To take a glimpse into the answer, we talked with Zeze Rwasama. Zeze (think ‘say-say’ but with a ‘z’) works with almost every variety of organization and person you can imagine as the director of a refugee center, from federal and local government organizations to employers to volunteers.
This is just part one of our discussion. Will have insights into how he works with volunteers in an upcoming article so stay tuned.
For his entire life, Zeze Rwasama has been around people who are suffering, and therefore has for his entire life been involved in trying to help them.
Zeze himself is a Rwandan refugee displaced from the Democratic Republic of Congo. This experience has given him exceptional insights in addition to his exceptional talents that he discovered after resettling in Salt Lake City, where he found his passion and calling in helping victims of circumstance become self-sufficient.
Now, Zeze is the Executive Director at College of Southern Idaho Refugee Programs. Zeze is currently on the board of many non-profit groups including: the Twins Falls Salvation Army, Valley House - a women's shelter, United Alliance - a Magic Valley Refugees and Immigrants focused organization.
He is most passionate about the vulnerable groups that society most often overlooks — the groups in which the victims' choices or actions had nothing to do with the situations they find themselves in.
Non-profit resource allocation
Creating scalable models to guide people towards self-sufficiency
Creating a vision
One of Zeze's key principles is to talk things through without judgment — even if the other "side" has views you yourself may find unpleasant.
Zeze told us story after story about how he has brought the most opposite of people together to join forces and talk through issues.
Our favorite story was about the time Zeze took seven Utah State University students to the Congo during a period of exceptional conflict. The students could not understand why these rebel groups were killing so many people in the war.
Zeze could not answer the question on behalf of the rebel groups, so he instead did the only natural thing: he set up a face-to-face meeting between these students and one of the rebel generals. The students, the general, and Zeze had a frank and earnest discussion about their differing views that went very well.
As Zeze says, "money is nothing without people behind it."
In his extensive experience, the most important steps in bringing about change are:
Find people with a heart of helping
Really understand their context
Put them in positions that capitalize on their strengths
Check in often to ensure that everyone is aligned with the bigger picture
Another one of Zeze’s core principles is listening.
An example of how this works: Zeze once reached out to people who were protesting spending government funds on refugees, when the US veteran population was so underserved.
Emotions could run high, given the subject. But he listened to their concerns — and then helped both refugee groups and veteran groups see the similarities between the two populations. For example, both groups were coming from traumatic war-torn lives, and trying to (re)settle into American culture.
In short: he took away the us vs. them mentality.
But he went even further.
Zeze had noticed that his refugee program focused most on creating self-sufficiency for refugees from the moment they entered the USA — and that this approach help ensured refugees' success.
He has since worked to take some of his successful models from in the refugee community to the veteran community, along with teaching them how to implement the models.
You can reach out to Zeze via his email: zrwasama[at]refugeecenter[dot]csi[dot]edu.
Zeze will always drop everything to help a vulnerable community. That said, some of his current dream collaborations would be:
Zeze loves working with people who are more than just activists, people who are there to serve and do the work.
Zeze would love to go to any country struggling with political unrest to talk to the people who have been or will be displaced, in order to find solutions to prevent a mass exodus from occurring.
We had to prod a bit about a well known person he would like to work with but eventually he said he would like to work with Mitt to collaborate on concrete solutions for vulnerable communities.
Zeze is working on retiring in five short years so he can stop thinking about money and start doing only what he wants to do — making a difference on a big scale.
True, thinking about changing the world would seem exhausting to most. But, it would be a step back for Zeze’s current schedule, which is filled with helping as many people as humanly possible.