genocide, and how, more recently, Rwanda has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in Africa. We were astounded by the scope of the economic transformation we witnessed. Although Rwanda is landlocked and resource poor—with nearly 45 percent of Rwandans living below the international poverty line (defined by the World Bank as $1.25 per day)—the breadth and pace of change was palpable. Infrastructure is booming, public services have been restored and newly created wealth is shared. More than a million Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty in the past six years alone.

No program better exemplifies this renewal than Rwanda’s “One Cow per Poor Family,” or “Girinka,” program. By providing dairy cows to poor families, Girinka plays a key role in the government’s efforts to alleviate poverty; Rwandans have received more than 145,000 cows since the program launched in 2006. The milk staves off malnutrition, while the sale of surplus milk and crops provides a supplemental income stream, which can then pay for health care and school fees. This success sustains itself, as the recipients are required to gift their first-born female calf to another poor neighbor.

Inspired by what we saw, we wanted to share a gift that expressed our appreciation and aligned with Rwanda’s vision of self-reliance. Girinka seemed the most appropriate way to show our gratitude for all that we had learned. Cattle, economics and social status have been intertwined for generations in Rwanda. Historically, the Belgian colonial authority designated people as Tutsi or Hutu in part based on the ownership of cattle. Moreover, the gifting and exchange of cattle forms a bond between the giver and recipient. The gifting of cattle today signifies, in the words of President Kagame, that the Rwandan people “have chosen to develop [themselves] from within.”

To read the full Alumni Magazine blog, click here.

To read the magazine’s past coverage of the Global Modular Course in Rwanda, click here.

To read a recent Wharton EMBA blog by Prof. Katherine Klein, who leads the course in Rwanda, click here.