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Meet Anysie Ishimwe, our new Rwanda Dean and country Lead

Anysie is the newly appointed Rwanda Lead and Dean at the African Food Fellowship. She joined the Fellowship at an exciting (and busy) time, just as we graduated the first Rwanda cohort and started recruiting for the second one. In this interview, she reflects on her journey so far, and explains why there is space in food systems leadership for non-traditional agriculture or food professionals.

What drew you to the African Food Fellowship?

I was drawn by the focus on collective leadership and systems change on the journey to transform a sector as important to our world as agriculture. First, the saying ‘The whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ captures the collective leadership aspect of the African Food Fellowship. The Fellowship believes that leadership can bring about transformation in agriculture, but the focus is not so much on what individuals can accomplish in isolation, but what they can accomplish as parts of a greater network of food systems leaders. Secondly, the Fellowship brings together individuals who are already doing good work to reframe their work through a systems lens. Both aspects make an exciting and compelling mission in my opinion.

Anysie Ishimwe engages the graduates of the inaugural Rwanda cohort of the Food Systems Leadership Programme in September 2022.

What are you most looking forward to working on/ accomplishing as Dean?

I am looking forward to supporting Fellows on their ongoing food systems leadership journey and to seeing their network grow. So far, I have enjoyed getting to know the Fellows individually, learning about their projects, and seeing the passion they have for what they do. I am honored I get to be a resource to them and champion their systems initiatives. In terms of what I would like to accomplish, I would like to, along with the rest of the team, recruit a solid group as our next cohort. Since we had outstanding fellows in cohort 1, the bar has been set very high.

What is the most interesting thing that you have done, career-wise?

I worked on the strategic turnaround plan for Sager Ganza Microfinance, a microfinance in Rwanda working to bank the unbanked, especially youth and women. As a result of our work, the microfinance was able to secure substantial investments from the majority shareholder to increase its lending capacity and implement some key changes such as a secure core banking system. In the process, I also became a member of the board of directors to further own the work and support management in the implementation of that strategic plan. It was a great project.

Your career has not been in Food Systems. How can more people outside of traditional food systems roles contribute to food systems transformation in Africa?

Food systems transformation in Africa is complex and therefore needs efforts from people working directly and indirectly in the space. I think, for example, what a difference the implementation of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area will make in food security when African nations can trade with each other less arduously. More specifically, I think people outside traditional food systems can bring a fresh perspective compared to those who are very familiar with the work and they can also contribute the various skills they have that are transferable across sectors.

If you could spend a day in someone else’s shoes, whose would they be, and why? And what would you eat for dinner to wrap up that day?

I would say Louise Mushikiwabo, Rwanda’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs. She is the President of the International Organization of la Francophonie, an international organization representing French-speaking countries and regions with 88 member states. To me, she is a symbol of poise, grace, and excellence, and a window into her world would be fascinating. To wrap up the day, I would probably eat some Ugali and groundnut soup, with a side of roasted veggies to make it healthier and balanced.

What’s the most important lesson you have learned outside the school/ career context?

My mentor once told me that life gives you rubber balls and crystal balls. Crystal balls shatter when they fall, while rubber balls bounce back. There are delicate things in life such as relationships and health that should be handled like crystal balls and other things that are cyclical should be treated like rubber balls. I keep this in mind to avoid misallocating my time, energy, and attention.

At what job would you be terrible?

A civil engineer. I am not fantastic at work that requires absolute precision and where small unit changes can give you completely different results.

Predict the future of food in Africa in 100 years.

I foresee an Africa where through good leadership, and responsible use of resources, we can become self-sufficient in food and make food insecurity a thing of the past. I hope that in 100 years, all people working on the agricultural value chain find their work meaningful and self-sustaining. I also foresee an Africa where local markets can afford and enjoy premium quality crops, instead of exporting the finest quality and leaving lower quality for local consumption.

What excites you about life right now?

My new role. I am in my first month, so there is so much to learn and so many people to meet.

What question do you wish people asked you more often? Answer it

What is one thing that you think people do not take advantage of enough?