Working Villages International is a US nonprofit organization founded in 2005. Our mission is to sustainably end rural poverty. We do this by investing in solutions that are sustainable, scalable, and simple. From 2006-2018 WVI worked primarily in Eastern Congo. By the end of 2017 WVI’s Ruzizi Project, located in South Kivu Province, had directly lifted 10,000 families out of poverty with its irrigation projects. In 2018 WVI fulfilled its decade old self-sufficiency pledge to the people of the Ruzizi Valley and turned over the Ruzizi Project to 100% local control.
WVI’s new efforts are focused on its long time support for the use of oxen in rural economies. WVI believes that for many people in rural areas oxen are the right solution to not only getting them and their communities out of poverty, but doing so a way that does not require the burning of fossil fuels. Oxen once provided the power that drove much of the world’s rural economy. Today, in most parts the industrialized world, that work is done using fossil fuels, while in many places in Sub-Saharan Africa, that work is done by hand. Learning from the successes of our work in Congo, we are building a startup to discover the roll of ox power in today’s rural economies.
The Ruzizi Project (view larger map) is located in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, at the northern tip of Lake Tanganyika, and across the border from Rwanda and Burundi. Home to some of the most fertile land in the world, the Ruzizi Valley was known as the “rice bowl of Congo” before eight years of war from 1996 to 2004 destroyed its farms and infrastructure.
Much of the infrastructure destroyed was irrigation systems, most of which were built by the Belgians during colonial times. WVI rebuilt a great deal of this infrastructure before turning it over to local control in 2018. Doing this provided a 10x increase in the incomes for ten thousand families, by allowing them to grow tens of millions of dollars in additional crops each year.
Irrigation in Eastern Congo, in places like the Ruzizi Valley, represents some of the best low hanging fruit in rural development today. Fertile soil, combined with equatorial sunshine and numerous rivers, makes the impact of irrigation tremendous while the engineering challenges are minimal. Furthermore, the 50 year history of local management of the irrigation systems made our efforts not only achievable but also sustainable long past our exit.
The irrigation systems are now all under local control, and WVI’s longtime Ruzizi Project manager Fiston Malago is now head of Working Villages in Congo. Being a native of the Ruzizi Valley and having worked with WVI in Ruzizi since 2006, Fiston understands the local political environment and economy of Ruzizi in a way that only comes with immersion and time. His track record of success has earned him respect from his countrymen. He and his experienced team of managers give us confidence that the Ruzizi Project will continue to completely transform life in the Ruzizi Valley.
Who We Are
President of Working Villages
Alexander graduated from Hampshire College in 2006 with a BA in Development Economics, shortly after founding Working Villages International in 2005. After having spent over a decade helping farmers in the Ruzizi Valley get out of poverty, he has relocated to Maine to focus on Oxen and WVI’s US programs. He has been selected as a TED Senior Fellow and a Rainer Arnhold Fellow for his vision and work in economic development.
Marc “Fiston” Malago
President of Working Villages in Congo
Fiston joined Working Villages in 2007 as Project Manager, overseeing the Ruzizi Project. A native of the Ruzizi Valley, he earned his degree in Agronomy before working with the UN in the capital of Congo, Kinshasa. WVI began work in the Ruzizi Valley in 2006, and Fiston left the UN to join WVI, eager to do development work in his native region. His expertise and familiarity with cutting-edge organic farming techniques has proved invaluable, as has his local knowledge of the people and the area. In 2018 Fiston became President of Working Villages in Congo.