Visualizing data – Kamugisha harnesses the power of infographics

“When I graduated from university, this laptop was my only possession,” Kamugisha said, displaying it proudly. Kamugisha Marius, a young Rwandan entrepreneur, received the laptop when he won the prestigious Infographics Competition. Held each year by the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR) and supported by UNICEF, the Infographics Competition invites graduate and postgraduate students to produce innovative infographics of static data. Kamugisha and two of his classmates participated and won in 2015 with their infographic depicting data on Rwanda’s economy.

The infographic competition was designed to engage youth in statistical analysis and therefore improve statistical literacy among young Rwandans.

The competition seeks to engage students by shaping them into storytellers and researchers who use data visualization effectively, and to help facilitate evidence-based policy and decision making.

The five winning teams were selected and given a six-month paid internship at NISR after their graduation from university. Winning students contributed by teaching journalists to use data for reporting. Some of the winning team members also created their own companies for data visualization. Kamugisha was one of them.

Today, Kamugisha is a successful entrepreneur. His design company opened its doors a few years ago. Working with his former classmates, who are now his employees, Kamugisha transforms data into colourful, informative artwork. “Infographics are powerful tools,” he said. “People who would have just passed by have to stop when they see the colourful graphics, and it motivates them to start reading the data so they understand what is being explained.”

Often when audiences are attracted by Kamugisha’s infographics, they seek out the longer, more detailed data reports to understand the full context behind the data being displayed in the infographics. Kamugisha’s infographics have become such renowned communication tools that agencies such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), and Rwanda’s Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources have begun using them for their reports.

Promoting employment opportunities for young people like Kamugisha is one of Rwanda’s development priorities. According to the Integrated Household Living Conditions Survey (EICV) 2013/2014 Youth Thematic Report, Rwanda’s youth unemployment rate is 24 per cent.

“Our business was slow at first, but we believed in our potential after winning the infographic competition,” Kamugisha recalled. “Whenever I open this laptop, it reminds me of the moment I won the award. It continues to boost my confidence and has pushed us to come this far.”

Last year, the infographics competition was held under the theme of promoting adolescent health, one of UNICEF’s core programming areas. This year, the Ministry of Labour acknowledged NISR’s and UNICEF’s contribution to empowering youth and nominated the Infographics Competition as an exhibit at the 6th Africa Public Service Day celebration. Kamugisha joined the NISR and UNICEF team at the exhibition to share his story with others. He will tell anyone that the infographics competition was the turning point of his life.

View the 2016 winning infographic on promoting adolescent health below: