2 Revaluing Home-Grown Initiatives

Toward an Inclusive Socio-Economic Future

Gonzague Isirabahenda


In an increasingly volatile world, the value of indigenous knowledge and approaches has been taken for granted. Numerous societies endure complex socio-economic and environmental issues, leading to an uncertain future. In line with this, scholars highlight clear signs of inefficient sustainable development despite many efforts to enhance the situation. Home-grown knowledge and best practices constitute untold psychosocial and economic solutions that arguably help overcome the world’s most pressing challenges. This study shows that neglecting indigenous solutions is costly for disadvantaged groups and countries. Drawing from Rwanda as a case study, we analyzed the application of indigenous practices and demonstrated the critical lessons gained from different programs associated with this home-grown initiative. We reveal how Tubarere mu Muryango (TMM), translated as Let us raise children in the Families program, helped the Rwanda government close all orphanage institutions to ensure that all children are growing up safe and protected in families. This article discloses the UBUDEHE practice (the long-standing Rwandan cultural practice of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within the community). In addition, it provides a quick overview of how social and health workers use and reconsiders home-grown solutions to resolve issues faced by the Rwandans in the post-genocide era. The increased use of indigenous practices appears to have been influential in reducing societal hardship and social isolation and facilitating community engagement among vulnerable groups in Rwanda. This paper concludes by establishing a future research agenda for the further application of home-grown solutions and their value in a rapidly changing and precarious world.


In recent decades, many people living in extreme poverty, ill health, insecurity, illiteracy, corruption, and declining opportunities in rural areas owing to environmental degradation have primarily contributed to miserable situations (World Bank 2020; Ezeanya, 2017). Poverty directly contributes to the many societal ills faced by developing countries and hinders many families from enjoying socio-economic development (Isaboke, 2018).

Many efforts are in place to address the world’s multiple problems, such as the ongoing global sustainable development goals (UN, 2021). Yet some scholars remain skeptical and highlight that various attempts failed to split out Africa into extreme poverty, hunger, job scarcity, climate change, illicit drug use, early pregnancy, and gender-based violence, to name but a few (Zewde, 2010; Ezeanya, 2019; Isaboke, 2018; Isirabahenda, 2017). Africans are culturally deracinated and adrift (Maathai, 2011). Around 5.4 million children still live in institutions worldwide (Desmond et al.,2020) despite many adverse effects on the development of children exposed to such institutions (Tottenham, 2010; van IJzendoorn et al., 2020). What is worse is that most of these children are not ‘orphans’ per see; approximately 80% have at least one living parent (Csáky, 2009; UNICEF, 2012).

Rwanda is a small country at the heart of Africa, the land of thousands of hills, with multiple mountains comprising its geographical features. Rwanda is still recovering from the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which destroyed the fabric of Rwandan society, and the challenges faced by Rwanda are severe and wide-ranging. Although the socio-economic development brought about by globalization has undoubtedly reached Rwanda, numerous families are enduring complex socio-economic and environmental issues, leading to a rapidly uncertain future. However, Rwanda is committed to addressing its people’s problems, and home-grown solutions are crucial for translating this goal into reality (RGB 2002).

Rwanda’s efforts are in line with Escobar (2011), who argued that, for any development to be lasting and effective, it ought to be based on the assessment of local realities, which are people’s lived experiences and history, as inherent in these are the proper conditions for change. Research points to the fact that home-grown initiatives and processes produce solid foundations for development strategies but also hold great potential to act as catalysts in fostering innovation (Haller 2001).

It is noteworthy that indigenous solutions for the socio-economic betterment of humanity were natural and traditional responses to the significant problems faced by the Rwandan ancestors. While the rapidly changing world has adopted a neoliberal agenda, numerous Rwandans have endured complex socio-economic and environmental issues, leading to a rapidly uncertain future. The link between the challenges faced by Rwanda and its solutions has received considerable attention from policymakers and scholars (Uwihanganye et al., 2017; Kalinganire & Rutikanga, 2015). Home-grown knowledge and its best practices constitute untold psychosocial and economic solutions that arguably help overcome the world’s most pressing challenges (Senanayake, 2006; Rutikanga, 2019).

The Constitution of the Republic of Rwanda in 2003, amended in 2015, aligns with Rwanda’s values. The Rwandan government allegedly revived traditional participatory practices known as home-grown mechanisms to deal with matters that concern building the nation, promoting national culture, and restoring dignity. Home Grown Initiatives are solutions developed by Rwandans based on local opportunities, cultural values, and history to track socio-economic development quickly. Being locally created, HGS is appropriate to the regional development context and has been the bedrock of Rwanda’s reconstruction and transformation journey after the Genocide against the Tutsi (RGB, 2017).

In addition to the dark history of Rwanda, a decade ago, many young Rwandans lived in orphanages because of Genocide and various societal ills.  The concern about seeing the future generation of Rwanda raised in institutional care was alarming, mainly when the Rwanda Government was preoccupied with the psychosocial and economic well-being of Rwandans. In 2013, in collaboration with UNICEF, the government of Rwanda established the Tubarerere Mu Muryango (let us Raise Children in Families, TMM) program to enable the closure of large-scale residential care institutions for children and promote family-based care. The ongoing program aims to build robust systems of protection and care that will provide sustainable and broader benefits for children in Rwanda. This program is in line with the Home-Grown Initiatives that Rwanda has adopted among several unconventional measures to find solutions to the challenges faced by the country. This article aims to shed light on the use of indigenous practices with a focus on exploring and explaining how the UBUDEHE initiative, i.e.,  the long-standing Rwandan cultural tradition of collective action and mutual support to solve problems within the community. And the TMM program has had a positive impact on socio-economic development in Rwanda.


Why are Home-Grown Initiatives Important in the Rwanda Context?

While poverty and hunger are trademarks of developing countries, the ratio of Rwanda workers and their families living on less than 1.90 US dollars per person per day has decreased from 78.6% in 2000 to 46.5% in 2021. The universal health coverage (UHC) service coverage index has increased from 23% in 2000 to 54% in 2019. As a result, life expectancy has risen from 50 in 1990 to 67 years in 2021. The share of seats held by women in single or lower houses in parliament increased from 17.1% in 2000 to 61.2% in 2022. Rwanda is frequently acknowledged as a global leader in health care in the East African region in alternative care reform (Karim et al., 2021). Its rapid recovery development model is inspired by different African countries, especially governments engaged in childcare and the protection of gender equality and women’s empowerment (UNFPA, 2022). Rwanda boasted efficient economic growth, low corruption levels, and an ambitious economic modernization agenda to lift it from a low- to medium-income country (RGB, 2016; World Bank, 2020).

However, a decade ago, many children were vulnerable to inadequate care, and the harm caused by institutional care was a significant concern of the Rwandan government. For example, in 2012, a survey identified 3,323 children and young adults in 33 government-registered facilities. Worldwide evidence indicates that the use of such large-scale institutions is likely to be profoundly harmful to children, leading to developmental delays, lower levels of intelligence, exposure to abuse, neglect, and problems forming relationships (Williamson & Greenberg, 2010; Li et al. 2017; Nelson et al. 2009).  In many circumstances, basic information about children is falsely recorded. Family breakdown, poverty, child abandonment, and discrimination result in children being separated from their families and placed in orphanages in Rwanda (Hope and Homes for Children and MIGEPROF (2012). Empirical data also show considerable improvement in critical socio-demographic data made by Rwanda since the closure of orphanages inspired by evidence proving that the transition from institutions to family-based care improves children’s well-being and development. It aligns with a governmental commitment to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages (UNICEF and the National Commission for Children 2012).

According to Article 27 of the Rwandan Constitution, the family is the foundation of Rwandan society, and this fundamental unit of society deserves protection. It is recognized by numerous human rights instruments, such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR art. 16 (3)). In addition to enhancing women’s rights, the government of Rwanda has long recognized the importance of ensuring that children grow up safe and protected within well-supported families and replacing institutional care with family-based care. This recognition is reflected in the country’s constitution and policies, such as the Integrated Child Rights Policy and Strategy (GoR, 2011) and the Strategy for National Childcare Reform (GoR, 2012).


Understanding Ubudehe practice as a home-grown initiative in Rwanda

Ubudehe is a traditional Rwandan practice with the cultural value of working together to solve problems. Historically, Ubudehe was the standard Rwandan practice of digging fields before the rains and planting season arrived. Household groups tend to help each other with these tasks. This collective action mechanism was inclusive, covering all Rwandan social groups (Habiyonizeye and Mugunga (2012). The Ubudehe program was reintroduced, initiated by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning (MINECOFIN), and closely collaborates with the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC). Within the context of The Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRSP) was designed to bolster the decentralization process in Rwanda while contributing to poverty reduction and promoting community cohesion and reconciliation.

The Ubudehe program was institutionalized as a Home Grown Initiative program, and over the last two decades, it has been proven to effectively complement Rwanda’s Social Protection programs in addressing the country’s socio-developmental challenges. The relevance of the program’s activities is ensured, as it is a locally owned model used to address community socio-economic challenges through participatory mechanisms. This approach enhances citizen ownership and the understanding of available service delivery through the provision of planning data and feedback mechanisms at the community level. Currently, under the Ministry of Local Government (MINALOC) supervision, the Ubudehe program is managed by the Local Administrative Entities Development Agency (LODA) through District and Sector administrations. Community and household projects are financed and implemented at the village and household levels to help beneficiaries improve their living conditions ( Rwanda 2003).

In the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda adopted several unconventional measures to find solutions to the challenges faced by the country. Among the successful home-grown solutions behind the Rwanda recovery and success story, we can highlight Abunzi – Community Mediators, Gacaca – Community Courts, Girinka–One Cow per Poor Family Programme, and Imihigo – Performance Contracts. Itorero-civic education, Ingando – Solidarity Camp,  Umuganda – Community Work, Umushyikirano – National Dialogue Council, and  Umwiherero – National Leadership Retreat ( Rwanda, 2022).

All the traditional approaches mentioned above were reintroduced after the 1994 genocide to help reconstruct the country after the atrocities, which left around one million people dead, three million refugees, ten thousand people in prison on genocide-related charges, a large number of widows and orphans. They left the country in a state of extreme poverty (OSSREA, 2006). The approach was reintroduced to address rural poverty through community action, empowerment, and participatory democracy (European Commission, 2006).


Exploration of Tubarere Mu Muryango program

“A child belongs to the entire community” and “it takes the village to raise a child.” The two sayings highlight how relatives such as fathers, mothers, aunts, and uncles are fathers to a child and the strong sense of community ownership of children (Foster, 2000). In traditional Rwandan culture, responsibility for the care of children is customarily not seen as a prerogative of the child’s biological parents alone, where mothers take the lead in almost all aspects of childcare (Evans, 2010; Mukashema et al., 2021 ). The responsibility of family members to raise children in Rwanda is still a tradition today, although some events have changed over time. However, globalization gradually broke down family support mechanisms (Frimpong-Manso, 2013; Harms, Jack, Ssebunnya, & Kizza, 2010).

The government of Rwanda is committed to ensuring that all children grow up in safe and protective families. Rwanda considers children in orphanages and street children as vulnerable children who need special protection (MIGEPROF, 2007; UNDP, 2011). With a solid commitment to protecting children’s rights, the Rwanda Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion set up a National Integrated Child in collaboration with UNICEF. The Tubarerere Mu Muryango (let us Raise Children in Families – TMM) program has been established to enable the closure of large-scale institutions and promote family-based care. The program aims to build a robust and sustainable system of protection and care for children in Rwanda. Not simply a timebound program, the purpose of TMM is to enable Rwanda to transition to an ongoing system of child protection and care based on family and community action.  Phase 1 of the TMM program was conducted from May 2013 to October 2017. Phase 2 runs from October 2017 to September 2019.

The reintegration of boys and girls from orphanage institutions into family-based care is a complex process that requires family tracing, planning, guidance, and support from skilled service providers. In Rwanda, social workers and psychologists employed by the National Commission for Children (NCC) and assigned to a specific district work together using two complementary sets of professional perspectives and skills. These professionals perform a variety of roles, many of which center on removing children from harmful institutional care to ensure that they can grow up in their families. Social workers and psychologists trace families and assess their children and relatives to determine whether reintegration is possible and in the child’s best interests. They identify the needs of the individual child and family for reintegration to be successful and work to ensure that these requirements are in regural before the child is placed. For children without relatives, social workers and psychologists find, assess, and approve foster families to care for the child, work to ensure a good match, and provide ongoing monitoring and support as needed. They also support young men and women over or near 18 to understand the transition from institutional care to independent living in the community (MIGEPROF, 2020).

In Rwanda, a growing body of experience and evidence demonstrates the importance of professional skills in ensuring children’s safe and effective reintegration into families and communities. Vulnerable families often have complex needs and challenges, which require professional assistance from trained social workers and psychologists. These include a combination of extreme poverty and family breakdown, illness, conflict, violence, or abuse. Social workers and psychologists assigned to the district level play these and many other crucial roles.

In 2013, I participated in research commissioned by UNICEF Rwanda, sponsored by USAID. The assessment conducted by Tulane University compared outcomes for children who assisted in returning from institutional care to their families and supported reintegration by social workers and psychologists with other children sent back to their families by residential facilities without such support. Results showed that professional involvement was associated with reintegrated children having higher levels of self-esteem and satisfaction with their placement. Professionals were especially adept at helping families deal in non-violent ways with challenging behaviors caused by separation and institutionalization.

Rwanda’s professional and volunteer social workforce assists children and families in accessing much-needed material, medical, psychological, educational, and social support. The collaboration has significantly contributed to the success of the TMM program. Also, the development of an integrated national system for the protection and care of children. This workforce is essential to Rwanda’s ongoing efforts to ensure that boys and girls can grow happily and safely in a family.


Reflecting on the value of home-grown initiatives toward problem-solving

Social workers in Rwanda are crucial for the country’s development and poverty reduction, and their roles are immeasurable. Include the mobilization and sensitization of masses; advocacy and networking for the good of the client at different levels; planning, monitoring, and evaluating development and poverty reduction-related projects; and education and providing training in various aspects of development and poverty reduction.

Since its introduction in 2001, the ubudehe approach has contributed to poverty reduction in Rwanda in different aspects, ranging from community infrastructure development to improved income at individual and family levels. Owing to the ubudehe approach, some poor and vulnerable individuals have obtained decent shelters. At the macro level, the ubudehe financial support has helped communities construct and renovate different infrastructures, such as roads, bridges, schools, health centers and health posts, water sources, and water pipelines. In some places, community electrification was made possible, and in many parts of the country, the construction of local authority offices, especially those at the cell level, was facilitated (Kalinganire and Rutikanga, 2015).

The uniqueness of the ubudehe approach is that it facilitates the full participation of citizens in their development, where community members decide which project to take up using the ubudehe fund plus their contributions. Citizens’ involvement through the ubudehe approach also facilitates empowerment and the enhancement of people’s capacities, as most activities are conducted collectively in which citizens learn from each other. This approach also boosts the sense of ownership among community members, which results in the infrastructure constructed by the ubudehe system being highly valued and respected. In summary, the traditional ubudehe approach has significantly contributed to poverty reduction among individuals and communities in Rwanda, notwithstanding the existing challenges in its administration.

Psychologists and social workers consider home-grown initiatives as critical tools that help them in daily work-related activities. The main initiatives identified as necessary is community work (umuganda), followed by Community Mediators (abunzi), then comes one cow per low-income family (gira inka), civic education (itorero) practices. It  is because all the techniques above are related to the core mission of psychologists and social workers assisting vulnerable groups.  For instance, community work serves to build or repair a good infrastructure for the community. The primary purpose of umuganda is to provide a forum for local officials to inform citizens about important news and for residents to discuss community problems and propose solutions. The government presents Umuganda as the ultimate state-building project through community engagement in response to the community or individual needs and as contributing to unity and progress locally and to national development. Joint projects include the construction of roads, classrooms, housing for poor people, local government offices, cooperative buildings, and tree planting and terracing (Gaynor 2014). Community mediation is crucial in handling everyday family misunderstandings and societal quarrels. One cow per family helps combat malnutrition and provides sustainable fertilizers for agricultural purposes and biogas electricity. Civic education is grounded in reinstalling Rwandan values, discipline, and good behaviors, as most Rwandan societies are below 25 years old.


Concluding Remarks

In recent years, the value of indigenous knowledge and approaches has been taken for granted, despite their impact on resolving societal issues. The rapidly changing world continues to bring numerous challenges to Rwanda, aggravated by its dark historical past and geographical location (a land-locked developing country). This article explores how Rwanda is adapting to those megatrends by adopting its neo-traditional practices, which have proved to have hundreds of genius solutions. In reintroducing the traditional approach of ubudehe, the Government of Rwanda believed that the complexity and specific nature of poverty at the household level do not mean that there are no solutions or that these solutions have to be complicated (Republic of Rwanda, 2003, 2009).

Recognizing how home-grown initiatives impact Rwandans’ socioeconomic well-being was one step towards solving the problems faced by people living in rural areas with substance agriculture as the primary source of income. The Rwandans’ issues are complex and require different approaches and people at all levels. Social cohesion alongside good governance not only helps Rwanda be a model in the area but also assists the GoR in hindering socio-economic issues, enhancing high levels of resilience among Rwandans, and the potential to deal with their problems in a collective matter. It was fortunate to see how the TMM program enhanced the well-being of foster institutionalized children by placing them in family-based care where their fundamental rights are respected. However, many challenges remain unresolved due to globalization, poverty, and the effect of the covid-19 pandemic and the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. Extreme poverty is inevitable, especially among people living in rural areas and, unfortunately, among young people in urban areas where job opportunities are limited.  The scarce professional workforce is unemployed, and numerous social workers and university graduates of psychologists are underemployed.

As Rwanda is not a large country, the effectiveness of one home-growth initiative can be replicated in other areas, as sufficient reports show that Rwandans in different locations share common social problems. We suggest that the government establish programs to sensitize people about the usefulness of home-grown initiatives to resolve personal and family issues that do not need governmental intervention. Revaluing these neo-traditional practices will improve gender roles and reduce the race for deviant behaviors, leading to illicit drug use and unwanted and early pregnancies among young people. Similarly, it boosts community belonging, reduces street children, and restores Rwandan identity based on unity, honesty, and courage. Recognizing the scarcity of socio-psychological specialist centers equipped to face the issues faced by numerous families, especially in rural or suburban areas, qualified human resources are rare in Rwanda. It has been increasingly claimed that societal involvement in problem assessment and solving processes will hinder and resolve more common and severe issues in Rwanda.


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About the author

Gonzague Isirabahenda is a Ph.D. candidate in sociology studies at Babes-Bolyai University of Cluj-Napoca/Romania (BBU). His research focuses on the transition from university to work, graduate employability, skills, and underemployment. Subjects related to the career of young university graduates in precarious jobs also attract my attention as they pertain to inquiries on the sociology of work and employment. He has authored various publications on the issue facing young people. He worked as a research assistant at the Faculty of Sociology and Social Work, Babeş-Bolyai University, in the project ‘OVERED: University-to-work transition. A qualitative inquiry on over-qualification among Romanian youth.’ He is collaborating with international think tanks and NGOs, including the European Commission and the Council of Europe in the field of youth, the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, the British Sociological Association (BSA), the Society for Research into Higher Education (SRHE) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW).

You can read more about Isirabahenda’s work here.


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