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Transforming Urban Slums into Portals for Large-Scale Change

SHOFCO empowers urban slum residents to build more prosperous futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

Today, one in eight people around the world - or over a billion people - lives in a slum. Kenya is no exception: 56% of Kenya’s urban population lives in slums, amounting to over 4 million people. In Nairobi, slums cover just 6% of the total residential land area and yet they house 60% of the city’s population (a figure which is expected to double in the next 15 years). In cities, a growing majority of Kenyans are struggling to realize the promise of urban life. Urbanization continues to push more people into slums, as poor, uneducated, and/or unskilled migrants are leaving their homes in the village for the promise of a better life and opportunity in the cities. This rural to urban migration is creating unprecedented growth in the slums and remains one of the largest drivers of poverty and marginalization of slum dwellers. As urbanization pushes Kenya’s economic growth upwards, the income gap is widening and poverty deepening for the majority who are trapped in downward spirals of vulnerability and marginalization. Meanwhile gender inequalities are deeply entrenched in the slums, with women being most vulnerable and children experiencing severe health risks. The increasingly stark inequalities facing urban slum dwellers have further negative implications for human security, sociopolitical stability and economic development, and if not properly addressed threaten to spill over with fatal consequences. As global urbanization skyrockets, a solution that is community-driven is needed to address this humanitarian crisis. This is where SHOFCO offers a transformation model which is both scalable and replicable in building urban promise from urban poverty. Consumed with the daily difficulties of simply surviving, slum dwellers struggle to conceptualize alternative pathways for themselves and their families. Without an organizing mechanism and access to essential services, they remain marginalised and locked in survival mode.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

SHOFCO is focused on slums in Kenya. As the Kenyan government does not formally recognize the existence of its slums as municipalities, it does not provide basic infrastructure for necessities like electricity, water, or sanitation services. Access to education and healthcare is limited and most residents are excluded from financial and economic opportunities.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

The SHOFCO Urban Network (SUN) organizes slums residents to form a voice for collective action, demanding government services that are their rights as citizens. SUN taps into existing leadership within the slums to create a critical mass that can speak to government and other service providers, ensuring that they are able to bring the gap between marginalized slums and existing essential services available to all Kenyans.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

As a grassroots movement that works to end urban poverty, SUN empowers individuals to participate in long term change in their communities. Through the use of our services, we build an organizing mechanism that facilitates large-scale advocacy efforts. SUN functions as a unified platform, organizing individuals to actively seek tangible change in their communities. SUN provides an organizing structure for action: on a micro-level, SUN facilitates community groups and peer-to-peer savings networks, helping slum dwellers gain access to financial resources. On a macro-level, SUN mobilizes community members and organizes participation in grassroots campaigns on issues like peacekeeping, anti-radicalization, human rights, and sexual and reproductive health. Through SUN, we aim to reach over 1,000,000 urban slum dwellers by 2030, empowering community members to improve their living standards and achieve tangible change in the community and society at large.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Organizing slum dwellers through SUN gives slum residents a strengthened voice that cannot be marginalized and can demand basic services that, on paper, are due to them as citizens. SUN also gives a clear pathway for government to engage with slum residents, that has often been missing in the gap around informal settlements. We will measure impact by the increase in quantity and quality of services provided to the slums. Residents will be organized to identify community needs, demand them from the government and hold government leadership accountable to their promises. SUN members are educated on their rights as voters and will be able to use their votes to leverage support from the government.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

Kennedy Odede started SHOFCO in 2004 with passion, 20 cents, and a soccer ball. Growing up in Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, he experienced poverty, violence, lack of opportunity, and at the same time, the hope of people who sought something different. In 2009, SHOFCO opened its first free school for girls in Kibera, which sparked our innovation of linking girls’ education to critical services and community advocacy. In 2012, leaders from Nairobi’s Mathare slum approached SHOFCO about replicating Kibera’s successful model in their community. After a two-year period of engagement led by community members, SHOFCO partnered with the community to open the Mathare School for Girls, linking the school to holistic services as it had done in Kibera. This replication to Mathare validated our model for transformation, and led to our expansion to 9 slums across Kenya where have proven that when service access releases slum dwellers from survival mode, SUN can organize collective action.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

SUN serves residents of informal settlements across Kenya. By definition informal settlements lack access to basic services such as clean water and sanitation, quality healthcare and education. Census figure provide varied, and unreliable figures at best, but globally, the trend toward urbanization has resulted in growing slum populations and Kenya is no exception. Life expectancy in Nairobi's Kibera slum, considered the largest in Africa, is 30 years old, half the national average. Rates of HIV and other communicable diseases exceed those of residents in rural and formal communities.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

By design, SUN leverages existing community capacity. When entering a new community SUN brings together existing group savings and loan committees, a facet of community life across Kenya, and mobilizes these group for a larger purpose. From there, the community elects local leadership (SUN elections have been independently verified by Kenyan's Independent Election Boundaries Commission) and identified key development priorities. We piloted this model in Kibera and have since replicated this model of community organizing in eight additional slums in Kenya, demonstrating proof of concept. We have been unable to keep up with the demand from additional slums to bring our organizing model to new communities.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

SHOFCO promotes a multi-stakeholder approach when making decisions on how poverty and the marginalization should be addressed, through collaboration with: -Urban slum dwellers who are the natural key stakeholders in this process, the knowledge, engagement, and collaboration of slum dwellers is essential for the success of our programs and measures taken to transform areas of urban poverty into opportunity; -Community groups who understand how the slum is organized and provide a voice for urban slum dwellers in other forums. -Working with Local and National Government on aligned issues is crucial to the long-term sustainability of our Programs and provides much needed training, services, and support that improve our capacity. Engaging key government leaders, particularly through accountability forums created by SUN, is the leading way to address issues of consequence for slum dwellers -200 local partners who are critical to expand the impact and reach of our programs.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Other

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Systems design: Solutions that target changing larger system

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full Scale Roll Out: We have already tested and scaled this idea significantly with the intended user base (i.e. when innovation has reached 84% or above of the target population or above 1,000,000 users).

Group or Organization Name

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO)

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

Shining Hope for Communities (SHOFCO) is a grassroots movement that catalyzes large-scale transformation in urban slums. Our goal is to eradicate extreme poverty in urban slums by empowering slum communities to demand government resources, run community-led programs, and hold direct service providers accountable to community priorities. We envision a future where all slum dwellers have opportunities to thrive and build brighter futures for themselves and their families. The SHOFCO model was formed with three fundamental pillars: access to basic services, girls’ education, and grassroots community engagement. As SHOFCO has grown, our grassroots community organizing platform has increasingly become the driving force behind SHOFCO’s reach and impact. SUN gives all individuals a voice to weigh in on community development priorities and creates a unified, civic voice from which marginalized slum communities can demand access to government resources.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country


Organization Headquarters: City / State


1 comment

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Photo of Our Workshop

This is great.

We also work in an 'informal' space in Cape Town, where the majority of the CT population lives. Cape Town is one of the most unequal cities in the world...

How have you managed to scale effectively? How have you funded your NPO??