Swarming with Ni Nyampinga in Rwanda

Swarming with Ni Nyampinga in Rwanda

Imagine starting up a youth-focused brand, the entire purpose of which is to empower young women. Now imagine growing it to the extent that it becomes the largest youth brand in an entire country. That’s exactly what Ni Nyampinga has become in Rwanda.

Ni Nyampinga is the brand at the heart of Girl Hub Rwanda, a joint initiative from Nike Foundation and the Department for International Development. The name means “it is the beautiful girl” and is taken from the traditional practice of urubohero (weaving circle) where teenage girls learned about relationships and sex from their elders. The modern edition focuses not just on reproductive health, but economic empowerment, violence against women, education and self-esteem.

Since being founded in 2014, Ni Nyampinga has distributed over 900,000 magazines and aired over 100 radio shows targeted at a segment of the population that is often ignored but that counts when it comes to social and economic development: investing in girls produces outsized development returns. Over 28% of Rwanda’s 1.2 million girls have read the magazine and of those three-quarters said that the magazine changed their feelings of self worth. Numbers are similar for the radio programme. A mobile platform is currently in beta.

So Ni Nyampinga has managed to achieve some amazing things. But while the team has been focusing on the issues in front of it at 90 mph,  – quite understandably – they wanted some help to focus on their longer term vision and particularly sustainability.

Swarm set out to help them address this problem. We started by immersing ourselves in the details of their operations and getting to grips with the local market to understand the key questions. We looked at current operations and how they might be improved and rationalized and we looked at what income generating opportunities existed. The project culminated with an intense, and intensely wonderful week in Rwanda. We met with Ministries, local economists, entrepreneurs,  the founder of a couple of very cool incubation initiatives, Inkomoko and Think, and the Amohoro family of Gorillas in Volcanoes National Park.

The highlight of the week, of course, was Swarming with the local team to develop activities that will build a sustainable future for Ni Nyampinga. They were committed, deeply knowledgeable and passionate throughout and I can’t think of a better group to take the ideas forward.

The project is ongoing. We’re working with the team in a role that we call activation. It’s a role that often falls through the cracks at traditional consulting firms – the gap between delivering a report versus co-designing a prototype - and the gap between knowing and actually making things happen.

In the case of Ni Nyampinga we continue to work with the local team to get new initiatives off the ground and make tweaks to the existing organisational structures. We like working this way because it provides some external support and motivation while entrusting the real work to the on-the-ground team who will be driving this all forward.

The project has been great. Not only has it been fantastic working on such an innovative challenge but its provided some really valuable insights into our own work. The notion of a branded media platform for good could be applied to a good portion of our work from the Wild Network to Good For Nothing.

The work raised interesting questions around the path to sustainability, blended funding models and how to craft emergent strategies that allow for the gradual substitution of donor money for more commercial money. The latter is even more interesting in the context of market making: Ni Nyampinga started up a media platform in a country not particularly well equipped to consume media - especially print - aimed at a segment that was not even considered by the private sector.

In our case, while the barriers aren’t quite as steep, we’re still trying to operate in markets that are either inherently non-commercial (Good For Nothing) or creating a platform that serves diverse groups not used to working together or where the issue itself hasn’t come together in this way before (The Wild Network). Our experience of working with Ni Nyampinga has definitely helped prompt some new thinking.

The other question that springs to mind is how you translate brand and the metrics that come with that - awareness, reach - into actual impact. Ni Nyampinga has engaged in programming and advocacy in the past but its scale will help to unlock new opportunities, using the brand to help drive traffic into partner programmes for example, or providing additional materials - content, kits for Ni Nyampinga groups - to deepen engagement.

Brand and branded media platform-led development is a concept that Nike Foundation and DFID, along with a handful of other firms are pioneering. But it’s one that is increasingly gaining currency and has an application beyond just development that applies to countless organisations looking to engage a community to effect change. We'll keep you posted on how it turns out