The requests for assistance came from afar. The initiatives combined the natural interests, resources, and abilities of three School of Information Studies (iSchool) alumnae, all committed to the idea that Africa should have an Information school. The efforts took three years, two trips to East Africa, and consistent work behind the scenes. Eventually, the work of those women, and the efforts of the iSchool, helped two African countries achieve goals to develop information-field skills and connections, and bring the iSchools movement to a sixth continent.

In 2012, the iSchool’s then-dean, Elizabeth Liddy (now Interim Vice Chancellor and Provost of Syracuse University, who earned a library and information science master’s degree and an information transfer doctoral degree from the iSchool) also was serving as the Chair of the iSchools Organization. The iSchools Organization is a group that advocates for information schools, and its membership was growing rapidly, encompassing institutions on five continents – North America, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Africa, however, was still without an iSchool.

Helping Rwanda

One day, educators from the small, East African country of Rwanda contacted the Syracuse iSchool to ask for help in training more professionals in library skills. The country had no library and information science university programs of its own, and just a handful of people with master’s degrees in the field. The iSchool responded positively. Liddy tasked alumna Sarah (Webb) Inoue, a post doctoral researcher who had earned her Ph.D. at the iSchool in 2011, to see if there was a way to change that situation as a global librarianship initiative.

Liddy and Inoue traveled to Rwanda, meeting with a number of the country’s college leaders and faculty. The iSchool decided to work with the University of Rwanda’s College of Education, and through the diligent planning and creative ideas of Inoue, a bachelor of education in library and information science was developed to meet that goal. The iSchool since has trained a class of library professionals, trainers who now are teaching others in their country in library science skills. 

Involvement in Uganda

A second Africa project soon was in store, and Inoue would again tackle the behind-the-scenes work that would help bring another educational effort to fruition. Alumna Elizabeth (Liz) Ngonzi, ’92 (an iSchool Advisory Board member since 2013), saw Liz Liddy’s messages on Twitter about the Rwanda initiative. Ngonzi, now U.S. CEO of the South Africa-headquartered social development organization Afrika Tikkun, offered to connect the school to influential educators and officials she knew in Uganda, the country of her family’s origins. Ngonzi arranged an introduction for the iSchool to the Honorable Ruhakana Rugunda, then Minister of Information and Communication Technology, and now Prime Minister of Uganda. While pleased to hear of the ideas for Rwanda, Dr. Rugunda also asked if the iSchool could help Uganda launch its own information school and to extend its reach globally.

Ngonzi and Inoue traveled to Uganda in the fall of 2012. They met with officials at Makerere University’s East African School of Library and Information Science (EASLIS), one of the oldest library schools in Africa. According to Inoue, they had discussions with the Permanent Secretary of Gender, Labor and Social Development, which oversees Uganda’s public libraries; Liz Ngonzi’s contacts who lead the HIVE Co-lab, an incubator for entrepreneurship; and others from Uganda’s Ministry of ICT. “We discovered that EASLIS had just joined with the School of Computing and Informatics Technology to form the College of Computing and Information Science  (COCIS). That comprised all the makings of an iSchool. So we suggested that Makerere University apply for membership in the global iSchool’s Organization,” Inoue noted.  

Two COCIS representatives attended the next iSchools Organization conference in Fort Worth, Texas in February 2013, providing them “an opportunity to experience coming into a group of researchers and to see what an iSchool community is like,” Inoue said. The representatives participated in panels and discussions and met organization and membership leaders. Throughout 2013, Liddy and Inoue then worked with COCIS officials to draft a membership application. It was submitted late in 2014 and approved the following spring – making Makerere University a member, and officially bringing a sixth continent to the organization.  

Milestone Step

Looking back on the elements of fate that brought Syracuse’s iSchool and Makerere together, Prime Minister Dr. Rugunda noted the significance of that moment for the future. He noted, “I am glad that we are now witnessing the fruits of this initiative, and would like to salute the role played by Liz Ngonzi and Sarah Inoue in getting the project to this level, and for the welcome reception and support the team at Makerere University has given to the project.” Prime Minister Rugunda added that: “We would like to see this collaboration as a beginning to much more partnership between Syracuse and Makerere in many fields.” 

Inoue observed that the recognition of Makerere as a member of the iSchools Organization was “very gratifying. We were pleased to be able to help guide the way for Makerere and COCIS to join the organization. They just needed a little nudge to officially become an iSchool,” she said.

Liddy observed, “The iSchools Organization and the iSchool at Syracuse have shared a commitment to the advancement of iSchools nationwide and globally as an effort to advance the fields of information and technology for the future. It was a natural extension to respond when asked to help in Rwanda and Uganda. Both initiatives have helped fulfill those goals, while providing connections from Africa to the world that are serving everyone’s interests.”

For Liz Ngonzi, three generations of whose family have attended Makerere, the University’s achievement was a full circle in her vision for using information and technology to spur advancement in Africa that goes back to her undergraduate days at Syracuse. In her senior year, she wrote a paper on how telecommunications was the path for the continent’s future, and she has come to realize that goal through her speaking engagements throughout Africa, through which she helps nonprofit organizations and entrepreneurs understand the value of utilizing mobile and online technology to engage their various stakeholders. “To see what’s come about and what’s yet possible for Uganda is incredibly inspiring for me; that’s why this effort means a lot to me,” Ngonzi said.