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Dear Olly

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Africa, Humanitarian

Do you know where swallows go to in the Winter? At least two of them come and sit on the ledge outside my bedroom window here in Kigali. When I saw them this morning I was immediately reminded of the children's book 'Dear Olly' by Michael Morpurgo, in which a swallow flies from the UK to Rwanda and meets a young man working with children who have been made orphans in the genocide of 1994. It is an excellent book which I have read together with each of my three daughters.

Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre: The Wall of Names
Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre: The Wall of Names

So yesterday I visited the Kigali Genocide Centre, where many of the people who were killed in the city are now buried. It is essential to learn about the genocide to understand what Rwanda is like today. The numbers who died are so vast that I found it easier to relate to some of the photos and stories of children which are displayed in the memorial.  The pictures I have taken show a few of the names of the victims on the memorial wall, and the burial area. I don't have good words to describe what I felt, but it is an important place to visit.

At least I was part of something really positive yesterday as well. After careful consideration, DFID agreed to support the Government of Rwanda's Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme with funding for the next four years. This is really a social security programme for the very poorest in society, including widows, orphans and the elderly who have no other means of support - either by direct transfers of cash, or cash payments for taking part in public works like road maintenance, or small loans to start businesses. There are many very poor people in Rwanda who need this kind of help, and I am looking forward to visiting the programme soon to see how it is going.

I can still see the swallows; they are flying around now catching breakfast, I guess. They will remind to me of the reason that I am working here in Rwanda.

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  1. Comment by Marisol posted on

    Very nice post. Interested to see how the programme plays out.

  2. Comment by CivicSurf » Dear Olly - A masterpiece in Civic Leadership blogging posted on

    [...] If anyone ever asks you why Civil Servants or politicians should blog, send them over to Martin Leach’s most recent post. [...]

  3. Comment by Joe Mitchell posted on

    Martin, interesting post.

    Great to see Rwanda is initiating basic social security payments - is it similar to the much-vaunted conditional cash transfers system, like Mexico's oportunidades (then borrowed by Bloomberg for NYC)? In those cases, cash is conditional on things like sending the kids to school/basic health checkups etc.

    Frankly, just handing out cash to the very poor seems like an excellent way to combat poverty - and something valuable the UK could provide financial assistance for, a kind of global social security system - but what are the downsides?

  4. Comment by Martin Leach posted on

    Marisol, Shane and Joe,

    Thanks for your comments. I will have my first chance to get out to see the Vision 2020 Umurenge programme on Tuesday, so I should be able to post some more material about it in a few days time, and answer Joe's question about how it works. As you may know I have only been here four weeks and am still gettting to see the work that DFID supports.

    A quick comment on Joe's point about 'just handing out cash'. There are very strong views here in Rwanda (and in many other places) that handouts simply create dependency. Rwanda is keen to build an attitude of self reliance, so unconditional handouts are limited to the most disadvantaged; others have to work for their wages.


  5. Comment by Martin Leach posted on


    You posted your comment on the VUP programme a while ago. Having been in country a little longer now, I want to add a few more points.

    The cash transfers in Rwanda are given on condition that participants take part in a series of training sessions, these focus on managing money, saving money and public education messages such encouraging families to plan for women to deliver in health centres, or to get their children immunised and combating domestic violence.

    Most social protection programmes results in big increases in the number of children in school - whether they have conditionalities or not. Given a small but predictable income, families invest in their childrens' long term prospects - in most cases they don't need a condition to do so. Conditionalities increase programme administration costs.

    We believe that providing small predictable cash transfers to the very poor has a big impact on people's poverty now, and also the poverty of the next generation. A priority for the VUP programme is a robust monitoring and evaluation system so that we can follow the upsides and downsides of this way of tackling poverty - but we don't have any evaluation results yet. However the international experiences considered during programme design indicate that cash transfers generate a direct impact on income poverty increasing families' livelihoods and increasing employment as well as having significant impact on nutrition levels, school enrollment and attendance and use of health services.

    The downsides:

    It costs money and needs a long term commitment. We believe the investment is worth it in terms of the immediate impact on families and the longer term impact on the next generation.

    If benefits are withdrawn too quickly the changes to people's lives can be short lived.

    Creating dependency is often a big concern - people becoming less productive because they can rely on a cash transfer - but the evidence shows the opposite - that people can become more productive.

    Poor targeting can lead to the wrong people getting support and people who really need it being left out. It can also create tension between those who are receiving help and those who don't.

    These are all areas that we will follow through the VUP monitoring system.


  6. Comment by Joe Mitchell posted on

    Really interesting again, thanks Martin. Great to get such responsiveness - hope it's not eating too much of your time.

    I certainly didn't buy the 'dependency' argument and am not surprised that you don't need to apply conditionalities for cash transfers to result in behavioural change.

    Considering your final point about the dangers of poor targeting, I suppose there are dangers of a system like that being politicised in Rwanda - but what isn't?

    All in all, it looks hugely positive - M&E will be really important, as you say, but I look forward to following news on it.

    Looks like the VUP programme is worth around GBP45m or so, any idea of the breakdown of numbers of those who (will) receive the money?

  7. Comment by Martin Leach posted on


    Thanks for your comment. We have done a little more research into the VUP and here are some facts:

    Current commitments to VUP are just over £39m 08-13, including a significant budget from the Government of Rwanda (GOR). Rough calculations show that with these resources the GoR will be able to reach approximately 177 Sectors and just over 150,000 households with direct transfers and wages for public works as well as reaching over 40,000 new people with savings and credits over the next 4 years.

    Hope that helps.

  8. Comment by Joe Mitchell posted on

    Thanks again. So for a relatively tiny sum of money, we can be pretty sure that we're helping to improve the lives of members of 150,000 households, and then some.

    Top work. Glad to be supporting it.