KENYANS4KENYA: A Fresh Threshold in Human Giving

By  Washington Akumu

When Bob Collymore, CEO of integrated telecoms operator Safaricom;  his counterpart from financial services boutique Kenya Commercial Bank Group, Dr Martin Oduor-Otieno;  a number of peers from the Media Owners Association  and the local branch of relief agency Red Cross launched the Kenyans for Kenya initiative earlier this month, loud yawns must have been audible across the land.

Kenyans4Kenya homepage

Kenyans4Kenya homepage

Loud yawns not just because Kenya is in the throes of its worst famine in six decades, with at least five million people, most of them inhabitants of the hugely lawless, arid North facing starvation and the real spectre of death…But loud yawns largely because famine in Kenya is not news.  In fact, one does not need any qualification in Metereology to predict, with a measure of accuracy, when the next bout of mass hunger will visit our land. It visits us, with the time-keeping instincts of a Parisian metro train, every five years. Do the math to ‘prophesy’ the next one…

And as happens with everything that occurs with a certain measure of predictability, famine in Kenya has its traditions, rituals, language and symbols. One of these traditions is the banding together of a number of companies, normally from different industries (you do not want to sit in the same meeting with your competitor, do you? They might just learn your latest trick!), under some fancy brand umbrella “to do something for our starving brothers and sisters.”

Dark suits then go through the motions of presenting huge dummy cheques and flagging off lorry-loads of food meant for the North. Then we wait for another five years to mount another bout of corporate philanthropy. Sadly for many Kenyan companies, this is the alpha and omega of CSR strategy. So what makes Kenyans4Kenya any different?  Here’s a list of why this initiative has become the refreshing and celebrated novelty it has evolved into.

  1. Give what you have: From the very beginning, the founders of the initiative made it very clear that no donation would be too little and that everyone was welcome to donate something, as little as Sh10. To date, no fund-raising effort in Kenya (and Kenyans love harambees) has mobilized such mass support. Like any revolution, authentic heroes have emerged: like the Muslim policeman who handed over his entire July pay cheque (in any case, he was fasting, as is required of Muslims during the holy month of Ramadhan, never mind that policemen are some of most poorly-paid cadres in the Kenyan civil service); or the children at an orphanage who turned the little maize they had into pop corns, sold it on the streets and made their contribution to the kitty.
  2. All those tweeps and facebookers! One of the most refreshing things about the Kenyans4Kenya initiative is how support for it has been harnessed on social media platforms. And this has not just been limited to its site and other online properties belonging to its various founding organizations.  The contribution of individual bloggers has been felt, especially in nudging the Kenyan Diaspora to action. Kenya has a small online community (estimates put the figure at about 4.5 milion), but they are probably its most vocal “tribe”. They have provided free publicity for all Kenyans4Kenya gigs, updates on donations and public education on the various platforms available to donors. It also helped that almost all the founder CEOs, including Safaricom’s Mr Collymore, are avid users of social media.
  3. Kenya’s answer to plastic money: While the corporates and their huge dummy cheques have been a distinct feature of the campaign, a sizeable portion of the money has come from ordinary Kenyans contributing as little as Sh10. This has been made possible through the use of mobile money transfer services. With the launch of Safaricom’s M-PESA in March 2007, Kenya became the cradle of mobile money globally. M-PESA is still the most successful such operation in the entire world and if it needed  a platform to show its potency as a fund-raising tool, Kenyans4Kenya has been a perfect fit. Competing brands like Airtel Money, Orange Money and yu Cash are also on board.
  4. All together now: The most defining characteristic of Kenyans4Kenya is the broad-based coalition it has brought together: blue chip companies, medium-sized ones, SMEs and most importantly, ordinary Kenyans. Kenya’s mobile phone industry is probably the most competitive, where almost anything is seen through the visceral prism of harnessing advantage. Ditto the Kenyan media. But all this competitive posturing and corporate egos have been discarded for a greater good: bringing hope, nay life, to the people of Northern Kenya. Communication on the initiative is being issued collectively. Yesterday’s cut-throat competitors are sitting at the same table. It is a beautiful thing. It can only be good; an important lesson in our collective humanity, something much bigger than the pursuit of impotent profit and commercial advantage.
  5. Media Power: The roping in of all major media organizations in Kenya, under the banner of the Media Owners Association, was a stroke of genius. If there is an issue that has received unrivalled, yet unsolicited coverage in the Kenyan media over the last decade, it would have to be Kenyans4Kenya. Media houses, besides giving cash, have donated airtime and free advertising space to give the effort a lift. FM stations have been very active in mobilizing donations from their listeners. The media has made sure that the Kenyans4Kenya message reaches the entire population.
  6. What is our money doing? Accountability is key in this initiative. Step forward Deloitte Consulting Kenya lead Sammy Onyango. Through his personal effort, the financial services boutique has not only offered to be the fund’s pro bono auditors. It has also mobilized its peers PricewaterhouseCoopers, Ernst & Young and KPMG to do the same.  At least 40 auditors are working on the account to ensure that every cent is accounted for; all the food that leaves Nairobi reaches its destination and is actually distributed to those who need it and not sold at Karatina or Kangemi market. When people believe their money is being used for the intended purpose, and they can see the difference it is making, they will make a beeline to donate without coercion.
  7. Our Problems, Our Solutions: Kenyans are walking an inch taller and with self-belief (our youth would say swag), thanks to Kenyans4Kenya. A week before it was launched, the Government had gone, bowl in hand, begging for food aid from the West. The UN had convened a conference in Rome to harness help for the Horn of Africa. All this was not lost on Kenyans and while we need the help, no one wants to beg for anything, let alone food. Hunger is dehumanizing. It amortizes human dignity. With Kenyans4Kenya, ordinary people have made a profound statement that they will seek local solutions to their problems. There is a renewed social awakening across the land, perhaps only comparable to the eruption of national pride that marked the defeat of the Moi regime and its cohorts in the epochal 2002 Election or the ascent of Barrack Obama to the Presidency of the US. So next time you attend a five-course dinner to prescribe solutions for Africa, whip out the cheque book and generally pontificate and pen theses upon theses about the African problem, consider the fact that the solution might as well lie in Africa, within the people themselves.

              By the time the last full stop was put on this piece (August 20 at 10.00 am), the Kenyans4Kenya Fund had realized Sh309 million in cash (with an impressive Sh154 million from M-pesa alone!) and Sh338 million in cash pledges and Sh58 million in material pledges, Clearly, the race is on to meet the new Sh1 billion target, upped from the previous Sh0.5 million which was hit in a week!

              The author, a former Business Editor at the Nation Media Group, works at Safaricom as Senior Manager-Public Relations. The views expressed here are his own.

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