Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Thursday, April 3, 2014

Students analyze ways Uganda retreat center can benefit communities

To help make a retreat center in Uganda sustainable, La Follette School students advised the Global Livingston Institute to establish an Internet café and to switch the center's electricity source from a diesel generator to solar panels.

The Global Livingston Institute seeks to promote a more global understanding of poverty and healthy communities by organizing travel and experiential learning opportunities in East Africa. To that end, it built a new retreat center on Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda.

To explore creative ways to make this center sustainable while continuing to serve the community of Lake Bunyonyi, institute staff worked with students in the fall 2013 cost-benefit course taught by David Weimer to develop facility use alternatives that are financially viable and maximize social net benefits. The students looked at adding an Internet cafe to serve guests and the local community, switching Entusi's primary source of electricity from a diesel generator to solar panels and implementing both alternatives at the same time. "We recommend that GLI implement the third alternative, investing in energy from solar panels and launching an Internet cafe at the Entusi Retreat Center," wrote Tara Baumgarten, Constance Chucholowski, Da Huo, Stephanie Kroll, Maria Toniolo and Dan Trifone.

The retreat center's location on Lake Bunyonyi in the Kabale district of southwestern Uganda is central to the communities the Global Livingston Institute serves, so the center should give individuals and groups a regional meeting location and a base from which to connect with other regions in Uganda and Rwanda.

The retreat center seeks to provide a creative thinking space for scholars, students and community leaders to convene and address complex social issues. Another goal is to serve as a community center for local non-government organizations to house volunteers and to congregate for local activities. The retreat center's third goal is to reinvest profits generated from groups and other activities at the center back into the community for health, education, arts and culture.

"Not only did this alternative have the highest net benefit for the center over nine years, but it would also further GLI's mission of developing innovative solutions for the challenges facing East Africa by supporting Entusi's energy needs in a sustainable way," the students wrote.

"The Internet cafe would allow the center and its guests to engage meaningfully with the local community and would provide increased access to information that may help the communities around Lake Bunyonyi grow and develop. These projects would not only contribute to the sustainability of Entusi as a center, but also contribute to building a lasting relationship between GLI and this region of East Africa."