Listening to citizens in Kenya: Saruni’s need

In 2009 I went on a listening tour in Kenya. Everywhere I went, I handed out a bumper sticker like this one.


The URL led people to an open ended feedback form. We wanted to hear from ordinary people. This was the nascent stage of the storytelling project. We didn’t really know how we’d use this information, or how we would get it to those who would act on it. But telling people we wanted their ideas was a start.

It’s a work in progress but who knows? Maybe one of these attempts to get real time real feedback from beneficiaries will work.

I caught the “easy coach” bus as it pulled out of Nairobi. Next to me sat Saruni, who worked for Kenya’s central bank. Kinda like the federal reserve bank for Kenya. Anyway, we got to talking, and let me tell you that discussing the failures of SAP (structural adjustment programs from the World Bank) for two hours on a bus with some random dude in Kenya is a surprise.

Occasionally, as we talked about financial reports and crop buyer market failures, he would shout “Look – a zebra” and sure enough, a pack of wild zebras would be eating trash on the side of the road. We also had a pack of baboons baring their butts at us but I’d seen that before.

Anyway, when I finally got around to asking him what his community needed most, he prefaced his answer by explaining that he has two communities – he works in Kisumu but visits his family in Nairobi every other weekend, like a NYC banker sort.


Saruni said that if he had to boil it down to one thing, it would be for his homeland, Masai herders. They need the most. Especially water, so that they can continue to prosper in their own way of life.

This was a freaky coincidence, as I had just been visiting Africa Conservation Trust in Nairobi that morning. Their Globalgiving project attempted to do that: get water to the Masai and do reforestation.

I whipped out a handy dandy paper copy of all the GlobalGiving projects in Kenya that were active at the time and flipped to the description of this project. He was intrigued at the selection and the coincidence. He said he’d been meaning to write a grant proposal for AID for this but couldn’t work around the time for it.

When a random stranger narrows it down to one need and GlobalGiving has a project that is meeting that need, that’s a pretty strong endorsement for the project.

It isn’t perfect though. The description of the project irked him. “Masai are herders. They don’t use wood for fuel. What do they need with reforestation?!” He was annoyed.

“You can comment on this project and explain to them and donors why this isn’t perfect.” I said. “In fact, you can post your own project and attract more donors to help the Masai.”

I handed him a gift card and told him to look at all the projects and pick the one he things is best serving Kenyans. Anything he picks I will feel is truly endorsed by a knowledgeable well-meaning Kenyan. This is at the heart of why I am traveling. I think we can actually reflect a collection of needs alongside a body of people trying to do what they think will help. The conversation, if it is honest and public on our site, should turn many more projects on to better versions of themselves.

A few days later, I told the folks at the African Conservation Trust about this, and Stacy changed the project description to better reflect the reality of WATER being central to their mission on the ground, not firewood.

Other observations I tweeted on this road trip:

  • I just got to kenya and twitter seems to be working. There guys #need more water for reforresation
  • kenyan local says: girl guides very good, but the scouts are lazy. Also, police use scouts as prison wardens!? wonder what the merit would be
  • some guy said : “masai are herders ! So what do they need tree planting? Give em bore holes!”about 6 hours ago from txt
  • Note: No fissures in rift valley.
  • Hanging out in Africa Conservation Trust (GlobalGiving project # ) with Stacy. They are watering the seneghetti to make Masai farms
  • #need Francis (taxi driver) says we need a way to know if car parts from India are geniune quality or counterfeits before we buy.
  • All packed for Kenya. But can’t choose between neck pillow or chocloate macadamia nuts. Hear that Nairobi is trafficky!
  • How many people in Kenya do you think have seen ‘Hotel Rwanda’?
  • Packing to go to Kenya tomorrow. Should I include the 10 year old malaria meds?
  • REPLY from twingonaut: @marcmaxson I would go with Chocolate Macadamia, but I have an inherent bias towards chocolate.”

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