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Challenges Can Help Us Be Effective Critical Thinkers

By Claude Muhire

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”


These words are attributed to Benjamin Franklin from back in the 1700s. Someone living out these words today is Ashley Haywood. Currently, the Senior Director of Reporting & Humanitarian Initiatives at Kepler, Ashley wants to see refugees achieve success through education.


Ashley earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology. With her increased knowledge of how societies and cultures develop, Ashley decided to work with different students struggling in school.


She worked as an English teacher in an elementary school for two years. Later, she traveled to Belize through a volunteer program and worked there for two years before deciding to return home and pursue a master’s degree in teaching.


With her many years of education and experience as a teacher, Ashley joined Kepler in 2013, a nonprofit higher education program that operates a university campus in Kigali, Rwanda in collaboration with Southern New Hampshire University. In 2015 she became an Academic Leadership Coach at Kepler, Kiziba (Rwanda), where she was supporting academic staff. Her time spent with refugees enabled her to learn how to support them.


For example, she supported a young woman who became a mother during her first year. At the same time, with Ashley’s support, this young mother also became a true leader.


“I really pushed her to take on leadership roles, like the Students Government Association (SGA) presidency,” Ashley explained. “She has been given opportunities to travel internationally and a professional internship with the UNHCR in Kigali. Such mothers are an inspiration to me because they face so many challenges but have shown that they can complete their education and have successful careers.”


Students appreciated Ashley’s efforts and how she passionately helped them secure new opportunities working in collaboration with Kepler’s different partners. Over the subsequent years, she assumed the roles of Director of Refugee Education Programs, Director of Humanitarian & Special Initiatives, and ultimately her current role as Senior Director of Reporting and Humanitarian Initiatives.


“I am very passionate about achieving equality through education around the world,” she said. “I believe that everyone deserves access to the same opportunities.”


She shared with me the two main reasons that pushed her to support refugees.

“Since Kepler began its work, the organization has aspired to support those who don’t have access to higher education. Refugees often don’t have financial resources to pay for university and don’t have the same access to scholarships in host countries. Through Kepler’s work, students can secure internships and ultimately permanent jobs so that they can be able to support their families.”

It was a long journey for Ashley to work with refugees because she faced different challenges, like the location of Kiziba with many unpaved roads and a location far from the city in a rural area. It wasn’t only a challenge for her, but also difficult to bring in teachers there and different suppliers to support the students.


Another challenge is overcoming the fixed mindset of some mothers who assume they are not welcome to continue their education. Ashley used different strategies to motivate and give these moms extra support. Many succeeded in their education.


Overall, I was impressed by her persistence.


“Students showed us that all things are possible and this pushes us to keep trying to solve challenges,” she said. “Not everything can be fixed quickly; little by little you improve.”


It has been motivational to see how Ashley has solved challenges by collaborating with youth, parents, partners, and the whole community in Kiziba. This approach has solved challenges like getting solar panels for the school and securing internship opportunities for students with different organizations, among others.


This example has helped me to think about how asking different questions and getting responses from different people will help me to work effectively.


Advice for aspiring innovators and my key takeaways


I like this advice from Ashley:

  • “Keep trying everything, don’t be afraid of anything.”

  • “Learn from your experiences.” Ashley shared that she made several mistakes and learned from them. This helped her to gain invaluable experiences.

  • “Be a devil’s advocate.” This means coming up with counterarguments that ultimately help us to become critical thinkers.

I found Ashley’s story to be motivational, inspirational and encouraging, especially for those who have a good idea but are afraid of how they can implement it due to their lack of experience. There is indeed no need to be afraid. She told me that “asking yourself different questions and being confident and courageous will prepare you to work at every opportunity.” I believe this will help me to be successful just like Ashley.


You can learn more about Ashley Haywood via her LinkedIn profile.


Claude Muhire is a student at Southern New Hampshire University, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Management with a concentration in Logistics and Operations. Learn more about him by connecting with him on his LinkedIn profile. He wrote this article through Global Innovators Academy Interview an Innovator experience.