Since helping to establish the Rugerero Survivors Village Sunflower Oil Cooperative in 2008, near the western Rwandan village of Gisenyi, the ex;it Foundation and its founder, Alan Jacobson, continue to support the cooperative in promoting the sales of its locally produced cooking oil.
The foundation has worked with 50 Rwandan genocide survivors to create this rare opportunity for income-producing activities, with the goal of improving living conditions in the village, including health and education.
With funding from Sappi Fine Paper North America, the foundation and villagers collaborated with Graphic Design students from Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design to provide brand identity and marketing materials for the cooperative.
An equally important objective was to allow graphic design students to fully engage in a philanthropic endeavor and use their design skills for a humanitarian effort. A group of seven Drexel students worked on the project for nine months. The initial stages of the project focused on helping the students understand the Rwandan culture and the context of the village. ex;it founder Jacobson provided an overview of the village, its experiences with the mass killings of Rwandans in 1994, and his connection with the community. The students also researched the region and culture and spent time discussing the delicate nature of the project and the context in which their work was to be done.
The key outcome of the students’ work was a logo consisting of concentric circles that represent the unity and solidarity of the village community. The shape references sunflowers, the sun, and optimism for the future. The color palette reflects the Rwandan flag, sunflowers, earth, sun, and sky. Used in repetition, the mark is evocative of the textile patterns seen in Rwanda, and also signifies the growth of the collective.
The logo was applied to deliverables including bottle tags, business cards, banners, signage, and materials for the market tables and roadside stands that are the cooperative’s retail outlets. Students also produced colorful posters that were distributed to everyone in the village and given to first-time oil buyers—a rare and treasured object because art and graphics are rare in the villagers’ mud-brick homes. The reverse side of the posters left the Cooperative Sunflower Oil brand in outline form for children to color.
The villagers’ pride in their cooperative has risen considerably as they feel part of a more professional organization, one that they have created. The collaboration taught them about the power of visual communication and the strategies behind the various marketing tools.
Alan Jacobson, Jody Graff, Kevin Dietrich, Nicole Doenges, Tristine Harding, Kathleen Madamba, Yesenia Perez-Cruz, Maggie Ruder, Anne Trencher
Graphic Design students from Drexel University’s Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts and Design, ex;it Foundation
Jody Graff (instrutor)
Garrison Printing Company (bottle tags, business cards, posters), Color Reflections (ground covers, table covers, signage)