Lecture about Rwanda’s economy sparks discussion about paternalism and global stewardship


On Tuesday, Azusa Pacific’s Honors College hosted an event entitled “Dignity, Honor, and Humility: Fighting Paternalism and Poverty in Africa with Entrepreneurship.” The lecture was co-sponsored by the Association for the Study of Free Institutions and the Charles Koch Foundation. It is the third installment of the spring 2019 Koch Lecture Series and featured guest speaker Chris Way, founder and managing director for The Atinga Project.

The Atinga Project is a small-scale social enterprise that seeks to support entrepreneurs in Rwanda, a landlocked East African country. Rwandan artisans work with The Atinga Project to sell things like shoes made from repurposed and recycled tires. The product is minimalistic and made by Rwandans.

As Way explained in his lecture, the West African term “atinga” refers to the working class or those on the economic margins. By adopting the name the project, Way said his business helps to affirm the dignity and honor of others by creating a sustainable way for the working class in Rwanda to produce their own goods.

“We had found our approach,” Way said. “We wanted to use business, very simply, to take the profits that we could generate from the sale of the tire sandals that we saw a great market for in the U.S. between social enterprise and social business.”

Way said although social enterprises can take a profit for themselves, a social business model allows for companies such as The Atinga Project to choose to not draw a profit. Instead, they put the money back in the service to better serve the beneficiaries, in this case the Rwandan shoemakers.

There are many charities that seek to help African countries, but Way says many of these serve as “handouts,” which can be welcomed in short-term crisis but cannot help sustain the communities long-term, as they take away from local businesses.

“We wanted to give the artisan-shoemakers access to the international market,” Way said.

He added that one way The Atinga Project does this is through their Dividend for Development (D4D) model, which aims to give 30 percent of the sale revenue directly back to the artisan shoemakers to let them decide how to spend the money, rather than the Project deciding for them.

“We put dignity back in their hands with D4D, basically, in terms of upholding their rights to choose. We don’t choose for them,” Way said.

He said past approaches taken by other companies have followed a top-down model but that this did not benefit the producers who made the products.

One of the key issues Way discussed was paternalism, which the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes as, “The interference of a state or an individual with another person, against their will, and defended or motivated by a claim that the person interfered with will be better off or protected from harm.”

In essence, Way said, a group like Atinga, which strives to help people in Rwanda work for themselves to create long-lasting positive changes in their economy, cannot insert all of their beliefs and desires onto the Rwandan community.

Way said The Atinga Project sells locally in Rwanda and globally, making the most sales during summer festivals in the U.S.

Many students attended the lecture, including junior liberal studies major Veronica Paniagua.

“A lot of the time you hear people say, ‘Oh, let’s go help people in Africa,’ you know,” Paniagua said. “But more so, it’s about what we can take out of Africa and bring to us to help them out instead of just sending stuff.”

The Koch Fellowship Scholars were also in attendance, including Jackson Phillips, political science junior.

“If we help African countries become more entrepreneurship-oriented,” Phillips said. “Not only will democratic principals come about but also dignity [and] honor.”