Chantal Uwizera ’06 was just a teenager when she left Rwanda, her country of birth, to settle in the United States with her family. While a career in international development always beckoned, Uwizera tells students that a series of unexpected opportunities led to meeting her goals—with the University of Indianapolis providing the spark.
On a warm fall afternoon at the start of the 2019 Homecoming Weekend, Uwizera spoke before a rapt audience of students and faculty from the Department of History and Political Science. She recalled for them the moment during a campus visit when she realized that the University of Indianapolis was the right place for her.
“I was looking for that perfect university that would allow me to excel and have the close relationships that I wanted with professors,” said Uwizera, who was honored with the 2019 Distinguished Young Alumni Award.
Now the director of global programs at the Africa-America Institute, an international nongovernmental organization based in New York, Uwizera designs higher education programs to increase the capacity of young Africans across the continent. The position is fulfilling Uwizera’s goal of developing sustainable programs with a strong social impact. It’s inspiring—and how she got there is an equally compelling story.
“You have to have a desire to succeed. You have to believe in yourself and have a willingness to keep going even when faced with doubts.”
Uwizera told the students that tackling a double major in political science/pre-law and international relations was one of “the best decisions I’ve ever made at the University because that gave me an opportunity to be exposed to different theories and see the world in a more global way.”
Uwizera was set on attending law school, but the Introduction to International Relations class, taught by Dr. Jyotika Saksena, associate professor of international relations, was a game-changer.
“I knew at some point in my life I wanted to have an international career. [Dr. Saksena’s] class gave me the ability to see that there were other opportunities and to just have an open mind,” Uwizera said. A five-month internship at the Council for Africa in Washington, D.C., solidified her goals to pursue international work.
“Chantal truly lives the UIndy motto, ‘Education for Service,’” Saksena said. “Through her work at the United Nations and the Africa-America Institute, she has strived to serve the larger world community by helping improve the quality of education in Africa. As an international relations major she truly understands the meaning of connecting the local to the global.”
After graduating from the University of Indianapolis, Uwizera worked for the prosecutor’s office in Elkhart, Indiana, and then served as a civil rights investigator for the City of Fort Wayne Human Relations Commission at a time when an increasing number of refugees from Burma were moving to the city.
“At the commission, we worked with the local businesses and communities on how to better integrate the Burmese refugee community,” Uwizera said. “As a result of that experience, I decided that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree in conflict resolution.”
Uwizera went on to obtain her master’s degree from American University in international conflict resolution with a concentration in peace-building. After completing a fellowship in Burundi, she was offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to join the team of diplomats from the Government of Rwanda at the United Nations during the country’s two-year term on the UN Security Council. Rwanda was returning to the Council for the first time since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
“This was a really important moment for Rwanda to reflect on its past and share its experience and lessons learned on the global stage,” she said. “It just so happened that what I studied really fit the position they were looking for. It was an incredible opportunity to work with a team on the Security Council for two years.”
Uwizera’s time at the United Nations included serving on the committee addressing economic and financial matters. She led and facilitated intergovernmental negotiations, including the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and on issues related to women’s empowerment and conflict resolution in Africa. Since taking on her current role at the Africa-America Institute in 2016, Uwizera has worked with governments throughout Africa, development partners, and the private sector in transforming universities on the continent into globally competitive institutions.
Reflecting on her own career path, Uwizera told students not to expect immediate success, but instead to start with small, incremental goals.
“Even if you end up working in a place you didn’t envision, set yourself a timeline for what you want to accomplish and think about the skills you can acquire for your next job. You already have the education coupled with a strong belief in yourself. Nothing can stop you!”