Cummings Foundation in Rwanda

Cummings Foundation supports a limited number of national and international organizations through invitation-only grants. This support includes some funding to Holocaust and genocide education projects outside the Foundation’s priority area of eastern Massachusetts. In addition, its international philanthropy is currently directed almost exclusively to nonprofits doing charitable work in Rwanda, as well as some other global charities with which it already has relationships.

Dr Paul Farmer with Joyce and Bill Cummings

University of Global Health Equity

The Origins of University of Global Health Equity

Joyce and Bill Cummings’ August 2013 trip to Africa was most notable for spawning the notion that significant upgrades being discussed for Rwanda’s health sciences schools should be something much more. This conversation first developed in Kigali at an Oral Health Stakeholders Meeting. That session brought together experts in the field of dentistry and health care delivery, including Dr. Peter Drobac of Partners In Health (PIH) and faculty from National University of Rwanda, Tufts University, and Harvard University. Cummings Foundation had earlier offered to assist in building a dental clinic in Butaro, but upon learning that a new medical school was being considered there, Bill saw great promise. He suggested to the distinguished group of attendees that such an institution could and should instead be pan-African in scope, rather than just “for Rwanda.”

UGHE logo

A few short months later, on October 4, Joyce and Bill emailed several interested parties at PIH and Tufts, as well as in Rwanda, with thoughts on what they then called Pan-African Colleges of Health Sciences, a school that would attract the best students from Rwanda and other African nations—and beyond—and help Rwanda fulfill its potential to become an economic and educational hub for Africa. That report was enthusiastically received, generating many responses like the ones below:

“What a great vision, and one that squares with the Rwandan vision of pulling people up by building a ‘knowledge’ economy while delivering care—and what better way to promote peace, justice, and development in the region.”

— Dr. Paul Farmer, PIH founder

“This will be transformative in ways we can’t yet even imagine.”

— Ophelia Dahl, chair of PIH’s board

Joyce and Bill’s overwhelmingly positive experiences in Rwanda, combined with their confidence in PIH’s ability to work so well with President Kagame’s administration to bring about meaningful change, prompted them, in 2014, to offer a $15 million matching funds grant from Cummings Foundation for this major new health sciences university. Then, acting on behalf of PIH, they were successful in soliciting the $15 million in matching funds from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and other American donors to fully fund the first phase of what PIH has since incorporated in the United States as Universities of Global Health Equity. At UGHE's inauguration in January 2019, Bill and Joyce Cummings committed an additional $10 million to UGHE as a matching challenge gift, which resulted in a total of $21 million for the University.

Following Dr. Farmer’s unexpected death in 2022, Cummings Foundation pledged a combined $50 million to UGHE and Harvard Medical School to solidify their inter-institutional alliance via a newly created Paul Farmer Collaborative. Also at that time, the Foundation gifted a supplemental $2 million to UGHE for the erection of new on-campus housing for visiting professors and fellows.

UGHE ribbon cutting
Why Partners In Health?

Thanks to co-founders Dr. Paul Farmer and Ophelia Dahl—and the exceptional team they have built—PIH has been a pioneer in bringing effective healthcare to some of the most under-served and under-resourced communities around the globe. PIH has been particularly successful in Rwanda, playing a significant role in that country’s achievement of the world’s most dramatic gains in population health and reduction in poverty. Given PIH’s long history of success and its innovative style, Cummings Foundation and then Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation felt confident that it was the right organization to lead such a groundbreaking healthcare initiative.

University of Global Health Equity (UGHE), in Rwanda, is using a “One Health” curriculum to train global leaders to deliver high-quality health care. Phase I of UGHE fully opened in Butaro in September 2018, following construction of a major campus. The design work was done by Shepley Bulfinch architects of Boston. Future phases of UGHE are expected to include nursing and dentistry education. In the meantime, a Master’s in Global Health Delivery program and an executive education program have begun in Kigali and Rwinkwavu.

Dr Paul Farmer

Foundation Partners

Partners In Health logo

Partners In Health

Partners in Health (PIH) has been a pioneer in bringing effective healthcare to some of the most under-served and under-resourced communities globally. Given PIH’s history of success in Rwanda, Cummings Foundation was delighted to first partner with PIH, on the Butaro Ambulatory Cancer Center, Rwanda’s first and only outpatient infusion center, and later, along with Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, on the formation of University of Global Health Equity.

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Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine logo

Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

The Foundation has provided long-term funding for Cummings School, including support of the School’s efforts to combat the health threats posed by zoonotic illnesses. Cummings School has a significant presence in six east African countries, using a “one health” approach that combines human medicine, veterinary medicine, and public health to treat communities holistically.

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Tufts School of Dental Medicine logo

Tufts University School of Dental Medicine

The School of Dental Medicine has the interest, experience, and capacity to develop effective global oral health initiatives. Currently, Rwanda has 11 dentists, or one dentist per 800,000 people. While it fares better with dental technicians—one per 135,593 inhabitants—these ratios leave the vast majority of Rwandans lacking even the most basic oral healthcare.

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Agahozo Shalom Youth Village logo

Agahozo Shalom Youth Village

Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) is a residential community in rural Rwanda serving highly vulnerable youth, many of whom were orphaned during and after the genocide in 1994. Cummings Foundation is delighted to partner with ASYV through its relationships with Partners In Health, Tufts University, and Salem State University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

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Stories from Rwanda

Walking in Rwanda
A Rwanda Experience: Notes from a working vacation

By Joyce Cummings | January 12-24, 2012

Agahozo-shalom means “a place to dry one’s tears in peace.” The appropriately named Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village (ASYV) in Rubona, Rwanda was founded by Anne Heyman and Seth Merrin to house and educate about 500 high school age children, most of whom are orphans of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, or other highly vulnerable children. Continue reading

In front of Victoria Falls
View from the edge at Victoria Falls

By Bill Cummings | August 24, 2013

The 350–foot deep gorge into which Africa’s huge Zambezi River drops was formed not by erosion, but through an earthquake, millions of years ago. Official estimates are that up to 300 million gallons of water per second drop with a thunder-like roar over the mile–wide falls. Continue reading

UGHE buildings

UGHE campus

All About Rwanda

About Rwanda

A small, densly populated country about the size of Vermont, Rwanda has a distinctly beautiful, lush landscape graced with grasslands, small farms on rolling hillsides, rugged mountains, lakes, and volcanoes. The country is mostly just south of the equator, but its high altitude helps it avoid temperature extremes.

Despite its great natural beauty, Rwanda was the site of Africa’s largest genocide in modern times. Between April 7 and July 16, 1994, in the space of only 100 days, Hutus rampaged through the country and slaughtered an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and their moderate Hutu sympathizers. This followed decades, through the mid-20th century, when Tutsis were the aggressors.

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An “Up and Coming” Center of Commerce

The government of President Paul Kagame says it is no longer looking for charity. Instead, it has stabilized the country to such a degree that any business looking to establish itself in Africa should strongly consider Rwanda as an ideal beachhead. With its second international airport now actively in planning and will soon be the center of East African commerce.

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Investment Opportunities

The Rwanda Development Board (RDB), created in 2008, employs a “one-stop” service model to facilitate new investment and fast track development projects. Today, Rwanda is recognized as one of the easiest countries in Africa in which to do business. John Gara, CEO of the RDB, noted that this recognition “is a result of extensive efforts by government to streamline business procedures, create a conducive legal framework, reduce bureaucracy and improve service delivery, in order to promote both domestic and foreign investment.”

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A Benevolent Dictator??

In a well-informed, 54-page report, Richard Johnson, who reportedly served 23 years as a Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State, goes into great detail rebutting perennial charges leveled by Human Rights Watch (HRW) against President Kagame. Given the significant influence HRW has on international human rights discourse, Cummings Foundation offered to post Mr. Johnson’s thorough documentation of the “other side” of the Kagame story.

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The Travesty of Human Rights Watch on Rwanda

by Richard Johnson

“I’m a retired American diplomat. My professional experience includes the genocide in Bosnia, and my personal experience includes living in Rwanda in 2008–2010 as the spouse of another U.S. diplomat. My purpose here is not to defend the Rwandan government, which is accountable first and foremost to its own people as well as to a variety of outside institutions. My purpose is to expose and perhaps alter the conduct of Human Rights Watch.

“With substantial funding and a mission statement whose nobility matches that of any established religion, HRW has enormous influence on Western media and foreign policy makers, particularly with regard to countries like Rwanda which are outside the core areas of Western interest and familiarity. But HRW’s decision-making process is not transparent, the aura of sanctity around its professed mission deters public scrutiny of its policies and practices, and the degree of accountability of HRW to anyone is quite unclear. This situation of unchecked power is one where things can go seriously wrong. With regard to Rwanda, they have.”

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Bugesera International Airport

In a country the size of Maryland, most airports are international by default. The largest of Rwanda’s international airports, Kigali International Airport, is operating far beyond its capacity, handling a projected 600,000 passengers in 2013 in a facility that was handling only 280,000 just five years ago. A planned expansion will increase passenger capacity, but is only a stopgap measure until a new airport can be built.

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