African Rural University's Innovative Customer Ecosystem

Posted Tuesday, April 18, 2023 in Innovation by Patricia Seybold

African Rural University is the first All Women's University in East Africa. Launched in 2006, its mission is to educate and empower Rural Transformation Specialists--women who work in rural communities to help the families in these economically-poor areas create better lives for themselves and for their communities. What makes this educational institution a model"customer ecosystem"? All of the measurements used in evaluating the effectiveness of the students focus on the outcomes achieved by the community members with whom they co-design. What do people in these communities want to improve? Their homes, their farms, their businesses, their schools, their roads. They co-create safe water sources, savings societies, farmers' co-ops, markets, and many other community projects. All of the stakeholders in the ecosystem are engaged in these co-design activities, including local municipal government officials, children, teens, extended ,family members, local churches and schools, and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs).

There is also a supportive recursiveness in the design of the ecosystem used to deliver this educational model. It starts with the "girl child." URDT has discovered that girls are an under-appreciated resource in rural development. The African Rural University's (ARU's) parent organization, Uganda Rural Development and Training (URDT) programme runs a Girls' School with 200 pupils in grades 5 thru 12. The students are recruited into this free boarding school from rural communities in Western Uganda via URDT's radio station (which reaches 3 million people) and by word of mouth. To qualify, the girls must pass entrance exams, their families must be economically poor, and the parents/caregivers must agree to participate in URDT's unique 2-generation education program. Each girl teaches their family members what they learn during their schooling, and, each family carries out a "Back Home Project" each semester to improve sanitation, nutrition, farm productivity, income generating projects, savings circles. The girl students are graded on the results their families achieve each semester in these Back Home projects. (Again, results are cherished and measured--increased crop yield, better sanitation, better nutrition, better health, more kids in school, better income. Most girls join the school at the age of 10. By the time they graduate at 18, their family has climbed out of abject poverty into the middle class, all their siblings are also going to school, they are eating 3 meals/day of a nutritious, balanced diet, and they have a new and improved home.

How does this Two-Generation education model relate to the African Rural University? The University students engage in Practicums and Internships in rural communities. Each time they go out to the field to put into practive the Visionary Leadership skills they've learned on the university campus, they stay with one of the Girls' School Families.

And, when students graduate from the University, the majority of them are offered jobs working for the university's parent organization, URDT. They serve as "Epicenter Managers" working at the Subcounty or District level along with local government officals to help the residents in these areas identify their needs, create a vision for what they want to improve or bring into being, and using their own talents, resources, and time to create the outcomes they want, alongside the local government agencies. These EpiCenter Managers are the mentors for the ARU students in the field. They already have several years of experience doing rural transformation work, so they can take the new students under their wings and show them how to get things done in what is often a culturally challenging, and politically fraught context.

We welcome you to learn more about this amazing educational innovation and customer ecosystem. Visit or or AFPF (the US funding partner) for more information.


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