Episode 53 of The Informed Life podcast features an interview with Jason Ulaszek. Jason is the founder of Inzovu, a design collective, and UX for Good, a nonprofit dedicated to providing “elegant solutions to messy problems.” Our conversation focused on a very messy problem: healing Rwandan society after the 1994 genocide.
Alongside with others, Jason worked on the design of the Kigali Genocide Memorial, which commemorates the genocide and serves as the burial ground of over 250,000 victims. This required that Jason interview genocide survivors – people lived through horrors, including seeing loved ones brutally assassinated. And yet, Rwandan society has survived. As Jason put it,
Rwanda has really tapped into kind of the secret code, if you will, around unity and reconciliation. They are experts in it, from my point of view.
Given where we are in the U.S., with extreme political polarization that has led to physical violence, I wanted to know more about how Rwanda did it. This is what Jason said:
Strong leadership, a strong sense of cultural values. Putting others first. There’s an African proverb that I think… from an outsider’s perspective, “I am because you are, you are because I am.”
I was especially intrigued by Jason’s comments about empathy and values:
We talk about a word… I think it’s so overplayed and over pronounced so much time, the word ‘empathy.’ That’s an important part of what you can take away from this story. What was part of the Rwandans cultural value system well before the genocide against the Tutsi and is now swung fully back — and they’re working hard to ensure that that’s the case — is a really strong sense of cultural values. What they’ve really tapped into — and I think this is where it gets into design a bit — is that they’ve tapped into ways to embody these cultural values inside of the experiences people have within education. And there are lots of different ways that they have work to focus on unity and reconciliation inside of the country, amongst its people.
But this only works if you have leadership willing to help society move beyond divisiveness towards developing (or rediscovering) a shared set of values. That leadership — and those values — have been sorely missing in the U.S. The key question is: How might we rediscover our shared values and enact them towards what Rwandans call ubumuntu – ‘greatness of heart’?
This powerful conversation with Jason has given me much to think about. I hope you get as much value from this interview as I did.