Celebrating a Highly Successful Young Graduates Fellowship Program

In March 2014, alumni fellows and supervisors and supporters of the Rwanda HIV/AIDS Public Interest Fellowship Program (RHPIFP) gathered at the University of Rwanda – School of Public Health to celebrate the graduation of ten of its newest 5th Cohort fellows and also mark a special milestone for the program having graduated 70 fellows over a period of 9 years (2005 – 2014) of its existence.

The program, that has over the years been graciously supported by the US government through the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has been hailed by many as a highly successful and innovative model in Rwanda for creating skilled human resource. This is especially in its focus area of HIV-AIDS where it has been strengthening the health system through a multi-sectoral approach.

Some innovations that have made this young graduate fellowship program unique include its rigorous selection procedure which quickly earned praise for its transparency. Also unique was the start-up training that provided fellows with basic knowledge of HIV/AIDS as well as basic computer skills which was followed by mid-program refresher training sessions in the areas of program management, grant writing and budgeting. These trainings provided fellows with critical skills important for a great work start in their host organizations. The trainings were provided by the implementing organisation, University of Rwanda - School of Public Health. Also distinct was the profiling of the fellows and matching them to the needs of the host agencies, which was important to meet real needs of the hosts. Also, so as to motivate and sustain the program, the implementing organisation paid the fellows a monthly salary of which the host organisations came to really appreciate and even terming the fellows as ‘free skilled labour’.

In a recent evaluation of the program’s achievements it was revealed that the program had been highly successful in meeting its anticipated outcomes. The evaluation, conducted by Tulane University Rwanda, one of the original implementing agencies, revealed that the young graduates had greatly gained in their professional careers whereby 88% of the fellows reported being employed by the time of the evaluation compared to half the number who reported never having a paying job before being accepted into the program.
Other anticipated outcomes were that two-thirds of the fellows reported to be working in HIV-related fields and more than half were working in the health field and that the host agencies reported benefitting from hosting the fellows. Host agencies cited great achievements in the areas of M&E, BCC campaigns, leading projects, budgeting and grant writing where the fellows were involved actively.

In turn, fellows reported that their work responsibilities had advanced considerably whereby they said to be now engaged in more advanced responsibilities such as managing projects, conducting M&E and even supervising other staff as compared to the period prior to their participation. Eighty percent of the fellows also felt the program had made them stronger candidates for advanced studies.

Though the financial support of this successful program is drawing to a close, stakeholders in the room believed that this was just a new page turning as there was great opportunity for the program to reinvent itself in light of the needs in the community at present.