By Maombi Emima
Much is written these days about diversity, equity, and inclusion. What do these terms mean for refugees and marginalized populations? I was grateful to discuss this with Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager at Kepler, a nonprofit higher education program working in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University.
According to Leonne, diversity means opening doors for people who are different. For instance, at Kepler, 25% of students are refugees and we have started to expand to other marginalized communities.
“Diversity means bringing in different people and opening doors to different things,” she said.
Leonne shared that equity is about accessibility. This is all about how Kepler helps students to easily access resources. Kepler wants to make sure that they support people to have an equal opportunity so that every member can achieve their goals.
Then there is inclusion. Leonne believes this about an attitude.
“Inclusion means how do we support the community to live with those differences,” she said. “The right policies need to be put in place to make inclusion a reality. Kepler provides training for the community to be fully aware of each others’ differences as an opportunity to learn, as opposed to seeing differences that set us apart.”
One of my personal goals is to support those with disabilities. I was interested to hear Leonne’s thoughts on how to support disabled students. She shared that Kepler uses different strategies to support people with disabilities. Scholarships are provided so the students don’t struggle to pay back loans when they finish their program. Kepler makes sure that those with disabilities have all the resources and materials needed. Staff is trained on how to best support these students.
I see first-hand how DEI contributes to the success of Kepler students. Students know how they are cared for regardless of where they come from. They have a safe environment for learning and self-discovery.
“Students learn new cultures, concepts and trends to be the best,” Leonne said. “As they learn more about culture, it becomes easier for them to work together with others of different beliefs, backgrounds and values. That’s why Kepler students perform well at the workplace and other places where there are diverse communities.”
Kepler trains staff about how to consider each individual regardless of their origin. For the entire community, there is course content related to human rights. Students can take courses related to cultural diversity. They learn how they can communicate, teach and understand everyone. During classes, every student feels free to share his or her ideas. Kepler has created articles and videos so that the community knows more about DEI. This plays an important role in educating the community about DEI issues.
Leonne’s Career Journey
I was particularly interested in Leonne’s career journey.
“I am passionate about girls’ education and improving the welfare of African women through sharing experiences and advocacy for women in rural areas,” Leonne said.
She has always been passionate about understanding and helping women as well as other marginalized people. She has advocated for girl's education and women’s empowerment policies. Of particular note, she was awarded a Rwanda Woman of Courage 2018 by the USA Embassy in Rwanda for her extensive role in advocacy and raising funds to support vulnerable women.
“I have been a victim of assaults because I am a woman and the culture of silence prevented me from speaking up. I aspire to see all women fighting for their rights, and break the silence,” Leonne said.
Leone’s mother is her role model.
“I am used to seeing her hustle. She never complained about her work and she managed to take care of needy people,” Leonne recalls.
Following her mother’s example, the more Leonne grew up, the more she cared about other people, regardless of where they came from or who they were.
Lessons and Key Takeaways Below are two key lessons I learned from Leonne.
Through DEI, people can achieve their goals and this might lead to the development of the community and country in general. For example, there are Kepler Kiziba students who have managed to complete their studies and are now employed. As a result, now they can help themselves, their families and the community as well.
DEI builds unity among individuals. For example, at Kepler students are used to working in teams where they understand that they are in a family. This contributes to effective collaboration.
It was very inspiring to interview Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe and hear her career journey. I was very impressed by her empathy, courage and love for the community as well as the whole country.
I graduated from Southern New Hampshire University via the Kepler program with a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and a concentration in business. The discussion that I had with Leonne provided new perspectives on how to love the country and the community.
I have always been passionate about caring for my community, especially those with disabilities. Many people with disabilities in my community are not encouraged to pursue their educational dreams. I and other committed young refugees are volunteering to encourage them to love education. We want to promote awareness around this topic.
Leonne Laura Uwizihiwe is a Diversity Equity and Inclusion manager at Kepler. She is passionate about girls’ education and improving the welfare of African women through sharing experiences and advocacy for women in rural areas. She represented youth in FAWE Africa and advocated for policies in African countries of Girls' education and women empowerment. She was awarded Rwanda Woman of Courage 2018 for her advocacy and fundraising for the most vulnerable women. Connect with her on LinkedIn
Maombi Emima is a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University. She pursued a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with a concentration in business. You can connect with her via LinkedIn. She wrote this article after taking part in Global Innovation Academy's Interview an Innovator online course.