This is what "Sustainability" looks like in Rwanda.

A look at The Starkey Hearing Foundation's approach to sustainability in Rwanda. 


“Sustainability” is a buzzword that gets tossed around so much these days, it is easy to lose track of what it actually means. 

I had the chance to visit Rwanda with the Starkey Hearing Foundation a few months ago, to see first hand their efforts in sustainability. 

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The Starkey Hearing Foundation travels the world giving hearing aids to people who otherwise would not be able to afford them. They are an active member of the Clinton Global Initiative, and have pledged to distribute one million hearing aids by 2020. They are already on course to exceed that commitment.

Hearing loss is often overlooked in developing nations. It is considered more of a “cosmetic” health problem, and not something as life threatening as say HIV or Malaria. But when you see a child hear for the first time, or an old man have familiar sounds come rushing back, you realize how meaningful this type of work is. 

People often ask about the foundations sustainability efforts. It is one thing to distribute hearing aids. It is another to have consistent check up and care after the primary members of the foundation have moved on to a new country.

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In Rwanda, the foundation has set up a full-circle action model that represents a true commitment to sustainability, so that when the foundation is not around, there is still a network of support available. 

Every Friday they run a clinic at the Ear, Nose and Throat department of the University Central Hospital of Kigali. During these clinics, local Rwandan members of the Starkey Hearing Foundation are present to answer any questions patients may have about their new hearing aids. There is also an audiologist present to deliver further advice.

What I realized, at least in the NGO space, is that a large part of sustainability is just being accessible and being present.

As opposed to parachuting in, giving away a bunch of hearing aids, and moving on to the next destination,the Starkey Hearing Foundation always has a local partner on the ground in Rwanda. 

By working with locals, and forging these strong partnerships on the ground, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has achieved a sustainable action model. 

Watch the video to see what sustainability looks like in Rwanda: