Americans are accustomed to campaigns to help Africa. The twist comes in campaigns launched by Africans to help their own communities. Kenya and other East African nations are experiencing a growth in middle-class families, nonprofits and others in civil society that contribute to the public good. The East Africa Association of Grant Makers (EAAG) is a regional nonprofit group that has helped to launch a first-ever campaign where Kenyans can help Kenyan groups advance. (An earlier blog tells of the Start-a-Library campaign, which aims to grow school libraries across Kenya, increase literacy, and contribute to the world’s first story written collectively by a nation.) Community philanthropy, sometimes called local philanthropy, has long been a way to tap the universal impulse for self-reliance around the world. EAAG, which started in the 1990s with support from the Aga Khan Foundation, has been an important part of the local philanthropy movement growth. Antonny Otieno, New Media Officer for EAAG, talks here about how Kenyans are growing their own organizations for communities to build better futures. 

Q: What is the East Africa Association of Grant Makers and how does it support campaigns like Start-a-Library?

The East Africa Association of Grantmakers is an association of trusts and foundations in East Africa sharing and working together to nurture and promote philanthropy. Through different programs we engage different stakeholders in knowledge sharing, networking and advocacy issues.

Two years ago the question of EAAG’s sustainability became of concern. It became clear that as an organization, we needed to get smarter about how to raise resources for administrative and programmatic activities. This was in view of the fact that membership fees and occasional grants from our partners were not enough to propel EAAG to the vision it holds. We decided to think outside the traditional constraints.

After looking at different strategies, the idea of developing an online philanthropy marketplace was conceived. The marketplace would allow us to provide a gateway for our members and other players to adopt crowdfunding as a resource mobilization tool. In addition, it would enable EAAG to earn an income from commissions and in-kind grants associated with management of the platform. This whole concept came from a realization that globally there has been a paradigm shift from traditional giving methods driven by the growth and popularity of technology-based facilities that enhance global connectivity, the sharing of ideas and e-commerce. The rapid adoption of mobile money services in the region also presented compelling reasons to seek ways in which those could be harnessed for community philanthropy initiatives.

Around the same time, the partnership led by Aga Khan Foundation East Africa visited us and we presented this as a concept we wanted to take forward. About one and a half years later, the Yetu Initiative was born. Incorporating e-philanthropy as one of the mechanisms that would drive and nurture community philanthropy in Kenya, the initiative seeks to strengthen the capacity of organizations to drive and manage community philanthropy initiatives, build new partnerships and enhance their impact. As a key implementing partner, EAAG looks to grow the use of the platform by its members and other organizations in Kenya, and in the region gradually.

Q: How has technology enhanced community philanthropy in Kenya? What lessons have emerged?

Before the launch of the Yetu Initiative, EAAG coordinated a feasibility study on e-philanthropy in East Africa, supported by the Aga Khan Foundation, to understand what social, economic, legal, partnership and technology factors to consider when developing an online and mobile platform in the East African region.

Two previous community fundraising campaigns in Kenya are worth noting here:

Kenyans for Kenya started in July 2011 by corporate leaders and the Red Cross in response to media reports of famine and deaths from starvation in Turkana District. The initiative was driven by a steering committee comprising representatives from Safaricom Ltd, Kenya Red Cross Society, Kenya Commercial Bank Ltd, Gina Din Corporate Communication and the Media Owners Association. The target was set initially at Kshs 500 million (approximately US $4.9 million), but Kenyans surprised everyone by raising Kshs 300 million (approximately US $2.9 million) in the first week alone.

So the organizers raised the bar higher. They used a number of innovative fundraising strategies, including corporate-sector networking; creative use of social media particularly Twitter and Facebook; and the participation of artists to raise publicity. The methods used were varied and creative. According to information posted on the Kenya Red Cross website, some employees chose to skip a meal and benefits, others contributed a portion of their salaries. Still others organized concerts and sold items to meet their targets.

In the end, audited accounts showed that Kshs 633,854,734 (about US $6.2 million) were received by the end of the campaign in October 2011 with further pledges still to be received. The bulk of these donations came through mobile money transfers such as M-PESA, Zap, Orange Money and Yu-Cash. The project has been rated a big success on the ground with many accolades. (East Africa E-Philanthropy Study: The Social, Cultural & Economic Factors Environment)

#1Milli4Jadudi was an online campaign through which Kenyans raised US $70,376 in just two days — over seven times the target of US $9,492 — to enable Emmanuel Otieno (popularly known as Jadudi), a 24-year-old Kenyan university student who had lived the reality of a brain cancer diagnosis, allowing him to get surgery. The lessons for other similar initiatives are not yet clear but the campaign highlighted the power of social media for sharing compelling stories that community philanthropy initiatives need to achieve their fundraising goals. Social media can also unfortunately be a platform where mismanagement and fraud can occur. When it turned out that the National Hospital Insurance Fund had taken care of all the medical expenses for Jadudi’s surgery in London, the Africa Cancer Foundation’s Executive Director, Dorothy Nyong’o, had to publicly respond to the allegations. (A comprehensive financial report on how the funds were spent has not yet been made public. The Foundation holds the proceeds from the #1Milli4Jadudi campaign in the Jadudi Medical Fund in trust for Jadudi.) Stewardship of the public trust is an important consideration.

Q: #GivingTuesday is new for Kenya this year. How does EAAG plan to link the local movement to its partners regionally and internationally?

Hosting the first Kenyan edition of the global giving movement is exciting. It allows EAAG to tap into the culture of giving and social media to drive conversations and encourage giving this December 1st. We have decided to use the story of the Chela campaign as the anchor campaign through which we will encourage our members and partners – especially those who have no idea of what to do or who to give to. In addition, we are looking to mobilize our members to individually seek out opportunities through which they can take give their time, skills and money to causes they are passionate about.

Finally, some of the registered partners registered on Global Giving plan to use the day to fund raise for their different causes. EAAG will highlight those efforts through online and mainstream media.