Meet Vincent Atitwa. Vincent has been trying to get his organization on GlobalGiving since 2008. He has been in 5 or 6 open challenges, and often times I was convinced he was never going to make it. Most people lack his stubborn determination. Why join an online fundraising network that requires you to already have an existing network you clearly don’t have? (as GlobalGiving does) But Vincent wanted it. And over the past 3 years, he has found his network of individual supporters grow. Here is what I remember about his unusual journey.
In 2008, we organized the first global open challenge. Our philosophy was that every organization deserved a chance to tell their story to the world, explain their mission, and try to mobilize donors around a cause. The historical leaderboards show that Vincent’s organization (formerly the Brothers Self Help Group) was active from the start. There he is in 2008, (http://www.globalgiving.org/leaderboards/project-challenge-2008/) with his first attempted funding project, HOPE FOR 50 KENYAN WOMEN , YOUTH MICRO -ENTERPRISE. Note that the title is in all caps – a common indicator that the person behind the project is not a computer expert. The project only raised $30 from 2 donors.
The photo was quite nice though.
This organization began with an unclear summary of “Training and empowering 50 kenyan women and youth in social entrepreneurship and investment in rural areas by provinding small loans to start or expand their micro-business and mentorship to transform [sic]”: the summary just trails off because he didn’t finish his thought within the space provided. This is another rookie mistake – being unable to explain what you are doing to other people in a sentence.
In contrast, some great organizations have concise mission statements I admire: “Hero Rats saves lives.” and “Bad dogs and trouble kids help each other be good.” There was nothing of that sort visible in this organization in 2008. In fact, they changed their projects all the time. These are past projects:
Preventing malnutrition among women and children
Reconnecting 200 Kenyan women with food sources
Surpport Kenyan Health Systems
Promote Transforming Farming systems in rural Kenya
Note how theses projects cover a wide range of community needs. There is no focus, and no learning about which of these projects are effective. This is another hallmark of the tiny emerging community-based organization: trying to do everything, spreading resources too thin to succeed at anything.
However, in 2009 there was one bright spot for the MCDC/Brother’s Self Help Group. We sent a team of 4 grad students from GWU to visit 40 organizations in Kenya. Afterwards, at our staff meeting, I asked, “So which organization stands out as the one that inspires you the most?”
To which they replied, “Brother’s Self Help Group.”
Because they are working with the poorest people, and he is so dedicated, and has the least to work with.
So I took them at their word and donated some $$ in the next challenge to this org. That was a stunning endorsement. You can read the whole story here, in the power of neighborly advice.
Finally in 2011, Eric found Vincent’s organization on our volunteer opportunities page and decided to spend a month there. I warned Eric that this would be a challenge – Vincent’s organization probably lacked the capacity to do much in the way of carrying out a project while he was there, and they had never hosted a volunteer before.
Eric was not deterred, even after I suggested several others. He arrived and listened for a while. It was clear that Vincent and his fellow staffers still lacked a cohesive purpose, but remained dedicated to helping. It was also unclear at first to what extent these community “brothers” could benefit directly from the work of the charity. You need some more context here. The brothers were poor, rural farmers and entrepreneurs. Sometimes they engaged in both, and wanted to use the charity to raise funds to invest in their own business ventures. It takes money to make money, and that is what a self help group does. To top it off, it appeared that farmers in the area managed to toil away in the fields growing sugar that actually cost them more money than the earned, due to an exploitative contract with Mumias Sugar company. I’m sure I’ll get challenged for even spreading this rumor, but put very euphemistically – these farmers were definitely not getting rich.
Eric succeeded in helping them rewrite their constitution and lay ground rules for what was proper and improper use of charity money. They decided to do something basic and clear with the next project:
Paying school fees is pretty straightforward, and there are a lot of students who can’t attend for financial reasons. All of the money going to this project will end up at Mumias Secondary School, and a few local kids will get an education.
While Eric was helping them restructure, Vincent organized a small GlobalGiving workshop for all the area organizations. I took that opportunity to have the group build a community NGO map, that I’ve shared elsewhere. The map clearly shows that Brother’s Self Help Group is the most interconnected of these local orgs, save one. So the county is in dire need of more champions:
Finally, it appears that Vincent’s organization might make it on GlobalGiving. Vincent called me several times this morning while I was attending a workshop about resource mobilization, hosted by WomenWin. At lunch I returned his call. Vincent reminded me that I had only 4 days left to give during the current open challenge. I’d been meaning to if he got close.
“So how much have you raised so far?”
Nice. That’s an exact number, which means he’d been checking the website. And second, he had blown his previous record of $400 out of the water. So I promised to give, and alert a few of my friends to give, as I’m doing right now.
$50 will keep a student in school for a whole year: http://www.globalgiving.org/projects/fees-for-future/
Keep in mind that the $400 he’d raised previously was not wasted, simply because he failed to reach his funding goal. $1 a day will buy a lot there in Munami, more than elsewhere in Kenya. Tiny organizations can do so much more with a little bit of money, so long as they listen to what their community needs and spend it wisely (i.e. not on themselves).
It’s been a rocky, transformational journey for Vincent, and he still has a long way to go. Specifically, he needs to get more women involved in his organization and end the cartel of “brothers.” He also needs to give others responsibilities. Empowerment is literally the sharing of power with one’s peers. To do that, Vincent needs to let other community members thank donors, write stories, post updates, and generally take part in GlobalGiving.
It’s probably a dangerous view of mine, but I believe that empowerment has to involve those with power losing control of some of it, in order for others to gain power. It’s a shiny, happy myth that you can empower the youth or girls without affecting the power monopoly of old men, or the boys that would have held all the power otherwise. Vincent’s journey will need to take him to places where he may one day be an observer in community change, and not just the lead actor – but for today he’s done a lot to help put his community of Munami on the map, and I support him for it. You should too: