For youth in Burundi, access to an unobstructed educational path can be challenging. More than 70 percent of the population lives in poverty with high levels of food insecurity. Young people are often forced to retire their academic goals to help provide for their families with seven out of ten children never getting to finish secondary school. A country where more than fifty percent of its population falls under the age of 18 begs the question: how can you increase academic opportunities for youth in Burundi and how can those opportunities be accessed by those who want them? Those were the same questions that Don De Dieu Iradukunda pondered before conceptualizing, and later founding, what is now Menya Accelerator.
Menya Accelerator is an education initiative that aims to provide high quality programs for youth enrolled in formal education institutions or beyond. Their mission is to leverage technology and entrepreneurship to advance education, leadership, and practical learning experiences for youth in Burundi. Participants will be equipped with 21st century skills, knowledge, and opportunities to better their lives, reach their full potential, and give back to their community. “Everyone needs community. That’s my personal belief,” says Don. “At Menya Accelerator, we want to create an ecosystem where young students can get the skills they need for their entrepreneurial goals but to also have access to a community that will support them in the path towards achieving their objectives.”
Don De Dieu Iradukunda was born and raised in Burundi in a family of four kids. His academic achievements, alongside a great deal of luck, allowed him to attend some of the best public schools in the country. He was accepted into the African Leadership Academy, a renowned pre-university program focused on entrepreneurial development, before becoming a Mastercard Scholar at Michigan State University. Currently, he is completing his graduate studies at Sciences Po in Paris, France while simultaneously launching the first ever Menya Accelerator camp this Summer. Thankfully, he is not alone in the journey.
Menya Accelerator is the product of a synergy of young Burundians who have had successful academic and professional careers hoping to empower the next generation of Burundians. In fact, most of Menya’s staff and mentors have been long time friends since originally meeting at an entrepreneurial camp similar to Menya Accelerator in their youth. Their experiences, the encouragement from their mentors, and plenty of hard work have allowed them to achieve their academic and career goals. The resources provided by such programs offered the resources that others often take for granted and there is no other way to pay it forward than by providing the same opportunities to the next generation of Burundian professionals.
“Being able to inspire one student can create a positive ripple effect for the next generations in Burundi,” says Menya’s Chief Technical Officer. “Having had a similar experience myself—the people that I met in those camps, seeing the accomplishments of my mentors—I think it’s quite powerful. Being able to now take on that role of mentor and give back to my community is amazing.”
The program begins with a six-week intensive camp where students are introduced to the thematics of entrepreneurial leadership and hands-on practical experience in specific sectors that align with their entrepreneurial interests. This experience builds the foundations of the Menya Accelerator journey and also serves as an introduction to the different programs Menya Accelerator offers. This is immediately followed by a four-week camp where students can begin their entrepreneurial projects accompanied by funding research, mentorship, project implementation and scaling. Other programs offered by Menya Accelerator are:
- Entrepreneurial Leadership (EL): A course that explores the intersection between great leadership and successful entrepreneurship through experiential learning, reflection, and practical application to develop leadership, teamwork, and problem-solving skills.
- Mentorship: A space for exchange between equipped and experienced volunteers and young Burundians in need who wish to be mentored and coached.
“This is our time to bring about change and expose our little brothers and sisters to their own opportunities,” says Heritier Muzungu, Monitoring and Evaluation Program Manager. “Ten years ago, we were just kids meeting at a camp similar to Menya Accelerator, not knowing that one day we would come together to help young people discover and achieve their own academic goals.” According to Heritier, these opportunities are very important in helping Burundian youth find innovative ways of addressing the issues within their community.
For Divine Nzosaba, Operations Lead and Trainer, becoming a mentor for the next generation of Burundian entrepreneurs was her way of paying it forward. Having also been accepted into the African Leadership Academy in South Africa, Divine has first-hand experience of the positive impact that mentorship programs like Menya Accelerator can have on young scholars. “When I was at the African Leadership Academy, all I had to do was be myself and just think about pursuing my goals without having to worry about finances,” says Divine. “This is where I found my passion about youth empowerment and Menya Accelerator has given me the opportunity to fulfill that.”
Global Partners for Development has joined forces with Menya Accelerator to help advance the program’s mission and goals. Global Partners believes community leadership is the key to responsible and sustainable development and that local people have the right to drive change in their communities. Global Partners has been committed to locally-led initiatives in East Africa for over 40 years and is currently Menya Accelerator’s fiscal sponsor. In addition to Global Partners, Menya has partnered with local community-based organizations and secondary schools in Burundi.
It is clear that what sets apart these young entrepreneurs, and now mentors, is their unrelenting desire to give back to their community. Aside from pursuing their own academic and entrepreneurial goals, having full time jobs, and completing PhDs, they have selflessly taken the time to organize and drive change within their communities by empowering the next generation of young people. “We want to accompany each student through their unique journey and help bring their ideas to life,” says Menya’s Chief Technical Officer. “We want to see the impact those projects will have in our community and what each young mind is capable of when given the opportunity to succeed.”
When asked about where they envision Menya Accelerator in the next five years, the team is optimistic, after all, these are a group of Burundians that have navigated adversity and come out triumphant. Most importantly, they understand the power of community and that when presented with the right resources, young people have the opportunity to thrive. “The impact that we hope Menya is going to create is not really in numbers but in the community initiatives these young entrepreneurs will lead like some of us did,” says Don. “Just like the African proverb says, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’. We all raise each other, and I think that’s quite important.”