Acumen Blog

Jamii Bora and the environment in Kenya

Kenya - Kibera situation.jpg(Photo: Gabriel Kadidi)
It has been several weeks since both Pakistan and Kenya began to experience political and social unrest. As Jacqueline initially reported (here and here), Acumen Fund’s communities on the ground remain safe, but the environment in both countries has taken a decided turn for the worse.

The past weeks in Kenya have been heartbreaking. Tremendous excitement about an election year has turned to frustration over the process and its impact on the country’s stability.  Kenya was on the rise as an economic model for East Africa. Acumen Fund investee Jamii Bora had overcome legal obstacles to begin to realize the dream of Nairobi’s poorest to build a new town for its members. By December, nearly 500 homes were under construction…Dedan — JB’s bicycle messenger who had lost a leg as a young boy — had qualified to compete in the Beijing Paralympics. There was a sense of forward progress and real opportunity. But the view held by many involved in Jamii Bora’s work has now been turned upside down.

First, there is an unexpected stop-work order on the construction of Kaputiei town. Just before Christmas, an opposition group threatens to dismantle JB’s proud new homes. Then, the presidential election. What initially appear to be containable pockets of rioting in the urban slums yields to myriad disruptions throughout the country, opening up historical political grievances and tribal tensions in the worst cases. Particularly in the slums, there are accounts of looting, people being killed and maimed, homes and businesses being destroyed. By year’s end, Ingrid Munro, Jamii Bora’s trustee, writes: “Hell has broken out. President being sworn in at this moment. Pray for us.” 

We reach out to our friends and colleagues at Jamii Bora. Ingrid, Consolata, Kennedy, Elijah, Richard … they all respond. Joseph – no reply, Gabriel – no reply. Both Joseph and Gabriel are Kikuyus living in the heart of the Kibera slum. 

Ingrid reaches out to the international community for emergency aid and money to help rebuild. She estimates that over 50% of Jamii Bora’s members have been negatively impacted. Many members have scattered to the countryside and cannot be found. Food is running short. Money is short. Communications are down as there is a shortage of cellphone minutes and it is difficult to buy more. Transportation has virtually stopped.

Finally after days of no response, Gabriel sends me signs of life. “This has been the darkest time of my life” he writes. Gabriel (aka Kadidi) is a talented multimedia artist and photographer who has created his own radio show and who has contributed photos of Jamii Bora to Acumen Fund’s website (as well as the photo that accompanies this post). “Slowly things are getting calm, I have managed to get my mum out of there to my grandmother’s, her 6 houses were burnt down last night, my stuff stolen, I can’t sleep at my house, damn it’s crazy!  After what I have worked for a long time!!! I have no words to express my sadness to all in Kenya who have been affected this way! She is safe now, at least today I can get some sleep after 5 days.” 

I am so relieved and send him a text message telling how glad I am to hear that he is safe, which is the most important of all. I also write that he can and must rebuild. Yet I already know that’s exactly what he was planning on doing.

Gabriel and I finally talk by phone. I also catch up with Ingrid. What moves me the most is that, despite everything, there are signs of faith in the human spirit … hope has not yielded. Yes, Gabriel is sad about his loss and about how cruel man can be, but there is no discussion of resentment or revenge.  I ask him why. He answers simply that he as well as the members of Jamii Bora came from nothing. Yet they learned how to believe in themselves and make something of themselves. Despite his loss, Gabriel was occupied with giving blood and helping to distribute food to others. Ingrid too is busy with recovery. Jamii Bora is currently working with the Red Cross and the UN World Food Programme to help distribute food to the slumdwellers … and with rebuilding.

This crisis period reminds me of just how vulnerable the poor are. The personal accounts I hear vary depending on one’s station in life and where one lives. For the lucky, the disruptions are inconveniences and you can still fend for yourself. However, for those in the slums and the poorer towns and for Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley and Kibera, conflict and instability are daily realities. 

You can read more from Kenya on the Acumen Fellows blog as well, where fellows Catherine Casey and Jon Yates have been documenting some of their own experiences during this time.


Imagining the world as it could be

Christine Gitau is an East Africa Fellow and an enterprise coach at Craft Afrika, which provides business support services to craft entrepreneurs, enabling them build viable and thriving businesses in Kenya. At Acumen we often use the term “Moral Imagination” when talking about leadership. Christine wrote a reflection on how this concept has shifted her thinking. We could not be more proud of what she is building! [Read More]

How two Acumen Fellows are disrupting the education model in India

Whether its running youth soccer programs, providing vocational training services, or transforming the education system in India, Acumen India Fellows are driving real change in their communities.  Abbas Dadla and Abhilasha Sinha are India Fellows who are addressing the teacher shortage in India through the use of technology and peer collaboration. Find out what they are building below.  If you have grit, resilience and a commitment to creating change in your community in India, East Africa or Pakistan, we encourage you to apply for the Regional Fellowship Program! [Read More]

Meet Manjushree Patil, Founder of Aatman Academy

This month saw violent tragedies in Pakistan and Kenya, regions where Acumen works and which five classes of Acumen regional fellows call home. Among them there are dedicated teachers like Acumen India Fellow Manjushree Patil, crusaders against sex trafficking, builders of government, creators of liberating mobile medical technologies, and curators of slum sports programs. The need for strengthening the connections between those who are working for positive change against seemingly impossible odds has never been greater. We at Acumen have never been prouder to be the thread tying together these courageous individuals. Read more about Manjushree and how she is changing her community in India below! [Read More]

No, not silence again!

The Acumen Fellowship’s Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) training is notorious for digging deep, breaking Fellows down to reveal their deepest fears, identifying the sources of resilience that will fuel them with the tenacity to continue along the path to social change. Kahabi G. Isangula is an East Africa Regional Fellow living in Tanzania and recently participated in our CLA training. Get an idea of what it is like, below!  [Read More]

Announcing the Class of 2015 Acumen Global Fellows

Acumen Global Fellows are architects for the impact sector. They are innovators, game changers, visionaries, with various professional experiences looking to make substantial change in the world. They have thrived in companies such as Google; they have started their own companies in Sri Lanka, Canada and Malaysia.  They are choosing the challenge of working alongside our portfolio companies and immersing themselves in a rigorous leadership training. [Read More]

Welcoming Ajit Mahadevan as Acumen India Country Director

We are pleased to announce that Ajit Mahadevan will be joining Acumen as India Country Director. Ajit joins Acumen from Ernst & Young, where he has served as Advisory Partner & Leader (Life Sciences) for the past six years.  At EY, he was a strategic advisor to the leadership of some of the leading Indian and global life science and healthcare players with the focus being business transformation and growth.  Prior to his time at E&Y, Ajit was President of Piramal Healthcare, one of the leading pharmaceuticals companies in India, where he built the international business from inception in 2002 to $300M by the end of 2008. Ajit held multiple leadership roles across strategy, M&A and business leadership. During his tenure at Accenture’s Strategic Services practice in UK and India, he led the development of one of the firm’s largest and most successful internal projects – the Offshore Development Centre in 2001, which has now grown to about 100,000 people across multiple cities in India. Ajit has worked in an advisory capacity to Acumen in the past, most recently participating in Regional Fellows selection panels in Mumbai. [Read More]

Why We All Need A ‘Rikki’

Caren Wakoli is an emerging leader in East Africa who has launched a foundation to support the next generation of female leaders for Africa. Caren applied twice for the fellowship and was not accepted, but she did not give up. Her resilience and grit allowed her to persevere, and this year we are proud to have her as an East Africa Fellow. Below she shares her story on why everyone needs a ‘Rikki,’ and failure is never final.  [Read More]

Acumen Joins Beyond the Grid as Founding Partner

Acumen is proud to be a founding partner of Beyond the Grid, an innovative framework under President Obama’s Power Africa initiative to increase energy access for underserved populations across sub-Saharan Africa. Beyond the Grid will leverage partnerships with investors and practitioners committing to invest over $1 billion into off-grid and small scale solutions for this underserved market. [Read More]

Life after Lean

In May 2013, Sabrina Natasha Premji & Afzal Habib participated in +Acumen’s inaugural Lean for Social Change course based on Lean Start-Up principles. Enrollment for the next session of the Lean for Social Change course is open now. If you are working on a social issue in your community, are interested in pursuing your own social venture, or are just interested in creating an impact in this world…Register today! Sabrina & Afzal joined the course with a simple idea and the passion to transform the childcare crisis in East Africa’s informal settlements. Seven weeks later, they had developed a customer-tested business model ready to pilot in Kenya’s densest slums. Read their story below. [Read More]