What is the justification for the establishment of Epicentres?
URDT has demonstrated that more sustainable results in improved human well being are achieved when people shift their mindset and focus on “creating a desired outcome” (vision) rather than on “fixing problems” and nurture feelings of fatalism and powerlessness.
URDT’s methodology has transformed its host village, Kagadi, into a ‘boom town’; and is an inspiration for others. URDT’s graduates have created local businesses and move subsistence farmers to join the rural economy and make good income out of agriculture. The people’s health, sanitation, and girls’ education status have all improved remarkably.
In 2001, therefore, the time was ripe to work on one of URDT’s objectives: the establishment of the African Rural University (ARU). Its vision for ARU was an institution of higher learning that was rural-based, drawing from the experiences of the rural people and committed to creating an alternative approach to sustainable development by casting grassroots innovators, rather than traditional academics, by educating young women to be catalysts of change.
In 2002 the idea of the African Rural University (ARU) won international recognition by the Ashoka Organization, a movement for Global Innovators. ARU’s core activity is action-oriented higher education, based drawing on visionary and systems thinking principles, entrepreneurship, 2-generation learning and community action planning within an African development context. As such, ARU is a pathway for disseminating, deepening and broadening URDT’s rural development methodology.
In 2006, after many years of field study and internal learning of staff and community members, ARU with the support of URDT initiated the first course. It started with a small group of faculty and “trailblazer /research students” and growing infrastructure.
In September 2011, for the first time in the history of extension education in Uganda, ARU graduated its “home-grown Rural Transformation Specialists (RTS)”. The first batch of Researcher Students is a unique group of 17 young women who have pioneered the curriculum and helped in fine-tuning the methodology for sustainable rural development. The RTS havundergone a Bachelor’s degree course in Technologies for Rural Transformation that included 2 years of field placement. The interns lived in villages in Kibaale District. They carried out participatory action research and facilitated a new thought process that led to the evolution of visionary leadership. As a result, there is improved income and health of particular women and children in the villages where they worked. The evaluation report (available on request) shows that the methodology is effective and that communities are ready to scale up their efforts but need additional support to keep them focussed and gain more competencies to attain their visions.
URDT is committed to continue investing its human and other resources in grassroots transformative leadership development as a key strategy to improve the living standards of the impoverished population in Kibaale District. Therefore URDT is expanding its extension services through the establishment of Community Based Epicentres to enable community-driven development.