Improving Schools in Africa

Bill Souders, information systems director in human resources, became a Leadership Fellow last year to lead Cisco's role in the New Partnership for Africa's Development e-Schools Demonstration Project. "To take on a fellowship like this, you have to be willing to deal with significant change in your life, and be open to learning a lot because it's so far removed from anything you do in your normal business life," Souders says. "Dealing with the political, legal, and logistical challenges of doing business across Africa has been a tremendous development experience."

One beneficiary of the program is a boarding school in the remote mountains of Rwanda. The school's only power source is a 30-year-old generator that runs for three hours in the evening to provide lights for the students to study. The team decided to install a large battery bank that is charged with excess energy from the generator at night to allow the computer lab to run during the entire school day.

"While the principal and the teachers were very enthusiastic about the new technology, they were not Internet savvy," said Souders. Fortunately, the school has an ongoing relationship with a U.K. high school and as the equipment was installed, two teachers on loan from the United Kingdom were able to provide significant support to the local teachers to get them familiar with the technology.

"This is now one of the schools that is taking the best advantage of the lab and all its components," Souders added. Later this year, Rwanda President Paul Kagame will preside over the program's official launch at this school.