Cornell University’s Hanga Ahazaza Initiative has, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, held its first graduation in Rwanda with 427 graduates.
The hybrid graduation held online and in person, this October 27, 2021 was considered to be a clear message of graduates’ abilities, potential, dedication and drive to overcome all challenges faced by the education sector under the pandemic.
The Cornell University program, which is a partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and the Government of Rwanda, through Rwanda Development Board (RDB), was launched in Rwanda 3 years ago, as Cornell Hanga Ahazaza School, with the aim of providing up-skill training for managers and supervisors in the Hotel and Tourism sector.
Rwanda was the first country in Africa to be chosen for the expansion of the hotel and tourism program under the university’s expansion plan.
When the school- Hanga Hazaza was launched three years ago, it had a goal to equip 30,000 Rwandans with skills to transition in jobs in the tourism and hospitality sector but also support entrepreneurs in the sector to access finance to create new jobs especially for young women. The graduates earn professional certificates at the end of the course.
Rica Rwigamba, the MasterCard Rwanda Country Director, said on the occasion of the graduation that despite the pandemic the school has managed to overcome challenges of COVID-19 and this sends a message.
“I would like to congratulate the graduates but also say that this graduation sends a loud and clear message that Rwanda’s tourism sector has never been stronger and together they keep on being stronger and stronger,” Rwigamba said.
Rwigamba stated that the pandemic has also proven that there is reason for Rwanda to be innovative and strategize ways in which it can develop as a tourism destination tapping into the various attractions across the country while leveling up the competition and technology.
Emmanuel Sibomana, the Head of Tourism regulation department at RDB encouraged the graduates to pursue innovative ways of implementing the country’s high end tourism strategy which he said is currently earning the country more money.
“We want tourists who can spend a lot of money here and spend a lot of time. We are looking at an average spending of $300 per day. So you can understand what type of person we are looking at,” Sibomana said.
He said that the demand for lodging is high and Rwanda has created a strategy, therefore the players in the sector have to make this happen through quality service delivery backed by skills development.
“That is why we welcomed MasterCard to Rwanda because we need to upgrade and compete because there is an expectation from clients,” he said, noting that the country’s target is to improve professionalism in the sector of which the Cornell certificate endorses.
Evelyne Karamagi, the Cornell Hanga Ahazaza program manager and Country Manager was among the officials who presided over the graduation.
The students graduated in Hotel revenue management, financial management, marketing, food and beverage, restaurant revenue management and Tourism.
Most of the graduates came to receive the certificates of excellence dressed in Rwandan traditional attires.
Linda Barrington, Associate Dean of External Relations for the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business at Cornell University and also Executive Director of the Institute for Compensation Studies told the graduates not to underestimate their achievements because it is rooted in close to 100 years of the university’s existence in the hotel industry.
Barrington said that one of the world’s renowned chain hotels owner- Ellsworth Milton Statler supported the formation of the hospitality school and his dream of reaching other countries has come true.
She used Statler’s hotel business model to encourage Rwandans to pursue likewise if they are to succeed.
“His (Statler) model, which is the Cornell University model, is that: “Life is service “Life is service. The one who progresses is the one who gives his fellow human beings a little more, a little better service.”
“Having earned a cornell certificate, this is now your model to embrace and demonstrate that life is a service, and one who progresses is one who gives others little bit more, let it guide you”
This resonated with graduate Student Representative, Nice Uwase, director of sales at Radisson Blu hotels who said that this moment wouldn’t have happened without the patience, dedication and chance they were given by the employers, school management and the government.
“Let’s invest in this and make everyone who invested in us proud,” Uwase said.