Rutendo Chigora is Penn’s second Rhodes Scholar to hail from Zimbabwe, following Sarah-Jane Littleford C’09 [“Gazetteer,” Mar|Apr 2010], but in every other way she is second to none. As the founder of ZW Connect, a business incubator for community centers in Zimbabwe, Chigora is already making a difference in her home country.
ZW Connect provides low-interest loans and helps initiate income-producing partnerships aimed at reducing reliance on philanthropic donors. The organization also arranges for college students to support these community centers by drawing up business plans and budgets. The nonprofit was a social-venture-challenge winner at the 2014 Clinton Global Initiatives University Conference.
ZW Connect is currently working with Tichakunda Welfare Center in Hatcliffe Extension, outside of Harare. This 10-year-old community center has proven vital to local residents, building a school and providing daycare services and meals for those in need. ZW Connect is helping it become financially self-sustainable. After consulting with the community members, ZW helped the center launch a successful poultry farm whose profits help support the center’s operations.
Harriet Joseph, director of the Center for Undergraduate Research and Fellowships (CURF), praised the senior, who is double-majoring in political science and international relations. “CURF is delighted to see Rutendo’s outstanding academic performance and her initiative in starting her own social-engagement project recognized by the Rhodes committee,” Joseph said. “She is an amazing young woman and someone Penn will be proud to say is an alumna.”
Chigora will study public policy at the University of Oxford.
“To know that Oxford isn’t just this name in my dictionary but this place I’m going to study is actually a really big deal to me,” she says, adding that the university’s African Studies Centre is a big draw. “Also, one of the people whose work I have been following for a long time now, Sir Paul Collier, is at the School of Public Policy. To be under the tutelage of people like that is one of the things that makes me think, ‘Whoa, is this actually happening?’
“I want to keep working on these micro-level interventions,” she adds, “working in small communities and seeing how I can make a difference—how to navigate the policy environment and make it easy to work in these communities.”
But she also aspires to influence international policy on a larger scale.
“Developmental policy is often shaped outside of Africa [even] when [it’s] made for Africa. I want to inject an African voice into that, and be able to change the way the aid industry engages with the African continent. That’s the big picture thing I want to do.”
Before Chigora heads off to Oxford, there is much here at Penn to keep her busy. She’s involved in Penn Mock Trial, College Cognoscenti, Onyx Senior Honors Society, and the Sigma Iota Rho Journal for International Relations. She also blogs for Penn Political Review.
All those extracurricular activities reflect what initially drew Chigora to Penn. She came as part of the Benjamin Franklin Scholars’ Integrative Living Program, which attracted her with its interdisciplinary focus. “[The program] appealed to me because it would allow me the intellectual freedom I needed to discover what I really wanted to do with my time at Penn, and my career later in life,” she says. The Penn World Scholarship, which offered her an affordable college experience, was another critical piece.
Chigora says she’s grateful for Penn’s challenging academic environment, which taught her to ask for help. That, she says, “has made me a little more fearless.”