(Re)generating trust #2: Youth mobility to end racism

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The second episode of the Regenerating trust podcast mini-series, focusing on youth and culture, features Nicky Alonga, a trailblazer in the fields of art and education in Rwanda. Nicky is a visionary entrepreneur in the creative sector who established a publishing house in Rwanda – Imagine We Rwanda – specialising in children’s books with narratives from Rwanda and Africa.

In her interview with our research collaborator Elise Cuny, Nicky shares her insights from participating in the Global Cultural Relations Programme (GCRP), a two-week training funded by the EU and organised by the Cultural Relations Platform. She participated in the programme’s second edition held in Istanbul. The programme brought together youth from around the world to brainstorm on the future of the cultural sector, considering both local perspectives and global challenges such as equity in international cultural relations.

Tune in to the episode to learn more about Nicky’s experience and the reflections arising from this international programme.

Bio, sources of inspiration, and transcript


Dominique Uwase Alonga, or short Nicky Alonga, is a highly accomplished Rwandan social entrepreneur, renowned author, and influential blogger. With an impressive track record in youth entrepreneurship, she has been honoured with numerous prestigious awards, including the esteemed Celebrating Young Rwandan Achievers (CYRWA) award by Imbuto Foundation, the Women Innovate Award, and the Digital Change-maker Award presented by Reach for Change.

As the visionary force behind Imagine We Rwanda, Dominique is revolutioniuing the African narrative through the power of storytelling. Her pioneering social enterprise is dedicated to promoting a vibrant reading culture among Rwandans by publishing original books penned by local authors. By increasing the availability of culturally relevant materials in schools and empowering African readers, Imagine We Rwanda uplifts communities and enhances individual self-esteem.

Link to LinkedIn profile

Sources of inspiration and references:

  • Cultural Relations Platform: The Cultural Relations Platform is an EU-funded project that connects cultural practitioners worldwide for dialogue, exchange and co-operation. It also provides expertise to the European Union in the field of international cultural relations. The Platform is implemented by the Goethe-Institut Brussels, in partnership with the European Cultural Foundation, the International Network for Contemporary Performing Arts and the University of Siena.
  • ImagineWeRwanda: Imagine We Rwanda is an organisation that was born in 2015 with the passion to change the reading culture among children and youth in Rwanda, and give a voice to young authors.
  • Become Your Best Self: Nicky Alonga also has a podcast! From relationships to financial investments, Become Your Best Self will bring you the tools you need to face the world with hope and confidence.


Elise Cuny is the author of the series (Re)generating trust on youth and culture. Prior to joining culture Solutions, she worked three years in Rwanda on a historical investigation on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. She has a background in international relations and European affairs and worked as project manager in Brussels for the think tank Egmont Institute where she was designing and organising training sessions for diplomats and civil servants of partner countries of Belgium and where she was in charge of preparation training for future civilian Belgian experts deployed in peacekeeping missions.

With this series, she wants to create cultural inspirations by sharing ideas but also music, authors and concepts she appreciates.   

Link to LinkedIn profile

Damien Helly (00:00): You are listening to the Composing trust podcast, by culture Solutions – a series on European cultural action with the world. Is Europe still attractive? How is it perceived outside the EU? How do Europeans promote culture together in the world and with which partners? What have they learned together, what is their experience?

Our Composing trust podcast series will address these issues. Welcome to you all! My name is Damien Helly, the co-author of this Composing trust series, by culture Solutions. 

Elise Cuny (00:50): After a rather long break, here we are, back to the Regenerating trust podcast. This podcast is designed as a series of interviews with youth working in the creative and cultural sector, sharing their work and their experiences of European cooperation projects. In today’s episode, I discuss the importance of mobility for young artists with Nicky Alonga and how to better adapt support programs to their needs.

Nicky is a pioneer in the art and education field in Rwanda. She’s also a visionary entrepreneur. She created a publishing house, Imagine We Rwanda, releasing books for kids with Rwandan and African narratives, so kids can have imaginary characters and stories that look like them. She tells us about her experience at the Global Cultural Relations Program, a training funded by the EU and organised by Cultural Relations Platform. Nicky was among the 38 participants who gathered in Istanbul from May 10th to 13th for the 2022 edition. The programme runs on a yearly basis since 2021.

Nicky Alonga (01:55): We had a lot of fun. I think maybe it was very intentional for us to be in a space that is relaxed and and fun and the most of the values were placed around, um, exchange, right?

So we had maybe 25 countries represented so many countries. And I wouldn’t say it was a training as much as it was a massive networking, but also with intentional learning about what are you doing? What, how are you changing your cultural space in your own country? And what can I grab from you?

So they really encouraged conversation, exchange. And then also one of the biggest takeaway was the abundance of that. So being from Rwanda, from Africa, there’s a lot of scarcity. There’s a lot of like, okay, I have to protect my knowledge because my knowledge hopefully will get me to a place. And so moving from that, I guess a little bit of that mentality, I’m fighting against it. But the general sense is, you know, keep what you know, right? And so when I reached there, it was very open. It was very open to say, you know, this is what we know, this is what we’re doing. And learning that just that feeling of abundance, of expansion.

Elise Cuny (03:25): This programme was beneficial to artists in their individual careers, but it also encouraged the practice of justice and equity among artists and a reflection on what justice means.

Nicky Alonga (03:30): The justice of culture, the justice of exploration, being from Africa and, you know, several other people were coming from the Global South. There’s a lot of restriction of access, right? So, you know, a very easy, visa issue, that are completely restricted. You have financial opportunities that are completely restricted. Some authors are more valued than others. Some filmmakers are more valued than others, be it in terms of race, be it in terms of sexual orientation, be it in terms of where are you coming from in general.

So the justice of that and how can the people who are coming from the Global North be more observant and more intentional in helping the people who are coming from the global south. If you find yourself in a special chair, you know, with high representation, are you remembering to mention that there are countries that are not having the access that you have? 

And so there were very intentional conversations between people from the Global North and people from the Global South to say, okay, if I find myself at the UN, will I remember to talk about, I don’t know, Sri Lanka or Rwanda, Uganda, whatever it is, so they can also have a space next time.

Elise Cuny (05:05): Nicky tells me a bit more about the skills she gained over the training and why it matters.

Nicky Alonga (05:15): I wouldn’t say hard skills, the soft skills are of course, you know, learning from the mindset that a lot of these people are utilising. How are you knocking on doors of future sponsors or future collaborators, donors? How do you do that? It wasn’t like, this is a template of how to write a proposal. It was also more like, how do you research people who are able to do that? How do you find them? And then from that, you know, you’re able to approach them or something. So it was more like, how do you elevate your own mindset?

Elise Cuny (05:43): Despite geographical and economic differences, young artists convene around common challenges and the discussion space helped them solve some issues they were facing with a broader view on things and a fresh perspective.

Nicky Alonga (05:58): I think definitely, because of how well they chose representation. So there was, there was a lot of common challenges, but there was also a lot of commonalities in terms of, there are things that you assume that just because someone is from the Global North, they don’t struggle with. They do, because maybe they have a sexual orientation that is not acceptable.

So there was a lot of common struggle. And then there was also a separation enough that you can see what the solution has been, right? Like, so I’m from Australia, this is what I did. And I’m like, oh, I can learn from that, you know? So instead of swimming in struggle, and that’s one of the things that I really love because a lot of the times you find that you have like a big pity party, like, Oh my God, this is hard, and this is hard, and this is hard. But there was a balance between this is very hard, but this is what this other person did. Can I adopt it? So that was one of the biggest valuable things that I got.

Elise Cuny (07:05): The story of international mobility programme that Nikki tells us is also about personal relations. One thing that should never be underestimated and always encouraged. Because it does work, it does have an impact and a positive influence in fostering cooperation and future work relations among the EU and partner countries.

Nicky Alonga (07:25): The network is is amazing. And I think one of the things that makes that platform more unique than any other is the investment in keeping the network alive, keeping the exchange alive and keeping us humans in each other’s minds, right?

A lot of the, these kinds of fellowships, you move from a human to a Oh, you know, we had 600 people, but here it’s like you’re still, you know, connecting on a human level interacting. So that’s one of the very unique point for them. Yeah. And I think it’s beautiful to know that, in, I don’t know, 20-30 countries in this world, I have a friend.

I think that’s how culture is spread, because you care a little bit more about Turkey, because you have two friends. So the earthquake hits different. Right? And then like you have a friend that sings in Finland. So if they tell you, you know, there’s a new record label in Finland, you just care differently.

And I think that also helps so much in breaking a lot of the stereotypes that a lot of people have, right? Because you now have a human face behind whatever idea or concept, there is a human being there. I think one of the most valuable things that they’ve done is to humanise culture and to humanise all of these learnings that we’ve had.

And the more you humanise it, the more you kind of fight your own stereotypes. And the more you also want to be a bit more active in justice, mobility. It is one of the ways that racism can end, honestly, you know, because you find someone in a space where you can find the good in the culture. Most of the time, the person who gets to tell that story is the victim. Oftentimes not from the place itself, right? It’s from the Global North. And so how do we let people tell their own story? So I believe mobility breaks a lot of barriers down, creates more unity, creates more attachment to places. And it just helps. It’s also mobility is hard, it’s very excluded from the Global North, right?

So you have a lot of heavy visa restriction. And especially people notice how much a lot of people are willing to move around and able, right? I think with the Global South, there’s an assumption that people are moving to stay, to kind of run away. And, and it’s creating this, you know, massive, fear in the Global North. Whereas there’s a lot of people who are just moving to learn and to to explore and to Expand themselves and also to expand the culture they’re finding there, right? So yeah mobility is beautiful and very important. Yeah

Elise Cuny (10:30): I asked Nicky what she thinks can be done more or better to empower youth in the cultural sector to empower youth.

Nicky Alonga (10:33): Recommendation…. Money, money, number one, haha. I guess empowers, right? Give young people money or access to do things that they need to do. Again, that’s in refining the application processes, make them more, relatable, make them more, I guess, decentralised. Once people are accepted and they have the potential for the programme, instead of kicking them out because they’re not familiar with your template and the way you do things, there could be a one to day training to refine. What they already have, right?

Or to even translate, right? So hiring translators to, you know, so they can express themselves in the language they’re comfortable with. And so the 1-2 day is just extra to your budget or not even, right? If you had the goal to give away, I don’t know, 15.000 euros for a project, right?You could do 10 and then the five could go towards the one day training to refine and find those.

I think also beyond that is not just application, but also moving forward towards finance management, right? If you see an artist, all they’ve done is just paint a couple of things, right? They’re not very savvy with the heavy grant application finance budgeting. So I think one-size-fits-all is not healthy because it keeps either the elite or the diaspora with all the opportunities, right? So because I studied in ABC countries, I’ve had a lot of opportunities thrown at me because I’m familiar to them. Does that mean I’m smarter than my friend who just doesn’t happen to have been familiar? No. So I would say that the recommendation, it’s not healthy. Definitely like being a lot more intentional in engaging the locals in a way that they’re comfortable and that they’re familiar with, but with the right structures and building those structures is a matter of decision. If you know someone that knows someone, you’re more likely to have opportunities in life. How do we decentralise that? How do we make sure that anyone and everyone can have opportunities?

Another thing is also access to markets. So a lot of the, like you were talking about shipping and things like that. A lot of the restrictions that happen in this world keep young people away from each other, right? Like, there could be a French guy who wants to do something about, you know, Rwandan art and Rwandan history in a creative way. But, you know, how, how do they meet? So creating platforms that are intentional for people to break those barriers. Yeah, and, you know, just fund them. Fund young people, young people have ideas and yeah, let’s let them get funded.

Elise Cuny (13:38): I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Nicky Alonga, founder and CEO of the publishing house Imagine We Rwanda. From today’s interview, I keep in mind four recommendations from Nicky.

Training groups benefit from each other experiences in approaching challenges. Network creation and sustainability is central to the success of these programs. Funding youth is important, but an equal access to funding opportunities is just as important. To ensure this, a support in the application process with financial management courses or translation could be integrated in the funding of projects. And finally, mobility is a way to fight racism and should never be reduced to stereotypes. Artists from the Global South are searching for inspiration and mind openness just as much as artists from the Global North travelling.

Nicky Alonga (14:40): The world is becoming smaller, right? And because the world is becoming smaller, we have a merge of cultures all over the world. So why don’t we also feel like we deserve to partake in the global culture that’s happening, and to also actively participate in it?

Damien Helly (15:00): Thank you for listening to today’s episode of our Composing trust podcast by culture Solutions! If you liked it, you can subscribe and follow us on your favourite podcast platforms, and contact us at culturesolutions.eu.

Check the rest of podcast episodes of this series.

The views expressed in this podcast are personal and are not the official position of culture Solutions as an organisation.
Musical creation credits: Introduction and closing by Stéphane Lam; Mana y’i Rwanda (Intro) by Kaya Byinshii – Ukwiyuburura (2022)