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Spot on WiSo Alumni: Adventure in far away Rwanda

Denis Rüggeberg

©Denis Rüggeberg

Text: Lorraine Hoffmann


A country where corona patients are treated by robots, where over 60% of the parliament is made up of women, where the school enrolment rate is 100% and where the declared goal is to become a "cashless economy" soon. What rather sounds like a description of Scandinavian countries is for Denis Rüggeberg in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda in East Africa, reality and a normal part of his everyday life. But how did our young WiSo-Alumni end up in one of the most innovative African countries?

There was an early interest in development cooperation for Rüggeberg. After an apprenticeship at the bank, and a Bachelor in Business Administration at the University of Cologne, he decided to pursue a Master's degree in Corporate Development and placed a particular emphasis on non-profit organizations in his Master's thesis.

In addition to his studies, Rüggeberg was also involved on a social level, in Ausbildung statt Abschiebung e.V. ("education instead of deportation") and helped refugee children and teenagers to obtain a school diploma in Germany. In doing so, he created a solid foundation on several levels to enter the field of development cooperation. Rüggeberg then got his foot in the door of development cooperation through the Sparkassenstiftung für internationale Kooperation e.V. There he started as a Junior Consultant in Rwanda in January 2019.

The Sparkassenstiftung has so far supported over 200 long-term projects in more than 90 developing countries and is helping microfinance institutions and regional banks to professionalise their operations. The aim is to give people access to financial services and ultimately pave the way out of poverty in developing and emerging countries.

From an early stage I found development cooperation very fulfilling. I quickly realized that many people have big goals in life. So the motivation is there, often there is just a lack of help and opportunities, and it is great to help people achieve such goals.

Denis Rüggeberg

Rüggebergs everyday working life in the "land of a thousand hills" is as diverse as the landscape. He works in the Sparkassenstiftung's office in Kigali, but also goes on "field missions" and thus comes into close contact with the local people. He appreciates the daily work in multifunctional, diverse teams and the flat hierarchies. In addition to the approximately thirty other employees, Rüggeberg is mainly concerned with the professionalization of microfinance institutions, so-called SACCOs.

Even small anecdotes are not missing. For example, our alumnus reports about a workshop he had organized some time ago. Being used to an organized, well-structured, German working life, Rüggeberg sent some mails and reminders in advance, but shortly before the start he had only three of over 50 hoped-for confirmations. All the excitement quickly subsided, however, when a colleague suggested that it was actually customary to call all participants at short notice. After a few phone calls, almost all 50 participants spontaneously showed up for the workshop the next day. A humorous recollection, which reminds Rüggeberg again and again that interpersonal contact is very important in Rwanda. This is why the Sparkassenstiftung also organises team events where people do sports together or explore the surrounding area on joint trips.

So far, Rüggeberg has not experienced any hostilities at all, rather great curiosity. Open listening and learning from each other is important to all those involved on site.

For a while, I was walking past a school to get to work. It's not unusual to have 20 kids running after you. The curiosity is definitely there!

But despite all the wonderful experiences and the great daily work on site, the Corona crisis did not leave Rwanda and Denis Rüggeberg untouched. In a society that lives from personal exchange on a governmental as well as on a work and personal level, such a crisis entails severe limitations.


People who are dependent on a daily local income faced great personal losses due to the early lockdown measures. Rüggeberg, however, who never gets tired of stressing how efficiently and professionally Rwanda had already acted before the first official case in the country, took a personal approach to the crisis and the problems on the ground by calling for a fundraising campaign. Although the government set up washing and disinfection stations at an early stage and had the schools shut down, the population quickly lacked food and hygiene items such as masks. Through his fundraising campaign, however, Rüggeberg managed to buy over 500 kilograms of potatoes, several tons of rice, as well as soap and masks for the people of Kigali, which the "village elders" could then distribute transparently and conscientiously.


What was, of course, of immense help in carrying out the fundraising campaign was, among many other things, the alumni network. Through this network, Rüggeberg was not only able to acquire many different, helpful people very quickly, but he also appreciates the connections made through his studies, through which one has many different contacts and contact persons in the most diverse areas.


A positive aspect of the alumni network is that we all went into different areas after our studies, but therefore always have a contact person in different industries.


Rüggeberg's first wish for his future is to continue working in Rwanda for some time. He does not exclude the possibility of joining other Sparkassenstiftung projects in Africa or on other continents, as he appreciates the good career opportunities and benefits that the field of development cooperation in general, but also Sparkassenstiftung in particular, offers him.