Bridging the Digital Divide and Youth Empowerment: The Youth Tech Informants (YTI) Project in Rural Rwanda

by Eugene Gato Nsengamungu

As the world becomes increasingly digital, access to technology and digital literacy is becoming a basic need of modern life. Yet, in many corners of the globe, limited or no digital access remains a significant barrier, impeding access to opportunities and hindering economic development. In the heart of Africa, in the rural landscapes of Rwanda, a remarkable initiative founded by Eugene Gato Nsengamungu, a Wesleyan graduate student, is breaking down these barriers and sowing seeds for improved digital access. The Youth Tech Informants (YTI), formerly known as the Rwanda Youth Tech Informants that won  the 2023  Wesleyan University’s Davis Projects of Peace Grant and the Christopher Brodigan Award, is on a mission to promote digital inclusion in the remote areas of Rwanda. By bridging the digital divide, YTI seeks to improve the quality of life and economic prospects for rural communities.

Rwanda has made significant strides in embracing Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a means to enhance public services and foster economic growth. However, despite the government’s tireless efforts to make e-services accessible to all, a considerable portion of the Rwandan population, especially the elderly and rural residents, faces challenges in adapting to these ICT services.

Thanks to the vision of Rwanda’s President, H.E. Paul Kagame, the government is taking steps to address this digital divide through initiatives like the “Byikorere” program, aimed at assisting citizens in accessing online services. Still, with limited manpower and resources, reaching the vast rural population effectively remains a challenge. In some areas, just a handful of individuals are responsible for serving thousands of residents.

Recognizing this gap, the Youth Tech Informants have seized the opportunity to empower the youth in rural Rwanda with the skills and knowledge needed to facilitate the accessibility of digital services. YTI has established a computer center in the Kimonyi sector, offering computer skills training to high school graduates from Kimonyi, Musanze, and Muhoza sectors in Musanze, Northern Rwanda. On September 8th, 2023, 21 of the 24 individuals enrolled, completed the first YTI 3-month training program, an 87.5% success. Students were equipped with IT skills and a deep desire to become YTI ambassadors in their respective communities. The curriculum includes fundamental computer skills, internet literacy, and proficiency to navigate the Irembo platform, an eGovernment portal providing government services in Rwanda.

In just a few short months of establishment, the YTI impact is nothing short of remarkable. Beyond the empowerment of the initial 21 students in YTI’s inaugural cohort, the center has extended its reach to serve 276 residents, granting them free access to online services.

During the YTI certificate award ceremony, covered by Rwanda Television, the State’s news channel, YTI was joined by the Musanze District Mayor Delegate, Rwanda National Police District Command, Northern Province Irembo Director, Musanze District Employment Officer, Rwanda National Youth Council Representative, Kimonyi Sector Executive, other local government representatives, as well as the beloved parents and friends of our cohort. They all conveyed their heartfelt gratitude to YTI, recognizing the pivotal role its services will play in community development, and pledged their commitment to continued cooperation and support. Translating the sentiments of Nimukuze Devotha, a Musanze resident, during her interview with Rwanda TV, she remarked, “If the youth receive this training, they are our own children whom we live with daily. They will assist us in acquiring the necessary technological skills to become self-sufficient.”

In addition to its core mission of advancing digital literacy in rural Rwanda, YTI is dedicated to empowering young individuals to play an active role in the fight against climate change. This empowerment is channeled through collaborative efforts with local government initiatives, which primarily focus on reforestation and the management of plastic waste. YTI actively engages with the community, participating in a variety of events including “Isaha Imwe Nsukure Musanze Yanjye,” which translates to “One Hour to Clean My Musanze,” Umuganda, sports, and various other community activities.

Looking ahead, the Youth Tech Informants project envisions establishing more local and international partnerships to expand its reach and empower even more youths. YTI is expanding its curriculum to include Data analysis, website development, and entrepreneurship workshops.

As the YTI project continues to empower rural youth with digital skills, it stands as a shining example of how grassroots initiatives can foster change. Rwanda’s rural areas are embracing the digital age, thanks to the efforts of the Youth Tech Informants.