Bridge2Rwanda Leadership Programme
Bridge2Rwanda (B2R) is a United States non-profit organisation, founded in 2007. It operates a career office and a training centre with boarding facilities in Kigali, Rwanda, employing 14 members of staff. Financed by donations from private individuals, companies, and foundations, B2R operates independently of any government budget.
In 2011, B2R launched its rigorous gap-year leadership programme which integrates several internships. The programme is free of charge and very competitive. Every year, it supports up to 40 selected high school graduates from Rwanda and other African countries to compete for international scholarships, to study at some of the most known universities and colleges abroad, and to return home to launch their careers in (and for) Africa.
B2R collaborates with international universities, African private sector companies, and other national and international partners. With seven years of experiences, the leadership programme is well established, however, still constantly further developing and optimising its services and procedures.
The B2R leadership programme takes up to 40 participants every year. It targets graduates from all upper secondary (high) schools. Up to 30 participants come from Rwanda; other ten participants come from Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and South Sudan.
High achieving students whose records rank among the top ten of their respective schools are eligible to apply. Around 2,000 applicants undergo a very intense and demanding application and selection process. Core selection criteria, next to top academic performance, are leadership potential, devotion to Africa, and English language skills.
About two thirds of participants come from vulnerable family backgrounds.
After realising that direct foreign investment depends on the ability to translate African talent into economic and social development, building African talent has become the overall goal of B2R’s leadership programme.
B2R identifies the most promising students of Rwanda and other African countries to prepare them for the responsibility of becoming African leaders with “the heart of a servant, modelled after Jesus”, as B2R founder Mr. Dale Dawson stated during the graduation ceremony in June 2016, also attended by Rwanda’s president, Paul Kagame.
B2R prepares the best high school graduates to unfold their talents. It offers very intense and highly individualised support to every participant before, during, and after university studies, including placement into internship positions in Africa. Successful participants can be expected to eventually take up top positions.
B2R has created a two-way bridge: It supports African students to apply for international scholarships, to find host families, and to study abroad. A series of internships in African private sector companiesand compulsory community services pave the way back to Africa encouraging participants to
develop and utilise their talents in and for their African nations and the continent.
During the ‘gap year’ (after graduating high school and before taking up their studies), participants receive leadership training which also requires them to engage in community work. Participants finish the gap year with an initial internship of three to four months before taking up their studies. Most participants apply successfully for scholarships at top international universities. B2R participants who study abroad are called home every summer break for more community work and additional internships.
While the leadership programme is intentionally producing an ‘elite’ workforce (personnel for top positions in Africa), it is not elitist in the sense of being confined to an exclusive affluent circle of society only. Programme selection is performance and merit based:
B2R is offering the programme to top performing high school students in Rwanda and African partner countries. Two thirds of all participants come from impoverished backgrounds. Selection criteria and processes are strict and demanding. Participants have to rely on their distinct leadership and entrepreneurial skills and their devotion to Africa to be able to complete the programme successfully. Participants receive intense individual support throughout their preparatory leadership training, during their study years abroad, during summer breaks and upon their return to Africa.
The leadership programme consists of different elements for achieving several interrelated objectives:
- During the application process, potential participants are requested to suggest community work projects or activities, which they commit themselves to for one full working day per week during the preparation year and during summer breaks (e.g. volunteering in an orphanage, supporting a hospital, engaging in environmental protection). The obligation to do “community work” is not merely testing the applicant’s ‘devotion’, but is helping the individual to identify what has purpose and meaning for them, and for what cause they want to utilise their personal skills, attitudes, and talents.
- The series of internships exposes participants to professional, formal work environments with all their usual challenges (long working days, set assignments, routine tasks, dealing with colleagues, customers, and supervisors, etc.). Meeting these challenges imparts ‘employability’ skills.
- Every cohort spends up to 16 months in the training centre’s boarding facilities receiving leadership training, identifying suitable study programmes, applying for scholarships, organising community work projects, conducting internships, etc. All elements of the programme provide work and learning opportunities for exercising a variety of hard and soft skills (such as problem solving, critical thinking, teamwork, communication skills, for example).
Participants organise their community work projects themselves. Bridge2Rwanda connects the participants to universities or programmes that offer scholarships, and participants decide on their individual study programmes. B2R staff, trainers, and peers support the process, which requires the full participation and hard work of the individual participant.
The acquisition of internship places at African employers, requires considerable B2R support: Matching interns with employers is the core business of the career office. Career office staff knows every participant very well (from the intense selection process). They constantly network with employers to advocate internships to employers as an effective human resource development tool (as paid internships are still a new concept for many African employers) and to acquire and negotiate
concrete internship positions for specific participants. All networking activities with potential employers (events, phone calls, visits) and much of the matchmaking process is done through the B2R career office.
B2R supports students who succeed in acquiring a scholarship to settle in the host country and maintains continual contact with participants abroad keeping up a dynamic connection to Africa. Also, B2R supports returning scholars to launch their careers in their respective countries of origin. Alumni engage in supporting the programme. B2R is building a fellowship of African leaders and organises one leadership retreat every year.
School year ends in November. The B2R programme cycle takes about 16 months from application for B2R support until selected participants are sent abroad to take up their studies. The gap year between graduating high school and commencing university is used for academic preparation. The first internships of three to four months duration follow from March to June and before participants leave to attend universities abroad (July to September). Further internships of five to twelve weeks take place in Africa every summer break.
B2R runs the leadership programme every year and it follows the same schedule. In 2018, for example, the eighth intake started the B2R leadership programme:
- December 2017 – February 2018: Selecting the Best
From the beginning of December 2017 until the end of January 2018, approximately 2,000 top performing high school graduates with leadership qualities and the ambition to serve their African home country, applied for B2R support. By early February 2018, the first candidates were shortlisted. The B2R recruitment team required them to submit their national exam results. In addition to consistent high performance during high school years, candidates had to show that they were actively engaging in out of school activities, e.g. supporting their families or communities. After individual interviews with all candidates, 28 participants were accepted. These 28 new scholars constitute the eighth intake to the B2R leadership programme 2018. 20 participants are from Rwanda, four are South Sudanese, two come from Burundi and another two from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
- March 2018 – February 2019: Academic Preparation
Successful participants receive, free of charge, academic preparation training five days per week in classes at the B2R training centre in Kigali (with nearby boarding facilities). Academic preparation covers training and activities such as English language, critical thinking, team building, test preparation classes for international language tests (e.g. SAT, TOEFL), leadership, psychosocial development, industry visits, private sector professionals meeting participants and sharing experiences (“lunch and learn”), discipleship classes, community service one weekend day per week, ‘toastmaster’, college exploration and application (the latter of which intensifies in September and November 2018). As of December 2018, first participants will receive admissions and scholarships to universities abroad. While the current (eighth) intake continues with B2R Leadership courses and focuses on preparations for their respective university programmes (in January and February 2019), B2R will make a new call for applications for the ninth intake of the B2R Leadership Programm.
- March 2019 – June 2019: Internships
Bevor scholars depart for universities abroad, they conduct their first internship in Africa lasting three to four months in duration. During this period, the 9th B2R intake will start their academic preparation at the Kigali centre.
- July 2019 – September 2019: Commencing University Studies Abroad
Depending on the university, participants of the 8th intake will move abroad to take up their respective study programmes in July, August, or September 2019. In this period, scholars from previous intakes will also conduct their summer internships in Africa.
B2R scholars are expected to return to Africa every summer break for additional internships (of five to 12 weeks duration), to continue community work, and to take part in other B2R events and activities (further professional development training, networking sessions, mentorship opportunities, industry visits, conferences, and leadership retreats). A minimum of two summer internships in Africa is mandatory. Returning in the third of usually four academic years is also compulsory.
One important resource is B2R’s growing network: B2R promotes relations with more than 50 corporations and institutions (e.g. private sector companies, science and research institutions, health care establishments, social and government institutions, international partners). Successful participants become part of and enrich the ever growing B2R network.
Training Centre and Boarding Facilities
- The B2R centre is in Kigali, Rwanda. It provides training rooms, computer labs, high-speed internet, and an extensive library
- Training is free of charge; lunch is provided.
- B2R accommodates participants and returnees in boarding facilities within walking distance to the centre in Kigali.
- 14 members of permanent B2R staff.
- Additional trainers from different fields and faculties and volunteering alumni who teach, counsel, and coach participants.
The programme operates on funds from private donations.
Since its launch in 2011, more than 200 B2R participants have successfully competed with students from around the world for scholarships and commenced studies in some of the world’s most prestigious universities and colleges in the United States, Canada, and in Europe. In May 2018, the third intake of B2R scholars finish their university degrees abroad and return to Africa, while the eighth intake has begun the leadership programme.
In the beginning, 70 graduates applied for the programme out of which 18 acquired international scholarships (in 2012). In 2014, more than 1,500 high school graduates competed for 34 places in the leadership programme. In 2016, 41 participants acquired international scholarships. The number of applicants in 2017 exceeded 2,000 high school graduates. B2R capacities in 2018 provide its exceptional individual support services wto a maximum of 40 participants.
Summer internships take place from March to September every year for those who finish the academic preparation in Kigali prior to departure as well as for those returning to Africa for the summer break. 127 internships were conducted in the summer of 2016 in Africa by 91 scholars (several did more than one internship). In 2017, 103 scholars conducted 114 summer internships in Africa.
B2R is one of the first Kaplan certified education providers in Africa, offering test preparation courses. Tests, like the TOEFL® and similar, are often requirements for admission to international universities and colleges.
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