Josh Ruxin has found heaven in Rwanda. That's the name of the restaurant Ruxin and his wife opened in the hills of Kigali more than a decade after genocide destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives there. (Kigali is the capital of Rwanda).
Ruxin was in Rwanda working on one of Jeffrey Sachs' Millennium Villages -- which are dedicated to ending extreme poverty, hunger and preventable diseases -- and his own Health Builders program there.
His wife, who had been volunteering at a local orphanage, realized the only way to reduce poverty in Rwanda was to create jobs. She planned on opening a simple cafe but once investors got involved she decided to open a gourmet restaurant instead -- one that could provide hospitality training as well as good-paying jobs.
Heaven can accommodate up to 200 diners, employs about three dozen people and serves locally grown food.
"We estimate that downstream there are actually thousands of people who are reliant on the revenue Heaven generates for their own livelihood," Ruxin tells The Daily Ticker. He tells the whole story about the restaurant's development and its social and economic impact in a new book, A Thousand Hills to Heaven: Love, Hope, and a Restaurant in Rwanda.
Ruxin adds that being a server in a Rwandan restaurant is considered a good, respectable job.
Is Heaven a model for more development in Rwanda and Africa in general?
Ruxin says: "Private equity and venture capital in Africa are what's most needed these days in order to get small- and medium-sized enterprises like Heaven off the ground...The opportunities are enormous."
"We've brought American style capitalism to Rwanda and that could work across east Africa," he adds.
He doesn't suggest that private enterprise will replace nonprofit aid work but he says nonprofit work needs to be more efficient, which will make it more sustainable.
One measure of Heaven's success: its sous chef. Her name is Solange, and she started working at Heaven as a cleaner.
"We discovered she was cooking staff meals on the sly because the staff said she was the best cook. She now earns a fantastic salary, is supporting a dozen people back home and putting herself through university. That's dignified development," says Ruxin.
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