"The Millennium Fellowship played a pivotal role in my development as a social entrepreneur"
Updated: Oct 17, 2022
Millennium Fellowship alumnus Ernest Mugisha was named a 2022 Chegg Global Student Prize top 50 nominee. He speaks with us about his time as a Millennium Fellow and life as a student at the Rwanda Institute for Conservation Agriculture.
Thank you for joining us Mugisha. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Thank you so much. My name is Ernest Mugisha, a Millennium Fellowship alumnus from the
Rwandan Insitute of Conservation and Agriculture. I would describe myself as a leader, an optimist, a social entrepreneur and an industrious person passionate about social impact.
Where did your interest and passion for social impact start stem from?
I must connect my passion for social impact with my personal background. I was born and raised in a very remote Rwandan district, in an unstable area bordering Burundi and the DRC. Growing up we had very limited access to education, health care and other basic needs. We grappled with poverty and exclusion for as long as I remember. Seeing what that level of poverty does to your community shapes you as a child. Despite all this, I was lucky to be academically gifted, and always saw myself as being able to achieve something great for myself, my family, my friends and the wider community. In High School I felt deeply drawn to social impact work and started engaging in a lot of projects. I was constantly inspired by the Rwandese youth who were doing a lot of positive things around me - and it challenged me to also do the same. I started serving my country by launching multiple social impact initiatives, and I've never looked back since.
After high school you enrolled in the Rwanda Insitute for Conservation Agriculture. Tell us about your time at RICA.
RICA is a higher institution in Rwanda that's serving the new generation of innovators, entrepreneurs, and leaders in agriculture, with the aim of transforming the agricultural sector in our country, East Africa, and Africa at large. Being a student at RICA has been the biggest blessing in my life - although I did not initially plan to study here, nor to pursue a career in agriculture. I was interested in Computer science, awed by all the technological developments taking over the world and wanting to be a part of the tech revolution. But thinking about the small, heavily agricultural district I’d come from, I wondered whether that was my true calling. Right now, 70% per cent of the working population in Rwanda, and 60% of the African population depends on agriculture for its livelihood. Communities here depend on agriculture for our survival. My high school dream was to study at an American university, but RICA came in and offered me a full scholarship to learn more about agriculture and conservation. This was a mindblowing opportunity. Considering my background, I couldn’t pay for tuition fees at university, so the chance to study free of charge at one of the premier African universities was life-changing. As mentioned earlier, I’d also understood that the single most urgent and most pertinent need in Africa was to tackle starvation and make our continent hunger-free.
RICA is a world-class university that has exposed me to people of diverse backgrounds from around the world. It is paperless and state-of-the-art, combining outstanding education, high-quality resources, and world-class faculty - making it one of the continent’s foremost institutions.
Being here and seeing so many people from so many different places passionate about agricultural solutions has challenged and motivated me to work relentlessly for my country and continent. Among the many opportunities I learnt about while here was the Millennium Fellowship, which has played a pivotal role in my development as a social entrepreneur.
Tell us about your time as a Millennium Fellow. How did that experience shape your personal journey?
When I read about the Millennium Fellowship for the first time, I immediately wanted to be a part of it. The strong focus on social impact, leadership development, and partnership with the United Nations Academic Impact strongly appealed to me and my peers. As a Millennium Fellow, I got the platform to connect with a global community of youth leaders and to share my ideas with the world. The scale of our class made me feel that I was truly part of a movement. At out Global Town Hall ceremony, I had a chance to interact virtually for the first time with like-minded students from outside my country. Seeing young people in Nigeria, Hong Kong, the USA, and more celebrate together made me feel deeply inspired. Being able to hear from His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon, Sam Vaghar, and other social impact leaders was life-changing, and it only served to convince me that social entrepreneurship was my path. As a Fellow, I appreciated the strong focus on purpose-driven leadership in the curriculum, and the incredible network of outstanding undergraduates.
During the Fellowship training sessions, I got to interrogate my purpose, find meaning in my work, understand my role as a young leader in advancing the SDGs, and came out a better social entrepreneur.
Today I remain connected with my class of Millennium Fellows through our Alumni platform, and it makes me happy to see everything they’re doing around the world.
Tell us a little bit more about your Fellowship project
My project, Pangelassa revival is derived from a combination of two words. The first one is Pangea, and the second is Panthalassa. It refers to a new interconnected world, free of separation, exclusion, racism, and more. This project aims at solving the social exclusion in East African communities and providing social prosperity, particularly for refugees. We’re designing systems that make it easy to provide opportunities and donations to the elderly and the displaced by removing barriers. Organisations on the Pangelassa platform are offering employment priority to refugees in Rwanda, and members are donating to the needy directly. We are currently based in two districts and expanding into Kigali, having impacted 1,500+ people so far. In the next 3-5 years we hope to impact up to 5000 lives across Rwanda, Uganda, DRC and other East African nations.
Watch full interview with Ernest below:
Connect with Ernest Mugisha on LinkedIn