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Program strives for 'Peace through Business'

Monday, January 28, 2008  
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By Alison Roberts

Administrators at Oklahoma Christian University recently unveiled plans for a program that will further strengthen the university’s international ties.

The Academy of Leadership and Liberty, in conjunction with the government of Rwanda, will host an educational session this summer aiming to empower women in Rwanda’s business world.

Known as Peace through Business Rwanda, the program will bring 15 businesswomen from Rwanda to Oklahoma Christian’s campus from July 3 to Aug. 1 of this year.

The women will complete three weeks of formal business training and spend one week shadowing an Oklahoma City businesswoman.

“Our main focus is to bring about greater parity in terms of proportion of women in business in Rwanda,” Assistant Director of the Academy of Leadership and Liberty Chris Malan said.

Women hold a significant role in determining the outcome of Rwandan political activities, because they comprise almost 50 percent of the representative government.

The gender diversity does not, however, translate into the country’s business community.

Sophomore Alline Kabbatende said this is because of a largely patriarchal history.

“After the genocide they realized they needed women to be part of the rebuilding,” Kabbatende said. “It is written into the constitution that we are required to have 30 percent women in government representation.”

The government representation requirements are part of the government’s Vision 2020 program. According to Kabbatende, the program aims to rebuild Rwanda’s industry and business by the year 2020.

“When a conflict ends, you have the choice to get past the ideologies or to turn against each other,” Kabbatende said. “The government had this vision and gave it to the people. Everyone knows about it and it gives us something to work toward.”

Malan said he hopes the Peace through Business Rwanda program will provide an opportunity to assist in this process.

“When business is successful, it helps promote peace and unity in a society,” Malan said.

Peace Through Business Rwanda is part of the larger organization, Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women.

Founded by Academy of Leadership and Liberty board member Terry Neese, the Institute for the Economic Empowerment of Women has also been responsible for conducting similar programs with women from Afghanistan.

According to a release issued by the Academy, Oklahoma Christian will be integral in working to build stronger relationships between Rwanda and the United States and ultimately lead to a prolonged peaceful trade relationship.

The program will also work toward building a more equitable environment between the genders.

In Rwanda, Kabbatende said young women are being encouraged to pursue science and technological fields.

As an electrical engineering major, Kabbatende credits her all-girls school with providing an environment that introduced her to her field, but business programs are not being geared toward female involvement.

“Women need to be empowered in order to work in a man’s world,” Kabbatende said.

Women participating in the program will also be asked to share what they have learned with other women in their communities, in what Kabbatende described as a “trickle down” effect.

“It will be good for the women that participate in this program to see that they can contribute,” Kabbatende said. “There may only be 15 women coming but there is power in one.”

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